2011, Woody Allen -- netflix
I'm two years out on my "year of Woody" where I attempted to, on a weekly basis, view a Woody Allen production. I crammed so much Woody into my head in such a concentrated period that I became a little neurotic myself, practiced my own Woody impersonation, and for a short time, took up the clarinet (one of these three things didn't actually happen). I came to some conclusions about Woody but I'm not sure I effectively captured them. In 2010 I took a break from compulsive blogging and though tracking my every consumption, so my records are sparse on the matter. To summarize what would sure be a much bigger conversation in a few short words, Woody's early career was incredibly interesting, his humour was more appealing when he was younger, and he's actually an incredible visual filmmaker.
I kind of stopped my Allen cycle towards the end of the '80's, which many say is for the best. His output in the new millennium has been, critically, poor, with one out of every 3 or 4 productions getting positive, if not always the most favorable reviews. With that in mind Midnight In Paris is, as the critics have implied, his best film in recent years, and easily one of his best films ever.
It's the story of Gil Pender, a Hollywood hack desperately trying to find his authentic voice as a novelist in Paris who gets transported, literally, back to the 1920's heyday of the Parisian artistic and literary movement, where he encounters Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and a veritable who's who of cultural legends. They help guide Gil and mold his artistic vision, both directly and not. The experience, which repeats itself night after night, awakens Gil's creative spirit which has been stymied within the Hollywood system and a stifling relationship (the ol' Allen special).
Given the setup, the film could have bee outright ludicrous or terribly pompous, but Allen centers the film around the theme of nostalgia, and explores it exceptionally well, especially when the time-travelling starts eating itself in a conscientious, clever and amusing fashion. He uses his famous personalities as both caricatures and characters, eliciting some marvelous scenes from Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali (*pop*). These larger-than-life character sketches could have taken the movie away into both hilarious and unnecessary, eventually overstretched directions, but Allen does just enough with them. He gives them their cameos and their moments but they don't outstay their welcome, and it all stays on track, nicely condensed.
The film overall was a huge surprise. Not that I'd written Allen off altogether, but I'd grown tired of his voice after hearing so much of it in 2010 and began to hear the repetition within it. Equally strained was the Woody-impersonation that his leads constantly seem to want to invoke. In this regard, it was a brilliant move on Allen's part
in casting an actor like Owen Wilson for the lead, a man whose voice is so distinctly his own that
there's no chance he's going to do a Woody impersonation. I doubt he could if he tried. In this regard, Wilson is free to inhabit the character as he sees him, not as some Allen stand-in and he gives Gil charm, self-consciousness, a bit of a laissez-fair demeanor, and a boyish sense of awe, wonder and excitement that don't typically scream "Woody".
Top five Allen, easy.
(now read David's take)