I haven't watched any of Woody Allen's recent movies since Scoop, so I don't know how he's been doing lately, but based on the overall integrity his huge body of work, he'll always be one of my favorite filmmakers. He's made some stinkers in his time, but when he's on, his movies shine.
Midnight in Paris is one of those shiny movies, a whimsical fantasy about the magic of Paris; the city's ability to transport you to another time. At the same time, it's also a dose of reality. The past can never live up to the nostalgia-laced version you see in your mind's eye. It is very much a companion piece to Allen's classic, The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, a successful screenwriter of hacky Hollywood movies, trying to launch a more fulfilling career as a novelist. On a visit to Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), he expresses his desire to stay in the city and live a Bohemian life like his heroes of the 1920's. Inez scoffs at this, and encourages Gil to spend time with her parents (Tea Party Republicans who don't like him) and know-it-all friends.
Fed up with the people in his life, Gil opts out of yet another night out, and chooses to wander the streets of Paris. At midnight, a 1920's car rolls up and waves him in. Inside, he finds the life he always dreamed of. He befriends F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso. He shows his manuscript and takes writing advice from Gertrude Stein. He meets and falls in love with Picasso's mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Soon, Gil is carrying out a love affair with the 1920's, spending his days in the cold reality of today, and his nights living it up with his heroes in the past. Eventually his night life gets complicated, too, though, and Gil must decide between his two lives.
I do believe this is the best Owen Wilson has been in a movie in ages. Since Royal Tenenbaums, perhaps? Heck, maybe ever. This is exactly the kind of movie he should be making. He's great at playing intelligent, soul searching, existential characters. I always thought his diversion down the path of dumb "Frat Pack" comedies like Wedding Crashers was a mistake (though I do love Zoolander). In Midnight in Paris, Wilson plays the Woody Allen analogue without doing a Woody Allen impression, something I never enjoy as much. My favorite moments were the dumbfounded look on his face when he realizes where he is, and the scene where he confesses that he's from the future to Salvador Dali and his surrealist friends.
Midnight in Paris is a delight. It is my favorite Woody Allen film that I've seen since 1999's Sweet and Lowdown. I never hammered down a list or anything, but I would probably also put it somewhere in my top 10 for 2011, and hey, it might even creep its way into my top 10 favorite Woody Allen movies! The guy has a LOT of great movies, so this is high praise indeed.