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7 Reasons 'The Artist' Could Be the Year's Surprise Hit ... and an Oscar Frontrunner

The Artist
The Weinstein Company

One of the most talked-about movies of the year is one in which there’s no talking at all.

The little French silent film "The Artist" has been building fans (and Oscar buzz) since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Celebrating Hollywood’s 1920s silent era, the story is a black-and-white melodrama filled with comedy, dancing and an adorable Jack Russell terrier that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the times of flappers and fedoras.

The film, directed by rising French director Michel Hazanavicius, opens this weekend in the U.S. It follows dashing leading man George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who at the height of his stardom is slammed back down to Earth when he refuses to star in talkies. Quickly becoming an afterthought, Valentin must sell his worldly possessions to survive, but a rising star (Bérénice Bejo) he helped get into the business could become his guardian angel.

So can a French black-and-white silent movie be the surprise hit of 2011? We think it could, and here are seven reasons why.

1. Jean Dujardin

Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Weinstein Company

The French actor known for his good looks and work in comedies back in his home country gives a tour-de-force performance as Valentin. With no sound or dialogue, he must play the character through looks and movements, showing off his trademark grin and charm every chance he gets. Already having garnered a Best Actor award at Cannes for the role, he looks primed for international stardom, as an Oscar nomination is likely.

2. It's Like Nothing Else in Theaters

It’s not just because the film is silent or black and white that makes it one of the most unique movie experiences you’ll have this year. With a score of beautiful orchestral music, dance numbers and a tear-jerking finale, this movie is the antidote to any dullness you might have experienced in theaters lately.

3. Dog Love

Who doesn’t love a furry little sidekick? Dujardin is getting much deserved praise, but lost in all his accolades is the work by his costar, Uggie. Playing Valentin’s faithful buddy, this Jack Russell Terrier does a lot more than sit and lie down to make us fall in love with him. This is actually Uggie’s second role this year: He starred in “Water for Elephants” (as a female dog -- damn, he’s diverse).

Also Check Out: "The Artist" Trailer Proves That Silence Is Golden

4. Great Supporting Cast

Though it was a French production, the film was shot on the Warner Bros. lot and stars some of the best character actors working today. Some of the fun watching it is trying to catch all of them. Here are a few that stood out for us: John Goodman as a cigar-chomping studio exec, James Cromwell as Valentin’s chauffer, Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin’s disinterested wife and Malcolm McDowell as an auditioning actor. And let’s not leave out Bérénice Bejo, who as a cross between Audrey Tautou and Marion Cotillard could have a future in the States.

John Goodman in The Artist
Weinstein Company

5. It's a Love Letter to Old Hollywood

Hazanavicius does a superb job of using modern-day storytelling techniques while also paying homage to classics like “A Star Is Born,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Sunset Boulevard,” to name a few. And look out for a memorable piece of music from a legendary film at a key moment in “The Artist.”

6. Harvey Weinstein

Known for his creative tactics in pulling off multiple Best Picture wins, including one for the underdog “Shakespeare In Love” in 1998, Weinstein, who is distributing the film in the U.S. through his company The Weinstein Company, will have his hands full trying to repeat the feat with “The Artist.” But here’s one thing for certain: Expect the mogul to use the fact that a majority of Academy voters are also members of the AARP to push the film’s old-school appeal.

7. It's a Bona Fide Crowd Pleaser

“The Artist” is a story that’s sure to appeal to everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to get up and dance; but most important, it’s filled with the spirit of an era of Hollywood that’s long gone, but which we still associate with movies.

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