The Artist was deemed by the Academy Awards to be the best film of 2011. Should you care?
It's a silent movie made by the French, and if none of that concerns you, then maybe it's safe to proceed. Basically, it's a movie about change. The lead characters symbolize the stars of the silent and emerging "talkie" era, whose careers cross paths and lead to a romance that almost stubbornly doesn't really happen. In many ways, it's a deeply conventional experience that draws on nostalgia and charm to work, and generally speaking, it succeeds.
There's a lot of distortion necessary to make it work. The French actress representing the "talkie" era is probably the last person anyone would have cast or accepted at the time to represent the mainstream. She's a more convincing flapper than anything. The French actor who represents the silent era is cast in the Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn mold, but curiously spends the whole film with a remarkable resemblance to Walt Disney. Since it's mostly a silent movie, the actor's troubles are more about pride than ability. The actors who didn't survive the transition were the ones who discovered their voice really wasn't their greatest strength. The Artist takes it for granted that the audience will just assume it was always a matter of audiences and studios and not the talent in front of the camera who made it impossible to make it in both forms of film. Then, it's extremely simplistic in almost every sense.
Is it worth your time? As a novelty, absolutely. It's a movie that thoroughly understands that audiences now expect dialogue as a matter of course, with a recurring theme of the actor refusing to speak at key moments, as if the underscore that it knows that the audience knows that you must understand that it is a silent movie, and not even specifically about silent movies, though they are used as the main plot device. It's a gimmicky experience in exactly the way Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or 300 were, but one that critics will adore because there's no chance the unwashed masses will embrace it. It's downright cloying, but mostly in a good way. There's an adorable dog in it!
Memorable films experiences are as much about capturing the moment as creating one. It just so happens that we often look to the past in order to understand the present. The Artist is by definition backward-looking, but it's also a movie that examines the struggle of accepting change, which is something everyone in every era can appreciate, and it does so in a way that for its own time is so far from the common and unlikely to be duplicated very soon that it can't help but stand out, and you don't have to be a snooty critic to appreciate that.
Like any foreign film, with or without captions, the audience for something like The Artist will always be limited. By taking an experience that in so many ways is a product of the past, this is a film that reclaims history and gives it a new context. Silent movies can still be relevant.