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10 Movies to See Instead of “The Artist”

10 Movies to See Instead of "The Artist"

One of the most disappointing films for me this year is Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist.” As a fan of cinema of the ’20s and ’30s, the silent throwback is right up my alley, but I wanted more than just references and homage. Some people are saying it’s not much different than what Quentin Tarantino does with grindhouse films, but I disagree. Tarantino takes inspiration from crude B movies and makes something brilliantly new. Hazanavicius takes inspiration from classic films and makes something familiar and unnecessary. There’s nothing new to them in any way whatsoever. So what’s the point? Let’s just watch the films it borrows heavily from, or something else that’s more innovative and/or inventive. Remember when we all pre-criticized “Avatar” for looking so derivative? At least it had some amazing spectacle in the end. “The Artist” is just kinda charming at best.

Below is a list of ten movies you should see instead of “The Artist.” Or, maybe they’re ten movies you should also see. If you’re desperate to see the film everyone is buzzing about for Oscars anyway, at least see these movies before you see “The Artist,” or after. With the former you’ll get more, though you’ll probably also be bored more. With the latter choice you’ll at least make up for your diversion. Really, you should see many more films than this, a whole lot more classic silent films for sure. You can even start with the six basic titles Hazanavicius named to Indiewire recently as inspiration.

1. “The Mark of Zorro” (Fred Niblo, 1920)

I admit I didn’t catch the direct incorporation of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1920 Zorro movie. I haven’t seen it, and so I did not realize scenes from that film are seamlessly mixed with recreations featuring actor Jean Dujardin, as fictional silent star George Valentin, in place of Fairbanks. This is the problem. “The Artist” is for people who get the reference yet don’t need it being redone for them. Shouldn’t Hazanavicius have cleverly made up some fake film all his own, a la “The Dueling Cavalier”? Also, he might as well have reworked footage of Fairbanks into a modern Coors or Dirt Devil ad. After all the superhero and robot revisionist history this year, I’m sick of such “Forrest Gump” shenanigans. Okay, enough of this entry, I need to hurry and rent the real silent classic.

2. “The Thin Man” (W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)

Wait, that’s it for the silent era? Yes, because in spite of its own silence, most of “The Artist” takes place after the innovation of sound pictures, and even though it remains a silent film it often feels more like a film from the 1930s. Particularly any film featuring Skippy the dog. We know this Wire-Haired Fox Terrier best as Asta, the pooch from the first two “Thin Man” movies (he retired before the third), and he was also in “Bringing Up Babyand “The Awful Truth.” The best part of Hazanavicius’s film for me is the Skippy lookalike, Uggy, who won the Palm Dog at Cannes this year and who often does tricks reminiscent of those performed by “Asta” in “The Thin Man.” It helps that Dujardin, who won Best Actor at Cannes this year, sort of resembles William Powell, though sadly there is no Myrna Loy lookalike (she’d be my new celebrity crush). At least one thing is certain in all this: Uggy ought to be getting phone calls from Johnny Depp about costarring in the planned “Thin Man” remake.


3. “A Star is Born” (William Wellman, 1937)

Any one of the “Star is Born” movies will do (I like the 1973 Indian film “Abhimaan”) or you can look at the earlier “What Price Hollywood?” from 1932 (directed by George Cukor, who would go on to helm the musical version of “A Star is Born” in 1954). There is probably some other film even before that in which an aging movie star falls in popularity as his young partner rises in fame. It just seems like such a common, classic storyline today, almost timeless (there is another remake on the way), and yet in “The Artist” this plot feels extremely stale. Why copy a formula that is already overly done? To be part of a “neat” pastiche of familiarity? That’s what bad Hollywood producers do on a regular basis anyway. This isn’t a great feat. 

