If Michel Hazanavicius’ 'The Artist' were merely an homage to silent films, it would be easy to dismiss as an amusing stunt. But his hand is so sure, his actors so engaging (and engaged), that the movie plays as well as any other picture made this year—if not better. Leading man Jean Dujardin, who was named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, has charisma to spare, and his perky leading lady, Bérénice Bejo, is a perfect match. 'The Artist' is an utterly charming film that earns its audience’s support the old-fashioned way.

Hazanavicius and his star have worked together before, on the James Bond parody OSS 117 and its sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio. If you glance at the trailers for those popular French films online you’ll see that Dujardin’s stock-in-trade is a cocky attitude and a winning smile. In 'The Artist', he is called upon to delve beneath the surface of that personality, and does so in a way that seems as effortless as his mile-wide grin. Bejo brings warmth and shading to her performance as a girl who works her way up the ladder in Hollywood as Dujardin’s star begins to fade with the coming of talkies. (She patterned her performance after flapper-era Joan Crawford, while he studied Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.)

John Goodman, The Artist

The attention paid to finding authentic Los Angeles locations and the casting of supporting roles and bit players who seem to fit the period have all paid off handsomely. Costars John Goodman and James Cromwell hit just the right notes, and never overplay their parts. The highest compliment I can pay Hazanavicius is that there were times when I forgot I was watching a brand-new movie.