tongue-tied lightning


The Best Films of 2011: #11 Midnight in Paris
February 15, 2012, 12:09 AM
Filed under: film | Tags: , , , , ,

Even the biggest Woody Allen fans (like myself) are willing to admit that his output has been woefully inconsistent over the last 20 years. For every Husbands and Wives or Vicky Cristina Barcelona there have been three or four Celebritys or Cassandra’s Dreams. It’s with a sense of duty that I wander into the theater every summer to see his latest film, bracing myself for the worst while hoping for the best. So to be greeted with a career highlight in Midnight in Paris was something of a surprise. As I left the theater I held the door for an elderly man and he asked me what I thought of the film, when I said I enjoyed it he replied with a sense of delight “It reminded me of the old Woody Allen, like Purple Rose of Cairo, which has always been my favorite.”

It shares a lot in common with that film, not just the magical realism but also a sense of wide-eyed wonder and endless possibility, an aspect that had seemed lost in the misanthropy that’s dominated the late period of Woody’s career. Even if it’s ultimately dulled by the realities that undermine Gil’s nostalgia it still helps him find opportunity in the present day. Like Gil and several others (including Woody Allen it would seem), I’ve long been fascinated by the Paris of the 1920s. Artists the world over migrating to the banks of the Seine to fraternizing and creating works of art in nearly every field that would prove to be among the best of the decade. It’s easy to understand the desire to be a part of that world.

A common complaint is that the film primarily consists of knowing in jokes. I’m not sure that’s completely fair, but I really enjoyed them nonetheless, from Dali’s obsession with Owen Wilson’s nose to the piss take on Ernest Hemingway’s overdone attempts at asserting his masculinity. Paris has to be among the most filmed cities and unlike New York City in Manhattan it’s impossible to say it’s never looked better than it does in Midnight in Paris (Flight of the Red Balloon immediately jumps to mind in protest). But if one aspect of Allen’s filmmaking has improved over the last decade it’s his attention to visual detail, as divisive as films like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are (I seem to fall on opposite sides of their fences–or tennis nets as it may be–than the general consensus) it would be hard to imagine someone arguing they weren’t exquisitely photographed. That trend continues here with the beauty in everything from the Eiffel Tower to the glint in Lea Seydoux’s eye working as a vital antidote to Gil’s perpetual ennui.

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