4. “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, 1941)

One little moment in “The Artist” is cheaply swiped from arguably the greatest film ever made. In “Citizen Kane,” the breakfast table montage uses six short back-and-forth sequences to concisely convey a gradual drift apart for Kane and first wife, Emily (Ruth Warrick). In “The Artist,” a similar bit follows the decline of Valentin’s marriage to Doris (Penelope Ann Miller, who bears slight resemblance to Warrick), and it’s obviously meant to remind us of “Kane,” probably just so we can easily get the idea of this marriage failing without Hazanavicius actually needing to do anything on his own to show this. It’s not homage if it’s really a rip-off, one that’s blatantly employed out of laziness.

5. “Sunset Blvd.” (Billy Wilder, 1950)

One of two classic films from the 1950s on this list that deal in a nostalgia for the silent era and pay it tribute perfectly well without getting trapped in the past. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is one of many clear models for Valentin, a silent film star who fell out of favor with the advent of sound. The shot at the top of this list recalls Desmond’s own private screenings of her heyday like a dying person watching life pass before her eyes. For the most part, Wilder keeps the story and the film modern, albeit with a look that evokes a certain silent era style, as films noir as a rule tended to do. One thing that makes “Sunset” more fun than “The Artist” is the appearances by silent film figures, including Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner. Couldn’t Hazanavicius have gotten some cool cameos for his film? There aren’t too many silent actors left (mostly child actors, see this page), but even some ’30s stars would have made for some great nods. I guess we’ll have to go see “The Muppets” to see someone from that period, Mickey Rooney.

6. “Singin’ in the Rain” (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)

Out of all the movies on this list or any other, “Singin’ in the Rain” is the most obvious influence on the plot of “The Artist.” It’s so much a precursor that Hazanavicius seems to have tried to remake the classic by holding on to the basic story and removing all the music, color and joy. Like “Singin’,” “The Artist” is set in the years in which Hollywood transitioned from silent to synchronized sound films. And it similarly features a young dancer who ends up both making it big in sound cinema and making the male lead fall for her big time. Some other pieces line up, including the cranky silent screen actress who Valentin stars alongside at the beginning of the film, but it’s the familiar moment when he’s called in to see his first sound movie that made me groan the most because it feels like such a rehash. I’m sure it’s just a replay of the history, but cinematically it and other “Singin'” parallels just feel like more unoriginal bites. But one link is terribly absent: where is the silent slapstick comedy tribute equivalent to Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” number?

7. “Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

This film is not on this list because it’s an influence on the story, plot, performances or cinematography of “The Artist.” Rather it is the film’s score by Bernard Hermann that ended up being “paid homage” by Hazanavicius and composer Ludovic Bource at a key moment in the new film. I’m not that good at audio recognition so it didn’t hit me while watching (plus I was just barely paying attention by the end, out of sheer boredom), but the sampling of Hermann’s score seems to be a really sore spot for a lot of viewers. People are saying the “Vertigo” music (specifically “Scene d’Amour”) took them right out of the movie, especially since it was a significant scene for the plot. Interestingly enough, some are arguing that it’s not actually the Hermann score but a reworked sort of tribute by Bource, which you can hear in the “Artist” score on the track titled “My Suicide (Dedicated To 03.29.1967).” But the press notes for “The Artist” do indeed credit use of the “Vertigo” score in the film. Either way, just forget the film and go watch or rewatch Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Or wait for Bource’s score to be scrapped (it’s also been criticized for being too much for a silent film score) and replaced with more fitting music. He writes, “it’s a tribute, a declaration of love to the great composers of great Hollywood films,” and it’s not uncommon for score composers to sample from older works, but again, here it just ends up being too much in the context of this film.

