The Contenders 2011

Michel Hazanavicius’ graceful, witty and emotional throwback to silent films, set in Hollywood in the late 1920s and itself mostly free of spoken dialogue, was a sensation at Cannes this year, winning star Jean Dujardin the fest’s lead actor award. It might be hard, then, for the Academy to deny the Frenchman — charismatically assaying a silent screen star of the Fairbanks/Gilbert type who adapts none too well to the advent of film sound — a debut appearance in the lead actor circle.

Dujardin is often matched in vivacity by co-star Berenice Bejo as the rising starlet in his orbit, suggesting supporting actor potential. Though the film has fared well at post-Cannes sprocket-opera appearances, winning audience awards at the Hamptons, San Sebastian and Chicago fests, where crowds clearly adored watching a nostalgia-drenched homage made in the style of black-and-white entertainments of that day. Will Hollywood agree? (The similarly themed “Singin’ in the Rain” only landed two Oscar noms before becoming one of the most beloved films of all time.)

But if “The Artist” develops a following as something more than a stunt, recognition for the dexterous mix of imagination and feeling from Hazanavicius, who also scripted, won’t be far behind.

Release date: Nov. 25
The Weinstein Co.
Read the Variety review

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