Woody Allen is, perhaps, along with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, the most important living American filmmaker, still active in the business and art of making movies. A legend both on and off-screen, Woody, born Allen Stewart Konigsberg 75 years ago in New York, a place that has enamored him, continues his recent European phase with Midnight in Paris, which takes place (as the title states) in the "City of Light".
This removal from the "Big Apple", which is a muse as important as Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow or Scarlett Johansson, has been a period of highs (Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), lows (Scoop, Cassandra's Dream) and in-betweens (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, his most star-studded cast since Deconstructing Harry). I dare to say that with Paris, Woody Allen is pretty much back to his Annie Hall/Manhattan glory days. This pleasant collection of Parisian postcards grabs you from the start with impeccable shots of what has to be the most beautiful city in the world, and set to jazz music, no less; specifically Sidney Bechet's Si tu vois ma mère, an exquisite tune.
The film's running time amounts to 94 minutes, but the experience is not limited to an hour and a half. This is one of those movies that tend to stick with you for at least a week; a film so appealing to the senses it's intoxicating. Woody's latest film is reminiscent of Manhattan in its sophisticated dialog and a few character traits but this is, by far, the most visually arresting piece in his filmography. It's so striking that glossy Nancy Meyers films look like they were shot with a cellphone camera in comparison.
The comedy in Midnight in Paris is restrained, subtle; a tone that benefits this particular story and that perfectly fits its look and its sound. Allen is no stranger to using unorthodox techniques to enrich his stories, like the animated sequences in Annie Hall, for example. In here, he resorts to time travel that is less sci-fi and more magical realism as he transports Gil (Owen Wilson) to 'Jazz Age' Paris. References to writers (Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald), painters (Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Matisse, Degas, Gauguin), musicians (Cole Porter) and other legends (Luis Buñuel, Hénri de Toulouse-Lautrec), as well as famous places (the Moulin Rouge) abound.
Wilson shines in the lead role. He's all kid-in-a-candy-store as he sees himself surrounded by his idols and thrust into a time period that bewitches him; his euphoria is almost palpable. He shares the spotlight with Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, in a memorable (and hilarious) turn as Salvador Dalí. Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll, Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen round out the strong ensemble, which even includes First Lady of France, crooner Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
This film goes beyond the tribute and it's more a love letter to the French capital and its icons. It doesn't follow a definite plot (it's more a series of gorgeous vignettes) and it also isn't particularly deep. What it is is profoundly enjoyable. If the film has a message, it'd be something like "we're never satisfied with what we have". But I am satisfied with Midnight in Paris. It's the closest thing to a perfect movie I've seen in 2011.