8. “Silent Movie” (Mel Brooks, 1976)

If you want to see a great, albeit very silly silent movie made long after the silent era, just go back 35 years and watch this combination parody and homage, a film that isn’t exactly a throwback since it deals with some modern themes and technology. Hazanavicius comes out of a spoof tradition, not unlike Brooks, but he’s closer to the elder director’s later works, or maybe he’s even worse. If Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg made their own “Silent Movie” it might be more akin to “The Artist” than Brooks’s version. There are plenty of decent post-silent-era silent films now and again that are also much better than Hazanavicius’s throwback, such as works by Guy Maddin and animator Sylvain Chomet, the goofy Indian comedy “Pushpak” and the 2007 H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, “The Call of the Cthulhu.” And terrific silent scenes in non-silent films can be found in movies like “Talk to Her,” “I Served the King of England,” “The Impostors” and “Three Times.” All better than this.

9. “Pleasantville” (Gary Ross, 1998)

There comes a point in “The Artist” where suddenly sounds begin to be heard — not dialogue but Foley effects type stuff. Telephones and car horns and whatnot. Unfortunately the whole bit is just a nightmare sequence for Valentin. It’s hard to understand what the dream really entails for the character since in his world there already is sound, which we the audience simply can’t hear. Anyway, that bugged me, but mostly I was disappointed that the film didn’t continue with the teased conceit. I thought it would be a wonderful twist for diegetic sound to gradually seep into the film and for Valentin to simultaneously embrace it gradually. Kind of like an audio equivalent to what’s done with color in “Pleasantville.” Nope. Maybe somebody should make that movie at some point when we’ve forgotten “The Artist.” For now, check out the underrated “Pleasantville.”

10. “Hugo” (Martin Scorsese, 2011)

Opening the same week as “The Artist” is a film by a man who knows how to do homage and pay tribute correctly, not as nostalgic fluff and sampled references but as a fresh story featuring allusions and history and overall a respect for the past while still moving forward with the medium into the future. Scorsese includes many direct footage of silent classics, including “Safety Last,” “The General,” “The Kid,” “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” “The Great Train Robbery,” “Dickson Experimental Sound Film” and a slew of George Melies films, some of them recreated in ways I’m not 100% clear on (or possibly okay with), but he doesn’t mean to steal or copy. His new film is a 3D sound movie clearly produced in 2011 and only set 80 years earlier. It has some necessary dialogue yet is spare with the chatter, allowing for a lot of sequences that are basically silent. No, not silent. I mean cinematic, which is storytelling through moving pictures, like they did brilliantly in the silent era mostly because they had to. There is no need for a film like “The Artist.” There is a need for films like “Hugo,” which are progressive yet still understand and display what cinema is all about. Of all the films on this list, definitely go see “Hugo” first, now, in the theater.

Also worth reading before you do that: 10 Classic Films You Must Watch Before Seeing Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ by Jordan Raup of The Film Stage.

Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter: @thefilmcynic
Follow Spout on Twitter: @Spout


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I bumped into this article as I was searching for other similar-to-the-Artist-movies. Sadly, still no luck…

martin fennell

I guess this is a bit early, as I'm not finished watching it yet. But so far I'm enjoying it thoroughly. I'm finding it delightful, and as the reviewer himself said charming. I recognised Singing in the rain reference, but I was thinking more of the Jean Hagen character, than Gene Kelly. I love "singing" and "silent movie" They are two of my favourite films, and the artist may well be added to the list.
Thank you also to the person who recommonded The Salesman. I enjoyed it, although I wouldn't class it in the same league as "The Artist" Unless I radically change my opinion of the latter. I was astonished to find out it was a student film. The lead actor reminded me (perhaps intentionally) of Buster Keaton.


I thought The Artist was a good film. Its not high on my rewatchability list though. I think Singin in the Rain, Pleasantville, and Hugo are far better films.


Oh, goody. A "review" based on backlash and a form of pseudo-intellectualism. In all the reviews and interviews I read, nowhere did Michel Hazanavicius claim to have come up with something so original it'd never been done before. Straw man much? He was giving us a love letter from someone who loves film to the place where it all began. I loved "The Artist" and when I get around to it, I plan to buy the DVD and watch it again.

