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Woody Allen turns 77 Saturday, but he shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Midnight In Paris, the latest classic he's added to his oeuvre, isn't even his most recent film. This year, he released To Rome with Love and is already working on a film for 2013. Although he hasn't been able to match the amazing success he had in the 1970s and 1980s, he manages to produce a classic every now and then. Midnight In Paris, which earned him his third Oscar for Original Screenplay, is another classic.
The film tells the story of Hollywood writer Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, and his desire to live in his personal “Golden Age,” which is Paris in the 1920s. He and his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), visit Paris with her wealthy parents. Gil is also hoping to find that spark to finish his first novel, which focuses on a man with an antiques store, looking at the past. After a night of drinking, Gil wanders the streets of Paris and soon discovers that he's been taken back to the 1920s, where me meets his idols. He talks with F. Scott Fitzgerald, discusses writing with Ernest Hemingway and takes advice from Gertrude Stein.
Gil also meets the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who loves the idea of his book. Somehow, Gil finds that he is attracted to Adriana, who becomes his connection to this romantic Golden Age. But he learns that not everyone in his Golden Age believes that it is their Golden Age, too. Everyone has their own love for days long gone. So, the overarching theme of the film is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with loving the past, but don't forget to appreciate your own time period. If you get lost in the past, you distance yourself from your present.
As with any great Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris highlights the best of Allen's cinema. His world is one where the ways people cannot connect with others never ends. Allen finds ever more ways to have his men misunderstand the reality of their lives. It also highlights Allen's magnificent control of the English language, creating witty lines like few other writers. There's a reason why he's been nominated for more Oscars as a writer than the previous record holder, Billy Wilder and that's on full display in Midnight in Paris.
Allen also shows his talent for capturing the beauty of any city. Whether it's Paris here or London in Match Point or New York in Manhattan. The amazing three-and-a-half montage of Paris locations that opens the film makes the viewer fall in love with the city as much as Gil.
Obviously, if Allen made this film even 15 years ago, he would have easily played Gil himself. However, casting Owen Wilson in the role was a stroke of pure genius, showing skills that Wilson rarely gets to display in the comedy blockbusters he makes. Aside from Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard are stunning in their roles as Wilson's love interests in the present and the past. Their acting fits the differences that Gil easily recognizes between his favorite time period and the present. Allen also picked some fantastic talent to play the historical figures, with Adrien Brody getting a cameo as Salvador Dali and Kathy Bates as Stein.
Midnight in Paris was easily among my favorite films from 2011, right behind The Artist and Hugo, two films that, just like Allen's, make us realize why we love movies. The Artist reminded us about how great acting can carry a story, while Hugo showed that stunning visuals can do the trick as well. Midnight In Paris, like the finest Woody Allen films, shows us what great writing can do for the movies.
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