MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: Woody Allen's Biggest Oscar Hopeful in Over Two Decades?

A look back at the surprise success of Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris and its chances in the upcoming awards season...

DVD and Blu-Ray release in the US and coming out in the UK on the 6th February 2012, it's the perfect time to take a look back at this film, which upon release had a fair amount of Oscar hype, and see how it holds up. Overall it's one of Woody's most optimistic films of recent times, its story centres around Owen Wilson's character Gil - a Hollywood hack screenwriter - feeling out of place in his surroundings, he has come to Paris with his fiance to try and find inspiration for a novel about a nostalgia shop, but is frustrated by her unwillingness to savour the city in quite the way he'd like, including taking a walk in the rain. Elsewhere her parents and some family friends cause further frustrations for Gil, one night, in a bid to clear his head, he winds up being picked by a mysteriously out-dated car that leads him to a party wherein he meets the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Cole Porter (Yves Heck) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). These scenes are sold upon Wilson's wide-eyed, accepting and giddy enthusiasm, at times he doesn't so much channel the spirit of a young Woody Allen, instead you find reflections of Allen's own charisma mirrored by Wilson's performance, undoubtedly the most successful Allen proxy of recent times (the less said about Kenneth Branagh the better). Gil is understandably enamoured by the cultured and exciting world of 1920s Paris, and he returns every following evening, ultimately falling for Adriana (Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso's mistresses, and the two begin a love affair that causes Gil to start doubting, even moreso than before, his dissatisfaction with his modern life. Which gives way to the film's ultimate theme about not being able to enjoy the moment because you're forever looking back. In some ways this theme is a sly dig from Allen at those who will forever bemoan they preferred his 'early funny ones', why not try to remember and cherish those for what they were, whilst at the same time not comparing the current to works gone by. Ultimately for Gil his manuscript about the nostalgia shop awakens him to the problems in his current life and gives him a chance to change his present, rather than continuing to live (whether literally or metaphorically) in the past. Allen wraps this - admittedly simplistic arc - in some of his finest and most enjoyable writing since, for me, Small Time Crooks in 2000 (though I'm also a big fan of 2005's Match Point). Allen takes great pleasure in playing with the ideas and expectations of these 1920s cultural figureheads, giving way to sterling supporting turns across the board, but most notably Adrien Brody's delightfully bonkers Salvador Dali and Corey Stoll's note perfect Ernest Hemingway. The modern world doesn't quite fair as well on the characterisation front, perhaps if only to emphasize Gil's disconnect with it, but Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson lack chemistry, it's hard to see what could have possibly drawn them together in the first place, though that may be the point! Better is Michael Sheen's utterly infuriating know-it-all Paul and his sycophantic wife Carol (Nina Arianda), both are grotesque caricatures of pseudo-intellectualism, but, at the same time worrying echoes of people I've actually met! However, at this stage in the year, with Awards season looming, it doesn't look as likely that Allen will be adding any new statuettes to his impressive collection. Despite being nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Musical or Comedy), Best Screenplay, I get the sense that film may be over-shadowed by a few bigger contenders, though I wouldn't be surprised if Allen picked up the Directing gong as a mark of respect, and in the hopes of actually convincing him to attend. It's also a shame that, from the Golden Globes at least, Corey Stoll missed out on a Supporting Actor nod for his wonderful turn as Hemingway (a performance that inspired me and a friend to give the author another chance, I read For Whom The Bell Tolls and really enjoyed it). But, as Allen's no-shows prove, awards success isn't something that gets him out of bed in the morning, I mean, for a guy who makes a film a year he probably barely has time to notice the press. In a scene from Barbara Kopple's brilliant documentary on Allen's jazz band Wild Man Blues (1997), Allen takes his latest awards haul to his parents and his father seems far more interested in the quality of the engraving than his son's varying accolades: In that very same documentary Woody reflects Gil's predicament, saying to Soon-Yi; "I just don't want to be where I am at any given moment, I just want to be somewhere else." But, one hopes, that this film marks a new found sense of the present in Allen, and perhaps his work. I can't imagine that the box office draw had much to do with Allen himself to be honest, instead the film's sense of humour, its romance and ideas must have resonated moreso than much of Allen's recent work. He's not the kind of director whose career will ever suddenly change, always working in his own way, telling the stories he wants to tell, there will forever be an ebb and flow to the perceived success of Allen's career, but, he is undoubtedly one of the most prolific directors of the modern age and Midnight In Paris proves that he can still resonate with contemporary audiences and is not, quite aptly, a relic from a bygone era that only the obsessives look back upon with any fondness.

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Owain Paciuszko hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.