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'The Artist' more gimmick than great

March 3, 2012 - Cory Giger
And the Oscar for Best Gimmick goes to, "The Artist," a film that would have had no shot in the Best Picture category had it not been silent and in black and white.

Judging films is not a black and white process, whereby the result is either great or lousy. There is a whole lot of gray area in between.

I mention that because my criticism of "The Artist" does not mean I believe it's a bad film. It's actually very good and enjoyable.

It's just not worthy of Best Picture honors, which it captured at Sunday's Academy Awards.

"The Artist" has an overly simplistic plot that is easily predictable. Man has everything, man loses everything, man hits bottom and loses all hope, man makes a comeback.

It's the plot of hundreds of movies, and this time it's set in the late 1920s, depicting a silent-film star falling out of favor with the birth of talking movies.

"The Artist" does one thing extremely well: Its stars depict all of their emotions on their faces, which is incredibly difficult but a necessity in a silent film.

The problem is there's not enough substance in the story or in the characters to warrant the kind of critical praise "The Artist" has received.

If the film were in color and not silent, critics most certainly would have panned it for its one-dimensional characters, poor character development, lack of subplots and sheer simplicity.

We feel sadness for the out-of-favor movie star, played exceptionally well by deserving Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, and we get small glimpses into his personal struggles as he loses his stardom, his wealth and his hope.

The audience is denied, however, a realistic look into his plight because the gimmicks of the film's device prevent that from happening. We are not privy to deep, meaningful conversations he's having with friends and colleagues, which are essential in truly understanding what a person is feeling.

At least we get some idea of what the movie star is going through, which is more than you can say for any other character. They are all one-dimensional figures who exist merely to move the story along, and with rare exceptions, we don't learn anything about who they really are or what makes them tick, and we don't see them change or grow in any way throughout the course of the film.

The female lead, played by Best Supporting Actress nominee Berenice Bejo, is a beautiful newcomer who emerges as a star of talking movies. Like Dujardin, she expresses her emotions exceptionally well using just her face, but the audience never learns any details about her character, except for that she maintains a strong affection for the film's star.

Watch "The Shawshank Redemption, and you come to a great understanding of who and what the characters played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are and why they end up doing the things they do.

The great 1980s film "Broadcast News" pulls off the difficult task of giving the audience three richly defined characters, played by Holly Hunter (the quirky producer), William Hurt (the good-looking, know-nothing anchor) and Albert Brooks (the brilliant, underappreciated reporter).

The character development in "The Artist" is child's play compared to those two films, neither of which, by the way, won Best Picture. Even "Pretty Woman" does a much better job of defining its lead characters and their actions than "The Artist" does.

There wasn't a lot of great competition for Best Picture this year -- my pick was "The Descendants" -- and the Academy obviously felt moved by a unique film that brought attention to Hollywood's largely forgotten silent era.

The Academy should have put is sentimentality aside, however, and viewed "The Artist" for what it really is: A gimmick with too many flaws to be called "Best Picture.

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