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.

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Random Factoid #44

10 09 2009

I still practice my Academy Awards acceptance speech in the shower.  It has slowly been refined over the course of a decade.  The award itself fluctuates between Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.  I can’t decide whether I am going to cry yet.  I don’t know whether to spend my speech thanking people or using it to express sincere gratitude.  I’m debating on whether I would even write it down because if I didn’t, that might make the speech seem more heartfelt.

And my Oscar is usually a shampoo bottle.  I like to imagine that I will hold it tightly when I get up to the podium.