It's a tricky balancing act to both glamorize the past and recognize its faults. Too much nostalgia can seem goirifying or overly sentimental, while too much criticism can seem overly harsh. This fine line is treated with perfect balance in The Artist, a wonderful silent movie about the heyday of silent movies -- and their decline.

The Artist begins in 1927, when George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent-movie star in Hollywoodland. George is charismatic, handsome, swooned over by women and adored by the press; he also has a loyal driver named Clifton (James Cromwell) and seems happier with Jack, his Jack Russell Terrier co-star, than with his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller). Through a "meet cute" George literally bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an attractive movie extra. Peppy has a crush on George (most notably in a scene with his jacket), and he seems to like her. He even gives her a beauty mark to make her stand out from other actresses.

We jump ahead to 1929, and Peppy has become the new star in Hollywoodland. Unfortunately for George, studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) has decided to stop production on silent films and make only "talkies." George refuses to take part in the new world, so he writes, produces, and directs his next silent movie on his own. But the public likes talkies -- and loves Peppy -- and the movie's failure (plus the stock market crash of 1929) leaves George ruined. And he keeps running into Pepper, as the past and future meet up as one star rises and the other declines.

I left The Artist feeling charmed, saddened, delighted, and thoroughly impressed. This movie is both a celebration of the world of the movies and a sobering look at how quickly it can abandon its idols. Further, making this movie in the format of a silent movie works very well: Characters may complain about the hammy acting in silent movies, but The Artist has no trouble communicating its message to the audience -- and packing quite an emotional punch. Jean Dujardin is terrific as the lead -- does he insist on artistic integrity, or is he simply too stubborn to adapt to the times? -- and Berenice Bejo is luminous as Peppy, the new generation of star who still keeps a soft spot for George. The Artist truly captures what made -- and makes -- movies magical.

Overall grade: A+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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