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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Midnight in Paris and An Appraisal of Woody Allen

Midnight in Paris

I'm a pretty huge Woody Allen fan. Few moments in movies give me such a sense of pleasure as that basic white on black title sequence, usually paired with a lovely bit of classic American music. Yes, Woody repeats himself quite a bit, but when he's good, he's such a perceptive chronicler of relationships and human failings and when he's not THAT good, I still enjoy the signature rhythms and humor.

Which brings me to Midnight in Paris, his new film which opened this year's Cannes film festival. The main star of Midnight in Paris is certainly the city of Paris, or at least an idealized dream version of it shared by any appreciator of artists. This movie is a love letter to that city. Owen Wilson plays Gil (or really, you know, Woody), a neurotic writer who is engaged to marry a spoiled woman (Rachel McAdams) with horrible conservative parents. Through a magical occurrence, Gil is transported back to the Paris of the 20s, where he interacts with the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dali, and many others.

Midnight in Paris is a very charming film, if not quite in the top tier of Allen films. The sections set in the past are wonderful. The actors did a great job of portraying historical characters- I especially liked Corey Stoll as Hemingway, Alison Pil as Zelda Fitzgerald, and Adrien Brody as Dali. The modern day scenes were fun, but also a little too familiar. McAdams' character is so obviously wrong for Gil, the movie loses some tension it could have had. This movie does have an incredibly charming ending. It's predictable, yes, but in that way that makes it the best way the movie could have ended. I also think Owen Wilson might be the best surrogate Allen character we've seen in a long time. With the London of Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and now Midnight in Paris, I think Woody has found a lot of magic in Europe.

Grade: B+


Ranking Woody's Films

By my count, I've seen 26 Woody Allen films, some several times and some only once and long ago. Here's my personal rankings (with thoughts on the top 10), with the caveat that it's been awhile since I've seen some of them.

1. Annie Hall (1977). Simply one of my favorite movies ever. I don't think there's a better or funnier movie about love found and lost. Just about every scene is classic.

2. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). A heartfelt love letter to the movies. I love the elements of fantasy and sadness that Allen brings.

3. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). The best of "serious" Woody, although there are funny parts too. Bleak and powerful.

4. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Another film that is just about perfect. So many engaging characters and so much to say about relationships.

5. Husbands and Wives (1992). The movie released after the Woody scandal. It's definitely interesting viewing (especially Woody's character's almost affair with a college student), and also bitterly funny and biting. Judy Davis gives an amazing performance.

6. Sleeper (1973). My favorite of the early pure comedies. A futuristic satire that's fall on the floor funny.

7. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). While Penelope Cruz (justly) got a lot of attention for her fiery role, I also feel this movie was a tad underrated. Breezy, sexy, and funny.

8. Another Woman (1988). Quite serious and very good. It's about a woman eavesdropping on a psychiatrist's sessions, and it's riveting.

9. Match Point (2005). This murder story, almost free of comedy, is reminiscent of Hitchcock and a total departure for Woody.

10. Manhattan (1979). Many people's favorite Allen movie, but I've never loved it quite as much. Still, a love letter to Allen's city with gorgeous cinematography and great performances,even if Mariel Hemingway's 17-year-old love interest induces a little queasiness with Allen's later history.

And the rest.....

11. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
12. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
13. Midnight in Paris (2010)
14. Love and Death (1975)
15. Small Time Crooks (2000)
16. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
17. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
18. Bananas (1971)
19. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
20. Interiors (1978)
21. Radio Days (1987)
22. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
23. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
24. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2009)
25. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
26. September (1987)

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