It’s been a while since we’ve met up with Woody Allen as his last Best Picture nominee was 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters. In the twenty-five years since Woody’s Oscar presence had been confined to the performances from his films with three wins in the Best Supporting Actress categories. However, he returned to the Best Picture contender’s race at the 2012 ceremony for a film which also saw him pick up a screenwriting honour.
The film in question was Midnight in Paris, Woody’s homage to the 1920s and also served as a commentary on nostalgia. Woody didn’t feature in the film and instead his cipher in the movie was Owen Wilson’s maudlin writer Gill. Just like the roles we’ve seen Allen play in the past, Gill is somebody who is unhappy with his lot in life. He sees himself as a Hollywood hack and is attempting to write a novel if only to satisfy his own literary aspirations. It’s quite clear that Gill isn’t suited to his fiancée Inez who has joined him in Paris along with her ghastly parents. Whilst Gill is somebody who loves the romantic idea of walking through the streets of Paris in the rain, Inez could never see herself getting wet. Inez is instead drawn to her friend’s partner Paul, a pedantic man who thinks he is more intellectual than anyone around him. The film properly gets going when Gill finds himself transported into Paris of the 1920s and soon comes into contact with prominent literary figures such as Hemmingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Gill also finds himself falling for Adriana, the initial love of Picasso who cools off him when she discovers he’s engaged. Although I’m not sure Woody Allen is the sort of director who should be engaging in fantastical elements such as the ones in the film I think they sort of work. It’s also an interesting look at the theory of nostalgia as Gill finds he suits the 1920s better while Adriana longs to be part of the 1890s crowd. The end of the film was a little bit weak but it made sense in terms of the character of Gill who is presented as somewhat of a dreamer.
I think Gill’s likeability is heightened due to the fact that he’s portrayed here by Owen Wilson who is primarily a fine screen presence. He is able to pull off Gill’s need to be taken seriously as well as the more fantastical parts of the character. It helps that Gill is surrounded by awful characters in the present such as Rachel McAdams’ pompous Inez and Michael Sheen’s bore Paul. Allen seems to have had a hoot recreating the famous literary characters such as a drunken Hemmingway and a brusque Getrude Stein. Alison Pill was a particular joy to watch as Zelda Fitzgerald whilst Adrien Brody put in a memorable cameo as Dali. Additionally I think that Wilson shared a great spark with Marion Cotillard who played the adorable Adriana. I’ll personally watch Cotillard in most things and I felt she played Adriana beautifully. Allen’s direction also makes the character of Paris a character in and of itself with a three minute opening shot presenting all the different aspects of the city. The problem I had with Midnight in Paris was that it was almost too lightweight and the story itself was very slight. That being said there are so few comedies being nominated for Oscars that one has to applaud the Academy for taking a risk on such an enjoyable film. Ultimately I found Midnight in Paris a breeze to get through and I think it was the right film to reintroduce Woody into the Best Picture category. Although he personally hasn’t featured since, his films are still regularly winning Oscars with Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine being the most recent example.