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'The Artist' - A Portal Back in Time

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I didn't make any New Year's resolutions for 2012, but I made it my mission to see The Artist on January 1st. The holiday movie season has brought me a cornucopia of films, from The Muppets to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, all so wildly different. And I ended 2011 with a screening of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol last Friday night, which pushed my quota of suspense and action already brimming from Tattoo to an overflow for 2011.

So then it only felt right to begin 2012 on a quieter note, literally.

The Artist has been featured in Best Of Lists across the board, yet its art-house appeal has kept it away from the Lansing-area multiplexes so far. How fortunate then that we spent New Year's weekend in southeast Michigan, where an old standby - the Landmark Maple Art Theatre - was playing The Artist on all three of its screens. That's right, three screens. My sweetly small theater with eco-friendly popcorn bags is putting all of its chips on this film, and rightfully so.

The Artist is an absolute delight. From the charm and megawatt smiles of its leads, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, to a talented little Jack Russell Terrier, the entire film is a love letter to the early productions of Hollywood.

Dujardin plays George Valentin, a suave silent film actor who makes the ladies and the studio swoon. A chance meeting with an unknown with big dreams (Bejo) launches her career into the stratosphere. When talkies become the new standard, ingenue Peppy Miller's star continues to rise, while Valentin's stubborn stance against talkies leaves him in the dust.

What makes The Artist a film for today's audiences is that the film isn't an homage or an attempt to recreate the past - instead, it has modern sensibilities, and plays with the genre with plenty of winks and nods to the audience.

It's part love story and all parts lovely. While it might not be everyone's cup of tea, it's also as sweet as a dollop of honey and leaves the audience feeling warmer than Earl Grey.

And nostalgic, too. Although I was born in the era of video cassettes and have grown nostalgic for the cartoons and game shows on Nickelodeon, I also feel a sense of nostalgia for something I've never known: the glory of old Hollywood. The glitz and glamour. The simple but smart humor of those early films.

The Artist gives the same feeling, and also makes me hopeful.

Although we have yet to be able to travel back in time, as long as there are filmmakers brave and creative enough to create a full-length feature in black and white, void of sound other than a throwback musical score, in 2011, we'll still be able to get a taste of what it was like back then. Just for a little while.

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