A movie set in Hollywood’s silent era that is virtually wordless: a gimmick? No: sustained cinematic inspiration, deserving of every prize it received, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. This delightfully inventive comedy, about a swashbuckling star (supreme Gallic charmer Jean Dujardin) and the peppy waif (Bérénice Bejo) he befriends, echoes true-life Hollywood stories of the 1920s and ’30s — sort of, if Douglas Fairbanks had suffered John Gilbert’s career dip in early talkies while Ginger Rogers was on the rise. Another way to put it: the movie is Singin’ in the Rain, reveling in the same acumen and effervescence, but silent and in black and white. Michel Hazanavicius, a master French pastiche chef, transported the two stars of his OSS 117 films to Hollywood, hired American actors (James eeeCromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller) in supporting roles, had the cast speak their dialogue (shown in intertitles) in English and somehow achieved the impossible balance of antique parody and earned emotion. In retrospect, the movie’s Oscar triumph may seem inevitable: an inside-Hollywood story with laughs, tears and an adorable terrier. Paying tribute in his acceptance speech to writer-director Billy Wilder, Hazanavicius acknowledged the font of inspiration that golden-age Hollywood provided to the rest of the world’s moviemakers. So this très French film was also the most classically American picture of its time.
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Next Moulin Rouge!, 2001