If you (out there reading this) haven't seen "The Artist", don't let this bunch of sour grapes keep you from seeing it. No one should ever let a "critic" (even one of the few good ones) be the final arbiter of whether or not you see a film that interests you.


Sour. That was the word that sprang to mind reading this review of THE ARTIST. Rather than a coherent exegesis of the film, what it's attempting to convey and the relative degree that it accomplishes it, we're left with a lot of plot summation and value judgements. If you take your role as a professional film critic seriously, I suggest you hold yourself to a higher standard. Ask yourself: would Richard Brody put his name to something like this? If I want to read a bunch of "opinions", I can always read the reviews on Amazon.


To each their own. As someone who has seen most of the "alternative movies" listed, a bunch of silent films I doubt most people have even heard of, and who deeply appreciates the history of cinema, I thought The Artist was fantastic. I won't bother rebutting point by point or anything, as this isn't my review. The value of The Artist is that it's generating renewed interest in old cinema. It even was directly responsible for Wings – the only other silent Best Picture winner – getting not just a DVD but a Blu-ray release a few months back. Like most things, the fad won't last – Chicago did not herald in a new era of movie musicals despite the hype when it won; Titanic didn't result in a slew of titanic-budgeted historical recreations; and while Avatar forced people to see 3-D as a commercially viable gimmick it hardly ushered in a new era of high-quality 3-D productions (Hugo is an exception, but it hardly set the box office on fire). But for now those of us who appreciate films like The Artist and those on the reviewer's alternative list can enjoy the fact a lot of these films are becoming widely available again in part thanks to The Artist. Hopefully the effect will last at least long enough to incorporate Chaplin's 100th anniversary in 18 months.

Frank Leonidas

Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, Chaney, Fairbanks, Fields, Brooks, Normand, Arbuckle, Chase, Barrymore, Laurel & Hardy, etc. are alive and well today thanks to a rapidly growing interest in their timeless offerings. Many people are turning again toward their films because of a steady decline in quality from modern movies. A film like "The Artist" was not intended to capitalize off this recent revival but rather to herald it. Film is one of the few creative mediums that nearly everyone has immediate access to so it tends to makes us all experts. Unfortunately, just being able to spot references to other works does not make ones critical opinion valid, nor does it mean a film that uses obvious references is invalid. What matters is how you, the individual, respond to the work; how it makes you feel. I find Mel Brook's "Silent Movie" sublime; most people I know hated it. I thought Scorsese's "Hugo" was one big mess and a terrible mangling of the vastly superior children's book; a lot of people obviously loved it. Thoughts, preferences, opinions: are only illusions. Someone with more than a casual interest in film should definitely seek out the films that have been mentioned here (though I would say skip "Hugo" and see Woody Allen's immensely whimsical "Midnight in Paris" instead) but not because they are all superior to "The Artist". See them because they are all individual works of art that were not only inspired or invoked by other people's work (all great art is), but because they have each managed to take risks in their own unique ways and have withstood the test of time.


More on your quibbles:
In terms of story and character, Uggie/Valentin are much more of 2 different sides of the same coin, than Asta/Powell's character. Uggie is used almost like a thought bubble here, due to the non-talkie format.
Not sure why The Artist should enlist actual actors from 30s like Sunset: the whole point of Sunset was casting people with actually painful personal histories during the Silent era. Hence its bitter and grotesque tone, as that era's nasty fallout. The personal history of the French crew to Silents is much more different – and in their share consciousness people like Goodman/Cromwell are their building blocks of Hollywood including the past costume/period movies they did – so you have a complex layering of "Hollywood histories" here. (yes it results in a Russian Doll effect in quoting, reconstituting historical PROJECTION of the latest personal/collective fantasy-memories, that's only possible due to passage of TIME. you can call it a means of COPING with cinematic memories, an alternative to just dusting off the DVD/bluray/VHS/super8 collections at home to watch "real masters" again.)

