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The Artist

The Artist cleaned up the big award categories at the Oscars. For many it was a predictable Best Picture win because of its playful spirit and daring differentiation by bringing back an all but dead film genre. Although admittedly, The Artist was not my favourite of the Best Picture nominees (I preferred Hugo and Midnight in Paris) it was certainly entertaining and its homage to silent films was just splendid to behold.
As nearly everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is bound to know, The Artist is a black and white (mostly) silent film. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, an enormously successful silent film star who watches his empire fall to ruin with the rise of the Talkies. Complicating matters further, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a beautiful young woman who was a mere extra in one of his movies becomes a huge star in this new wave of film. We soon see George’s complete collapse, becoming little more than an alcoholic living in a bachelor suite with only his dog to keep him company. The audience watches as a culmination of terrible circumstances and George’s pride and arrogance topple him, before his eventual resurrection.
Although fictional, the story hits upon the tragic reality of careers lost to technological change. Watching this I can’t help but be reminded of silent film giants such as comic phenom Buster Keaton, whose career crumbled at the dawn of talking pictures. In the film, George is haunted by this turn of events, which leads to a disturbing Twilight Zone-esque nightmare where his perfect silent world begins to fracture, allowing sound to seep through the cracks.
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo both shine in this film and are able to harness the art of silent performance. Both are incredibly charming and have excellent chemistry with each other. Dujardin stirs our emotions as the tragically proud George Valentin; it’s heartbreaking to see his steadfast belief in the excellence of his own work, especially when we know the way the tides of the film industry are turning. Bejo is also lovely, infusing Peppy with ambition and a compassionate heart. Her admiration for George’s work never wavers, and despite his anger and possible jealousy, she remains a fan, and acts as a guardian in his time of need.
Despite most audiences’ lack of experience with this type of film, the direction and performance is fantastic, and entertaining. This combined with the occasional intertitle and at times heavy handed names of Peppy Miller’s films (ie. at one point a ruined George stands underneath a marquee that reads “Lonely Star”), remove any road blocks that would prevent audiences from understanding what is going on.
The Artist is a beautiful and charming film. It takes a gamble by breathing new life into an old style, and risks alienating audiences who may feel the lack of sound and colour will bore them. Anyone who watches this film, however, will find these fears unfounded. Its entertaining story, great characters and homage to early cinema is sure to please just about anyone.

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Hugo

I saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo a few weeks ago and was struck by its touching story and beautiful visuals. Hugo is one of those rare family friendly movies that successfully avoids dumbing down its concept and the sadness and joy that exist at its core. That being said, while it is family friendly, its subject matter may not be something all children will appreciate. Hugo is an homage to the early days of cinema. It worships the work of film pioneers long forgotten and overlooked. Hugo itself references the iconic scenes of several classic films such as Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! and Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. While some of these references will pass viewers by, they are entertaining additions to an engaging story.

The film is about an orphan boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who runs the clocks in a Parisian train station. Hugo is a clever child with a flair for understanding machinery, and works to repair an automaton his father (Jude Law) discovered tucked away in a museum in the hopes it will give him one last message from his lost parent. While working in the station, Hugo finds a friend and ally in Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose Uncle Georges (Ben Kingsley), a sad toy shop owner, is more than he appears to be.

Hugo is made all the stronger by the lovely performances from its talented cast. The patrons and shopkeepers, played be the likes of Francis de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer and Christopher Lee, bring life to the station, and show us that Hugo’s adventures do not occur in a bubble. There is a whole world of activity buzzing around him; each character is a cog in the machine of station life. Sasha Baron Cohen is perfect as the Station Inspector who has a penchant for nabbing vulnerable children and shipping them off to the orphanage. His presence constantly keeps Hugo on his toes and though he is seemingly cold, he is still a sympathetic character. The stand out performances however are from Butterfield and Moretz. Both are charming and play some of the most thoughtful, emotive and intelligent children I’ve seen on film in quite some time.

As a film lover, the theme of this movie is what really got me. Scorsese displays his love of cinema and masterfully shows us the past with the technology of the future. His use of 3D is astounding, and its usage here highlights the topic of technical innovations in early cinema and the ability to do ‘magic’ in the eyes of audiences. This is one of the few films to actually use 3D technology effectively in a way which amplifys the images and improves our experience of the film. Like Avatar (the only other film I have seen use 3D this well), the effect enhances the film’s visual depth, adding texture and realism to shots, and made me feel like I was actually moving through a physical world. This creates a magical atmosphere in a film that looks simulataneously dreamy and hyper real. It is truly beautiful.

I highly recommend Hugo. It is without a doubt one of the year’s best films in regards to visual splendour, enthralling performances and a meaningful and heartfelt story. Do not miss out.

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