The Artist is a 2011 French film emulating the style of cinema in the 1920's, and the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of the year. Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and produced by Thomas Langmann, it stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie star in 1920s Hollywood whose career goes into decline with the Great Depression and the advent of talking pictures. He falls in love with a young ingenue named Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo, whose Hollywood career arc is the exact opposite of Valentin's.The Artist is unique not just for being shot in black-and-white, and in the old 4:3 Aspect Ratio, but being an almost completely silent film, possibly the first feature-length Silent Film to receive wide distribution since Mel Brooks put out Silent Movie in 1976. It should also be noted that this is one of the first Best Picture Oscar winners in years to be filmed entirely in Hollywood, the first black and white film to win Best Picture since 1993's Schindler's List and the first silent movie to win Best Picture since Wings way back in 1927. It also won 4 other Oscars including Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius, and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.
This film provides examples of:
Academy Award: The Artist won 5 Oscars in total: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Score and Best Costume Design. It also received five additional nominations, including Best Supporting Actress.
Almost Kiss: Happens once between Peppy and George. What's amazing is that they don't kiss even once in the film, despite being the Official Couple. This is, of course, a throwback to No Hugging, No Kissing rules enforced by censors back in those days.
"And Uggie — The Dog" in the closing credits. Really. (Uggie also gets an additional Easter Egg mention in the credits to one of Peppy's films.) Uggie even attended the Oscars.
Also used in-universe as the sign that Peppy has made it big and continues to climb up the ladder.
Artistic License - Chemistry: The standard film stock of that time was nitrate, which is extremely flammable (seeInglourious Basterds). So when George sets his film on fire, it should have erupted into an unsurvivable mass of flames in seconds, though it does reach near-lethal proportions very quickly.
Ascended Fangirl: Peppy is an In-Universe example, having caught the attention of the press by inadvertently getting on the other side of a police man blocking George's fans from him. Throughout the film it is very clear that she is a huge fan of George's movies, even going so far as to attend the opening night showing of his movie rather than her own.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 was standard for all of Hollywood from the dawn of moviemaking, until widescreen caught on in the 1950s. Accordingly, The Artist is produced in this aspect ratio.
Beard of Sorrow: 1920's-style. George's mustache is still groomed, but it's not impeccably waxed like in his big-screen days.
Beauty Mark: Peppy's trademark, although it's artificial (it was also George's idea, as she needed something to make her stand out from other actresses). It's even the name of one of her films — the one that really hammers home George's downfall.
John Goodman's studio exec who was obviously hoping to help George make the transition to sound films until he gets stubborn about it. Later, he whole-heartedly endorses the idea of giving George a comeback bid as a dancer, albeit only after Peppy blackmails him into it.
George letting Clifton go, realizing that he'll just continue to work in lieu of pay (which George can't afford).
Technically applies to Peppy, since she subsequently hires Clifton.
Chekhov's Skill: The Black Bottom Dance that George and Peppy do behind a scene curtain. There are several hints throughout the film that George is a born song and dance man.
The dog's ability to play dead whenever a gun is fired.
Couldn't Find a Pen: Peppy's lipstick on George's mirror, and again when she gives him her phone number.
Corpsing: In-universe, Peppy and George's first interaction, when she's still an extra and they can't keep straight faces in a dance scene.
Creator Breakdown: In-universe, George suffers one of these after the jump to talkies and the failure of his silent films trashes his career.
Creator Killer: In-universe. The Epic Fail of Tears of Love, as well as his reluctance to adapt to sound films, destroys George's movie career.
Cruel to Be Kind: When Clifton won't take the hint and quit after George has been too broke to pay him for a year, George coldly tells him he's fired, throws him out the door and leaves him standing on the porch all day.
Though for those who interpret The Artist as a metaphor for those who reject new technologies such as e-books and downloads, the ending in which George finally becomes a convert could be seen as a downer too. (See the Earn Your Happy Ending entry below.)
Drives Like Crazy: There's a reason Peppy needs a chauffeur. (Justified in that in the 1920s and 1930s female drivers were relatively rare, and by most accounts the vehicles of the day were pigs to drive, even by experienced motorists.)
Flipping the Bird: George's co-star when he hogs the limelight from her during a film premiere. (This and a one-off use of the word "damn" (technically banned from US cinema until Gone with the Wind broke the taboo in 1939) are the only occasions where the film displays anachronisms for its era.)
