Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Movie Review - 'Midnight in Paris'

I’ve seen Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris three times now, and with every viewing I learn something new and love the film even more. The 77 year-old director has a whopping 41 films under his belt, and is currently focusing on movies dedicated to famous European cities. We saw Barcelona in the fantastic Vicky Cristina Barcelona a few years back, then London in the not-so-fantastic You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, and next up (probably later this year) it will be Rome with Nero Fiddled (previously titled Bop Decameron). However, for now his ode is to the city of love, and what an ode it is! Hit the jump for my full review.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) decide to tag along with her parents on their business trip to Paris. The in-laws are wealthy and classy, but they are decidedly American, and whereas Inez and her folks are very much at sea in the city of love, Gil (being a successful Hollywood screenwriter, aspiring novelist and hopeless romantic) is completely swept off his feat, predominantly by the rather perplexing situations in which he finds himself while walking the streets of Paris at night.  Put it this way: when the clock strikes midnight, the magic happens, and Gil gets to gallivant with not only his literary idols, but practically the entire avant garde of his golden age: 1920's Paris. Among Gil's new found acquaintances are the likes of Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dalí, T. S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes, Josephine Baker, Luis Buñuel, Man Ray and more.

It's tempting to delve into Gil's surrealist Parisian adventures, the characters he encounters and the meaning of it all, but this is a review, not a Wikipedia page, and I wouldn't want to ruin your own cinematic adventure. What I will say is that Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen's delightfully imaginative fantasy of not only Paris and all its allure, but also the virtues of nostalgia and how embracing the past can lead to enlightenment in the present; and how imagination is the ultimate form of not only inspiration but also education. Yes, learnedness is not necessarily the product of a formal education. If none of that tickles your fancy, Midnight In Paris is a fascinating little lesson in history, modernism and the art of blending fantasy, reality, fact and fiction. Read this interesting article should you care to learn more.

Woody Allen is the best in the business when it comes to pulling together a massive cast for a tiny movie. Midnight in Paris was filmed on a budget of only $17 million, but boasts a cast including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Tom Hiddleston and Michael Sheen. Not only is that cast impressive, but the casting itself was spot-on. In the present, Owen Wilson is the perfect self-proclaimed "Hollywood hack" screenwriter who would surely have been portrayed by Woody Allen himself had he been younger; Rachel McAdams shines in her first role as a Malibu-dwelling bitch (Woody Allen actually used that angle to convince her to take the part); but Michael Sheen is the highlight as Paul, the condescending pseudo-intellectual asshole whose mantra of "nostalgia is denial" provides the perfect contrast to Gil (Wilson's character). In the past, Marion Cotillard enchants as Adriana, the girl who takes "art groupie" to a whole new level; Adrian Brody is both brilliant and bad at the same time as the caricatured Salvador Dalí; but the pick of the bunch has to be Corey Stoll's rendition of Ernest Hemingway. He speaks the way he writes, he drinks, he fights, and he asks blunt questions. Have you ever shot a charging lion?

Midnight In Paris has bagged no less than four Oscar nominations this year: Best Picture, Director, Art Direction and Original Screenplay. It's a pity that my favourite aspect of the film did not get nominated: the gorgeous cinematography. Paris through the lens of Darius Khondji is infused with a golden hue and more beautiful than ever. There are no clever shots or spectacular camera tricks, but what he chose to do with his camera served this picture perfectly. That being said, the cinematography category at the Oscars is incredibly tough this year, and it would've been difficult for this film to oust any of The Artist, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life or War Horse.

Can Midnight In Paris actually win any Oscars? Its nominations are all well deserved, but I think it only really has a shot at Original Screenplay, since the other awards probably belong to The Artist or Hugo already. Woody Allen really is a remarkable man. As mentioned above, he has directed 41 movies to date, with number 42 well on the way. He also writes all of them and acts in quite a few. That makes him one of the most prolific A-list directors alive (and by far the most prolific writer-director) averaging an astonishingly low 1.1 years per film! Trust me, I did the calculation.

I'd love to continue by exploring this great film's links to Inception, the varying nods to Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the plot devices that stir up Pan's Labyrinth all over again, as well as the fact that Gil gave Luis Buñuel his idea for The Exterminating Angel (1962), but figured that if you haven't stopped reading already, you are likely to do so now. The verdict, then? Woody Allen is back on form in the biggest of ways. You need to experience Midnight in Paris, and you probably need to revisit it too. There's a reason why it's Allen's biggest box office success by miles, having grossed almost $150 million world wide. Need something to watch on Valentine's Day? Look no further.

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