The Artist

A silent-film star does a favor for a young actress on the way up — a kindness she never forgets.  It’s a simple story, but it’s very well told.  The movie, a French-American co-production, is basically a love letter from the French film industry to Hollywood — although I suspect the film producers of that era weren’t nearly as sentimental as they are portrayed here.  Movie buffs will probably catch many more references to early Hollywood films than I picked up on.   No movie maker would want to return to limitations of the silent film era.  But, the movie reminds us, in a silent fim you have to pay close attention, which results in a more intense emotional connection between the audience and the actors than is common  in today’s multisensory extravaganzas.  The mostly French cast also includes American actors James Cromwell and John Goodman.  And Uggie the dog.

A Better Life

A straightforward look at the daily life of an undocumented Mexican making a living in the “gray economy” in LA while also, as a single dad, trying to raise his 14-year old son. The movie is not overtly political — it takes no position on whether the guy should be here, or what should happen to him. But by putting a human face on a stereotype, it makes its point.  Despite the heavy subject, the movie is often funny, and takes some surprising, and some surprisingly affecting, turns. The Mexican actor Damien Bechir (sp) got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance, which hopefully will bring this small movie to the attention of a larger audience.