Oscars 2011: Why it should be “Midnight in Paris”

25 02 2012

When I first saw Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” back in June 2011, I knew it would be one of my favorite movies of the year. Sure enough, it was, charting at #3 on my Best of 2011 list. But I had my fingers crossed all year that it would have what it takes to make the Academy’s list for Best Picture.

I got a little worried over the summer when the rule change in Best Picture to allow for a fluid field of five to ten nominees put extra stock in first place votes. I feared that everyone liked the movie but not enough people loved it. Allen has plenty of respect in the Academy – I mean, he’s only been nominated 23 times – and everyone loves it when an old pal returns to form.

But once awards season got rolling, all my doubts were put to rest. It had a relatively easy cruise to a Best Picture nomination after picking up just about every precursor mention necessary to stay firmly planted in the conversation. It was nominated for the top prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes as well as picking up a mention as one of the year’s ten best from the American Film Institute. It did exceptionally well on the guild circuit, notching mentions from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild (where it picked up a much deserved win!). I don’t think anyone would deny that in a traditional year of five Best Picture nominees, “Midnight in Paris” would easily have been included.

With the ceremony just days away, everyone knows it’s “The Artist” for Best Picture – just like it has been since the season got kicked off, arguably since Cannes back in May 2011.  Thankfully, a concept I like to call Oscar Socialism will kick in and give “Midnight in Paris” a win. My bet is that it comes for Best Original Screenplay since the writers love Woody Allen and its stiffest competition comes from a film with very little scripted dialogue. He hasn’t won here since 1986 with “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Allen’s highest grossing movie until “Midnight in Paris” surpassed it.

But let’s zoom back for a little bit and examine the movie irrespective of awards season politics. That’s what Woody Allen would want. Why else would he not attend any ceremonies to pick up his well-deserved trophies?

“Midnight in Paris” opens to the music of Sidney Bechet with a three-minute prologue featuring nothing but exterior shots of Paris. And if you aren’t resolved to visit by the time the opening credits roll, I don’t know what will ever make you want to go to Paris. Allen says the sequence is designed “to put people in the mood of Paris.”

The movie itself addresses the theme of nostalgia, and its warning to resist its deceiving allure resonates strongly and truthfully in a Best Picture race that includes “The Artist,” “Hugo,” and “War Horse,” all cinematic paeans to bygone times and styles. Early on in the film, a character states that “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” Throughout the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) must confront the validity of this assertion as he experiences the joys and the struggles of living in a different era, the 1920s Lost Generation of expatriate artists in Paris.

In a December piece in The Los Angeles Times, Allen reflects on why his latest film seems to have struck such a cord: “”People don’t want to be where they are at the moment. All of us at the moment are in a bad time, because reality is a tough place to be in. Gaugin thinks if he lived in Tahiti, or I think if I moved to Martha’s Vineyard or Paris, would I be happier? That is the constant fantasy, but you’re the person with problems, and they get transferred to the new locale. You can’t shake it.”

For me, movies like “Midnight in Paris” are the perfect companion to deal with the painful present. It’s a movie that doesn’t ignore the problems of the modern age but doesn’t dwell on them as insurmountable. That’s why it’s in the race – and that’s why I believe it deserves to win.



2 responses

25 02 2012
Kay Durbin

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was a charming flight of fancy and catnip for anti-capitalists, but in my opinion certainly not the best picture of the year. As for THE ARTIST, it was simply a breezy love letter to old Hollywood and an interesting foray into the world of silent movies, but not an important film. The fact that these two films are contenders for the Best Pic award really says more about the entire landscape of film coming out of Hollywood in 2011 as well as the Academy politics. The most nuanced, insightful and innovative film of the nominees was THE DESCENDANTS, and the most sweeping, impressive and well executed production on all levels was WAR HORSE. THE HELP had the most searing social commentary, and TREE OF LIFE was the most thought-provoking. The rest fall in line somewhere behind those four. We will see which way the Academy swings this year…who knows what dynamics are at work behind the scene (we can only speculate). By the way, Woody Allen, who is not a member of the Academy, once quoted Groucho Marx, saying, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”…or something like that. I have to respect him for that. I look forward to your comments on the winners.

26 02 2012

Not to mention the fantastic performances from the ensemble cast. Clearly, Owen Wilson’s character would have been played by Allen if this film was made 20 – 30 years ago, and Wilson does an amazing job of mimicking the idiosyncracies and speech rhythms of Allen’s earlier roles. Martin Sheen’s was another notable performance.

The opening sequence is fantastic and does for Paris what Manhattan did for New York, and similarly what Vicky Cristina Barcelona did for the Catalan capital. The tourism industry should be courting Allen to make movies in their countries – I’d love to see a Woody Allen film set in Berlin, or even Prague or Rome.

Saying that Woody has returned to form is a bit unfair, I feel, as I thought V C Barcelona was a great movie, too.

Sadly, I can’t see it winning the Best Picture Oscar, though I’d love to be proved wrong. I’ve not seen The Artist yet, but did catch Hugo the other night which I really enjoyed, although it did feel like a bit of a homage to Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Juenet – very stylish indeed.

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