Font Anachronism: The movie features an array of anachronistic and stylistically-questionable type treatments. Some of these are deliberate to evoke the silent-film era rather than copy it. Whether intentional or by oversight, all of the typefaces do their aesthetic and evocative duty.
Foreshadowing: During the first Show Within a Show, George's character is being tortured, being commanded "SPEAK!" He refuses to speak, just like he later refuses to speak on any film.
Heroic Dog: Mostly entertaining but definitely becomes heroic considering a played straight Timmy in a Well moment. Later he tries desperately to dissuade George from his suicide attempt — it almost seems to be working at first, but ultimately it's Peppy who stops him.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The studio executive, Al Zimmer. He's willing to give George another chance, but George finds talkies idiotic and passes it up. Later, he effectively gives George a third and fourth chance first when Peppy convinces him to give George a part in a movie, and then when Peppy and George convince Al to make a musical.
Jump Scare: At the end of George's Dream Sequence, a small feather is seen drifting lazily to the ground, with no other sounds playing... and it lands with the sound of a ten-ton weight. This is what wakes George up.
No Antagonist: The real problem is George's refusal to change with the times, and his downfall as a result.
Al Zimmer is somewhat depicted as this, since his firing of George sets him on his downward spiral.
No Hero to His Valet: Valentin actually is, apparently, a hero to his valet, but he is both a jerk to his costar and a neglectful husband.
No Name Given: George's dog is listed in the credits as "The Dog".
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: At the beginning of the movie, Valentin's character is locked in a cell very securely. The movie cuts to the audience reaction as they gasp at his escape and then the movie cuts back to him out of the cell.
Pink Elephants: While getting hammered in a bar George hallucinates a tiny vision of himself (and some of the African supporting players) from the Film Within A Film "Tears of Love".
Pornstache: George's pencil mustache is eventually replaced by this.
Post Modern: This film establishes very clear boundaries for its medium, then breaks them. Specifically, the scene in this otherwise silent movie that begins with George audibly placing his glass on the dresser, and then the entire scene spiraling out of control as he learns everything makes sound BUT him. It is, of course, a nightmare, but still. The end also violates the boundaries of silent film, indicating George's acceptance of talkies.
In addition, the way George is shown putting the gun in his mouth is another modern-day touch that would never be seen in a film of the era.
Peppy's "dialogue" scene with Al in which she says "it's either him or me" and then sputters though a few "what I meant to says" is a dialogue trope more common to modern-day cinema in part because silent films could not rely on such wordplay. One of the dialogue cards also includes the word "damn" which, while not unheard of in cinema at the time, was all but banned from American cinema until the late 1930s as the makers of Gone with the Wind discovered.
Constance gives George "the finger" early on in the film, an act that would not have been allowed in American cinema of the day. As noted below, lip-readers may also detect the F-word as well; there is a longstanding Hollywood legend that many actors did swear on screen during the silent era, assuming no one could read their lips.
The score includes quite a lengthy sample of the love theme from, of all movies, Vertigo. George's nightmare about sound is also very Hitchcock-esque.
The old movie that George watches on a home projector just before his breakdown is an actual silent movie, The Mark of Zorro, with Jean Dujardin inserted in close-ups in place of Douglas Fairbanks. In fact, George's whole on-screen persona, as present in the Films Within The Film, pretty strongly resembles Fairbanks.
Valentin's career problems mirror those of romantic silent film star John Gilbert, who drank himself to death when his career tanked after the transition to talkies. George eventually becomes an expy of Fred Astaire (complete with a set straight out of one of his films!), and bears a strong physical resemblance to Clark Gable.
Valentin's defiant effort to make a silent film with his own money with the rise of sound films is similar to Charlie Chaplin's stubborn efforts in making the largely silent films, City Lights and Modern Times, but Charlie's films were big hits. George... not so much.
The policeman running to save George's life from his self-inflicted fire is reminiscent of the next-to-last scene of Les Quatre Cents Coups
Peppy gives a shout out to Greta Garbo's famous line in the 1932 film Grand Hotel by telling her date, "I want to be alone."
George and Doris' simmering hostility at the dinner table recalls the same between Kane and his first wife in Citizen Kane.
Spiritual Antithesis: To Singin' in the Rain. Both movies take place in '20s era Hollywood during the time when studios were making a shift to "talkies." While Singin was a light-hearted movie about a studio's attempt to adapt to these changes, The Artist was a darker movie, showing what happened to the actors who couldn't make the jump from Silent Films to films with sound.