Vertigo's Scene D'amour score can be jarring at first. But emotionally it parallels 2 male egos (George Valentin; Scottie Ferguson) who both experience an extended moment of some "out of body experience", during which they have a "male diva ego-trip" of SKEWED self-awareness (Scottie views he's being saved by possessing a woman/her love despite something foreboding; Valentin views he's being suffocated by the humiliation of a woman making a kept man out of him, with money that symbolizes audience's love he thrived on but LOST). All this courtesy of Herrmann. And yes it's always dangerous to put oneself anywhere too close to bona fide genius – you only look worse for wear by any means. But The Artist team obviously have no pride the way we Towering Creative Giants statesides define it (including Hazanavicius gleefully declaring to his fellow directors at a DGA-related chat, that basically he is a hack.) The fool just puts on the plate his bleeding heart, $15 million personal assets, French TV money and Belgian Tax Credit – living by the same impetus that drove Ed Wood and Tim Burton to requote Ed Wood.


You averse to The Artist is understandable, but simply isn't within the mindset of its creators. To these homage pastiche people (Tarantino is the likely comparison who still comes at it from different approach), filmmaking is about the HOW more than the WHY (which is already self-explanatory: they're mega-fanboys of movie tropes and want to live out their fantasies using each other's skills within the same creative team.) The HOW dictates why some of us may enjoy The Artist: e.g. it's not just about spotting Citizen Kane, nor how a "really original/creative" director should tell a breakfast table scene in any way BUT what Welles has put in the bag. Hazanavicius isn't simply replicating the scene (which already takes some skills to look more than a cheap or imitation copy), but making the tension between drama of fallen marriage and comic relief (Valentin's face being doodled on) much more concentrated. The result is that a deliberate quote of Kane is used, to celebrate the inherent iconic power of those images (because martial tension is contained but doesn't erupt the timeless image), yet give it different spin of comic tone. In the grand scheme of things, yes you don't really "need" The Artist – but that also means half of many popcorn movies we watch just for relief from daily grind, also aren't needed when we can just go volunteer, tutor, clean the house or call up an old friend.
The characters are put through the specific trajectory, composite many influences, yet IMPORTANTLY remain a coherent whole on their own rather than being a messy pot of the more typical "outsized ambitions matched with uneven results": the result is NOT UNLIKE a self-referential exercise of a biopic of film tropes and images.

Think about how biopics always strive to achieve maximum fidelity using modern means (check; The Artist for the "gullable" achieves that illusion of being a "relic" – which IS film's whole point: making illusions instead of the pretension that it can capture reality "verbatim" that is long debunked conceit of cinema verite), how they strive to give a modern viewpoint to the past (check; maybe the view isn't new to you, but The Artist is aimed at the 3D multiplex audience who don't feel they can connect with storytelling diametrically opposed to their current pet forms: hip wordplay/one-liners/grandstanding long speeches, visual wankery etc.)

And finally, while it's easy to champion Hugo due to the Scorsese pedigree and much more self-explanatory/in-vogue idea of "old ideas + new tech = only definition of progress" formulation, the end results of viewer desire is always arguable. Is Melies' essence really captured, re-kindled, or simply co-opted to show off current tech & still-living pageantry of icon worship – of the kind of magnitude some may argue Melies wholly deserved but will never receive, save for being a hip sacred cow reference from career tomes of those in-the-know?

You have culture (convoluted and complex, subject to assumptions of geopolitics), you have the gates (man-made and natural, like time), you have the gate-keepers (let's all include ourselves in this), and you have those who say screw it to heck with all this, and just break it down and ENJOY without making lists of telling people what to hold dearly vs. compost.


While Valentin's silent movies take his screen persona from Douglas Fairbanks, The Artist is heavily influenced by much later films such as Citizen Kane (1941), Lost Weekend (1945), Singing in the Rain (1952), The Woman in Green (1945). The scene of laughing mouths is an exception. Would have enjoyed if there had been more allusions to the work of F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang or D.W. Griffith.

