I can think of plenty of words to describe "The Artist," the Oscar front-runner that finally arrives in Bowling Green this weekend.

It's magical, beautiful poetry that leaps off the screen with vivid imagination and precise execution.

It is also the best film of 2011, well-deserving of the Oscar hype. "The Artist" is one of nine films nominated for best picture.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist" tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) - a silent movie star at the peak of his popularity.

His stardom is about to be tested, however, by the arrival of talking pictures - a medium that George rejects, causing his career to spiral downward.

As George's star wanes, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) - a young actress whose big break came at the expense of one of George's last hits - sees her star rise.

While George tries to piece together his life, Peppy enjoys the fruits of her success while trying to find a way to repay the man who helped launch her career.

Fans of cinema will appreciate Hazanavicius' daring decision to re-create a silent film, making the movie in black and white with very little use of sound. But this isn't just a homage to silent movies - there are nods to everything from "Citizen Kane" to the elaborate musicals of MGM's heyday.

Hazanavicius uses the silent medium not as a gimmick, but as a way to expand his creative expression. A scene that features an encounter with the two leads on a stairway has extra spark, while a dance sequence where you can only see Peppy's legs from behind a green screen is graceful and quite elegant.

This is a gorgeous film with great work from cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman.

When Hazanavicius does incorporate sound, it comes as a jolt because you are so caught up in the experience as a whole.

The entire cast, which includes John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller and James Cromwell, is very good, but the two leads stand out.

As I watched Dujardin and Bejo, I kept thinking of the old saying about the eyes being the window to the soul, because both actors conveyed so much without saying a word.

Dujardin has an Errol Flynn mystique, but as the film progresses and his character's plight darkens, the performance becomes so much more.

Bejo is very good as well. She has a look that the camera loves, but like Dujardin, there is more to her character that Bejo is able to convey with great conviction.

Both give beautiful, heartfelt performances that provide the soul for this beautiful, heartfelt artistic work.

Also opening this week

Another Oscar contender that arrives in Bowling Green this weekend is "The Descendants" (A) - writer/director Alexander Payne's first film since "Sideways" in 2004.

Like his previous work, which also includes "Election" and "About Schmidt," this is a beautifully complex character study full of rich performances and sharp dialogue.

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a wealthy lawyer living in Hawaii who is the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of untouched land on the island of Kauai, passed down from his ancestors.

King is working with his family on a deal to sell the land, but the deal gets put on the back burner when he is faced with a greater challenge - reconnecting with his two daughters after his wife, Elizabeth, is in a boating accident that leaves her in a coma.

That task becomes more difficult when the oldest daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) reveals to Matt that Elizabeth was having an affair with a young real estate agent (Matthew Lillard).

This film feels very authentic, like the viewer is peeking in on a real family trying to cope with a difficult situation. Part of that credit belongs to Payne's magnificent screenplay, but the cast is pretty special, too.

Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career, playing a character who is the polar opposite of his superstar persona. Matt is a vulnerable, isolated person dealing with a lot of pain and Clooney hits all the right notes.

Woodley is pretty special, too, in a role that is lot more complex than you would expect from her opening scenes. That is a statement that can be used a lot in this film, with great supporting work from Lillard (who knew he could be this good?), Judy Greer and Robert Forster as Elizabeth's father.

It all adds up to a film that is full of life, delicately balancing some scenes of heartache sorrow with some genuinely humorous moments.

"The Descendants" is rated R for language, including some sexual references. It opens Friday at the Great Escape 12.

- To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton's up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

 

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