Jean Dujardin won his Oscar from his first Oscar nomination for portraying George Valentine in The Artist.
Jean Dujardin is the first actor since Lewis Stone in the Patriot to be nominated for a silent film, and if he were to win he would be the first winner of that sort since Emil Jannings's double win. Jean Dujardin has apparently reminded many people of silent stars like Douglas Fairbanks for example. I actually must disagree and say he actually reminded most of relatively early sound star Fredric March, and George Valentine after all shares many similarities with Fredric March's character in A Star is Born, they are both originally popular romantic leading men and are eclipsed by a woman they helped get her start, and they both fall into an alcoholic despair over their loss of stardom although the eventual fates are considerably different although they come close to being the same.
For some reason I always felt Dujardin felt to me more like an early sound star than a truly silent star only because I suppose many silent stars tended to overact a lot, they weren't all Emil Jannings after all, and to me he gives a performance Fredric March sort of gives if you turn off the sound in their films, after all I just find that both Dujardin's and March's face of distress is exactly the same. Anyway though it is really better than Dujardin portrays the part in this manner rather than replicating some of the more dated aspects of the silent period, instead he finds a way to make the essence of the best qualities of old Hollywood.
In the first section of the film when George Valentine is still the great star Dujardin is just a ball of energy. He is about as charming as one could possibly be with the simple joy he shows in every moment as he performs. His smile is about as wide as a smile can be and he just is a bright spot on screen perfectly capturing the sort of charisma of a star of that period without ever making it feel like he is trying to merely imitate one of those stars either. He simply becomes the star which is an outstanding achievement to behold, and it is an essential element for the film itself.
After his fall from stardom which happens rather quickly George Valentine falls in despair. Dujardin excels in this part of his performance just as well as he did when George Valentine was on top, and actually Dujardin perfectly brings out the sadness in Valentine with performance by showing just what a difference there is between his happiness and sadness. It is true that Dujardin change is rather abrupt but it is entirely fitting since George Valentine's fall from stardom happens almost overnight.
Dujardin is extremely effective in his portrayal of the fallen Valentine who never falls in delusions like say Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd, instead he falls into deep despair over his loss. Dujardin is terrific in showing the slowly intensifying despair in his performance, and although silently he perfectly conveys everything that is going through George over every that he lost. There is a great intensity to Dujardin in these moments that brings to life just how troubled George Valentine has become, and he Dujardin effectively works toward the final climax of George's despair exceedingly well.
Dujardin throughout this film gives a compelling and entertaining performance that is easy to follow throughout George Valentine's tribulations. I must say interestingly enough the part of his performance that I was at all disappointed by was, and this is a spoiler, when he finally does say his single line. The only reason is his single line is with his native french accent and I was perhaps a bit disappointed by this. Not that Dujardin says incorrectly or anything I just don't think the french accent fit the star he was the rest of the time, he just does not look like the successful sound french actors in type like Maurice Chevalier or Charles Boyer, he looks like Fredric March. This is really beyond even a nitpick though.
The artist is a film that really could have been either made or broken by its lead performance. Frankly it would have easy for the actor in this role to have just seemed like some sort of cheap imitation of an actor of the period the film depicts. Dujardin's magnificent performance though completely meets and overcomes all the obstacles of the part. He simply is a star in this film he never lets you question it from a moment, and the idea that this is an entirely silent performance never matters for a moment. Dujardin brings just as much in fact far emotional power and even charm in his performance than many performances that never stop talking. Dujardin's work here is a truly unique achievement.