Several posters have cited 7th Heaven & Stella Maris as the source of the scene with the coat. Both films have women wrapping the arms of a man's coat around them and talking to an imaginary man. Neither movie shows someone inserting their arm into the sleeve to animate the coat which elevates the scene from the mundane to the capture the pure delight of the silent era. The source might just be Chaplin or Buster Keaton.


Sorry guys but you're wrong.
The best example to tell you that you're mistaken is your reference to "The Thin Man". It is wrong. I have talked about that with Michel Hazanavicius and he even didn''t seen the movie.
Michel hazanavicius are not all americans. In that case, the real reference is the french film QUAI DES BRUMES with Jean Gabin superstar. And the first appearance of Uggy in the movie is a shadow, reference to german cinema and also another french reference : La feline from Jacques Tourner.


All silent movies suck. If i didn't want to hear sound i'd waste my time looking at pictures. Silent movies are basically a slideshow without music throughout.


My response to all the 'buzz' about The Artist was simply to become uninterested. There are a ton of silent movies available on DVD. I thank you for your list of 10 movies to atch instead of The Artist. Any time a company starts saturating with 'coming attractions' in all media, I try to think of the movie as a news story, becaus I am not likely to see the movie. My best wishes to everyone at this site and I hope that someone actually responds to this.


The Artist was actually really good. Hugo, on the other hand, was really dull (at least, to me).

And Schindler's List should be included in that list!


You could try watching this one: http:/&#x2F



PLEASANTVILLE!??! The only top then that should be on is schlockiest movies ever made.


I actually enjoyed The Artist, but I appreciated this short, silent, "modern" film that I found on imdb much more:


What a relief to find someone else who doesn't think this film is wonderful…I have no knowledge of early film at all and went because of the good reviews. I was bored silly…..and felt I was witnessing the film equivalent of the emperors new clothes. The dog is cute.


I've seen all of the movies you listed and a few silent movies that you have not AND still thought The Artist was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.


I recognized the scene from The Mark of Zorro and suspected I was watching Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Thanks for confirming that. Fairbanks also played D'artagnan which is again echoed in the film. Valentin draws heavily on Douglas Fairbanks and to a lesser degree, Don Lockwood from Singing in the Rain. Agree that the dinner scene is lifted out of Citizen Kane. I also have a problem with scenes that are directly copied.

Shooting the dressing room scene with 2 mirrors reflecting the action is a 30s technique as is the reflection of the drink being poured on the table. The montage of laughing mouths is an element I have seen in silent films. Another of the more clever scenes is Peppy Miller with Valentin's coat. This scene seems to conjure the silent era quite well although I'm not sure if I've seen something similar. Does anyone know if it's been lifted from another film?

I found the film enjoyable although it draws very heavily from other movies.


I can not possibly disagree with this review more or find any basis to lend credibility to its author. Despite the excuses made, I find it fairly telling that only one silent film is mentioned in this ridiculous list of "see insteads" – and an incredibly important and significant film at that. The Artist IS a silent film, made in the styles of late-20s/early-30s American cinema. And yet the reviewer gives no indication that he has *any* knowledge of silent films or the era in which they were made. This is not a requirement in order to enjoy this movie as people who have never seen a single silent film have been flocking to it, but for an actual reviewer to not have such a background is fairly inexcusable. At the very least, the author should have been able to place it critically within a like-context.
So the reviewer didn't like The Artist – fine. That's about the only worthwhile criticism one can glean from the article. If one perhaps wishes for a bit more insight, however, I suggest reading… oh, pretty much any other review, positive or negative.

Bob Giovanelli

Skippy…go see it. It's one man's opinion. I found the film absolutely charming and a wonderful valentine to silent films, and a wise look at how an artist has to face whether they adapt to changing moods and times. A unique plot? Nope. A unique film in 2011. Yup!


I was so looking forward to "The Artist." Now you just depressed me.

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