What do Brad Pitt, Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jessica Chastain have in common? Each of them appears in two of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture of 2011 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Four of the films include French settings or characters, three of them use World Wars I or II as plot elements, and two of them feature a boy trying to strengthen ties to his late father by solving the mystery of a missing lock or key. Aside from all that and a pervading air of nostalgia, the field of nominees is most notable for its diversity. Good luck to the Academy trying to sort it all out, because these nine films are nearly incomparable.
The Artist may appear to casual moviegoers as the oddball of the bunch. After all, it's a silent movie shot in black and white. This does not, however, signal pretentiousness. On the contrary, it's a very accessible, entertaining film that's bound to charm anyone who gives it a chance. Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin and Best Supporting Actress nominee Berenice Bejo are magnetically charismatic as falling and rising stars at the dawn of the talkies. Those with a fondness for silent cinema will enjoy the evocation of that era, but it's not necessary to be a film buff to like The Artist. It's a lightweight yet engaging romance, a rare crowd-pleaser that does not pander to its audience.
Ever have one of those days?
"I've been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society."
"Aw, youth is wasted on the wrong people!"
"This old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don't care how I look."
"Well, I'm sorry - HEY!"
"Out you two pixies go, through the door or out the window!"
If the previous quotations are instantly recognizable to you as lines of dialogue from It's A Wonderful Life, and if you cannot read the words without also hearing them and visualizing their associated characters, then you and I have something in common. We're two among the countless devotees of the 1946 Frank Capra classic, its sights and sounds replaying within our cerebral folds after many hours of repeated exposure. There's only one reason why anyone would voluntarily watch a movie again and again, and that is, of course, that you like it. Obvious, right? But the widespread appeal of this film is varied, and perhaps the only thing upon which all lovers of it will agree is that it is a great movie.
As for me, and in the words of Henry F. Potter, "I'll go further than that." I think It's A Wonderful Life is as close as anyone has come to making a perfect narrative movie.
John Watson regales us with yet another adventurous yarn.
There is a wonderful moment in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in which the eccentric protagonist is so incensed by what he sees on a movie screen that he cannot help shouting out his indignation. "Oh, good heavens!" bellows Ignatius J. Reilly to the annoyance and unease of fellow patrons. "What degenerate produced this abortion?"
Although I'm a passionate proponent of politeness in movie theaters, I can empathize with Reilly's plight. There is a point where one's artistic sensibility can become so offended that it is impossible to remain silent. That's why I'll be staying away from screenings of one of this holiday season's anticipated blockbusters, Sherlock Holmes. I wouldn't want to involuntarily proclaim my outrage aloud and thus violate my own standards for audience etiquette.
I enjoy the canonical Sherlock Holmes, which is to say that I prefer the novels and stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm not a snob about it, though - if a later author produces a story that is true to the spirit, logic, and language of the canon, I'm all for it. The original stories are so beautifully crafted that I find many adaptations enjoyable but nevertheless diluted. I'll take a good verbatim reading of a classic Holmes story over the best dramatization any day.
From the looks of the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes (if trailers and other advance publicity are any indication), this latest effort appears to be not so much an adaptation as an outright bastardization.