It’s getting on that time when it’s nearly impossible to keep up with an Oscar hopeful’s precursor tally, as trophies and nominations steadily roll in from a dizzying slew of acronymic awards bodies. Hastily kicked off by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), precursor season is most certainly in full swing, with the BFCA, AFI, SAG, LAFCA (Los Angeles), BSFC (Boston), VFCS (Vegas), TFCA (Toronto), SLFC (St. Louis), SFFCC (San Francisco), and many more having released their picks for the best in 2011 cinema. Amid the frenzy, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris has been resting in a rather safe zone, failing to come close to the top spots so dominated by The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo, but sitting pretty when it comes to Top 10s and grouped citations. The culture-vulture comedy just snagged a Best Picture nod from the Phoenix Film Critics Society, but, much more importantly, it’s landed on AFI’s Top 10, been named a Critic’s Choice nominee for Best Picture, and, just this morning, counted among the five SAG nominees for Best Ensemble (it competes against The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, and Bridesmaids). The steady inclusion assures that no one has forgotten about this swoony May release, and it affirms what so many already knew: Midnight in Paris is one of your Best Picture locks.
Match Point (#1–10 of 4)
There have been complaints that the Woody Allen of the ’00s does not live up to the Woody Allen of the ’70s or ’80s. But there are four moments (thematic footfalls) that prove him to be just as he’s always been—the rarest and greatest of tightrope-walking cynical humanists.
The Dueling Tongues
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is set in 1940 (the same year that His Girl Friday and its faster-than-bullets/sharper-than-knives dialogue was released) and contains some of the outwardly meanest dialogue Allen has ever written. C.W. (Allen) and Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), warring employees at an insurance firm, trade insults set to a rapid metronome that sometimes falters when it comes time for C.W. to shoot. The slight pauses and stutters between retorts offer light into the crevices of his personality. It’s the central condition of the Allen character (be it played by Allen or a surrogate), the quick-witted egoist who, when it really comes down to it, is shivering with insecurity. Whereas Grant and Russell’s dueling tongues send confident and strident sparks, Allen’s words are reluctant, gripping onto his vocal cords for an extra moment before being forced out. His is a cinema populated with men who wince as they unload the barrels of their mouths.
That was the first thought that struck me during my viewing of the Woodman’s latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The film’s title is an appropriate stand-in for the movie itself: straightforward exposition laid bare. As Vicky Cristina Barcelona begins, we are treated to images of Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) traipsing off to the titular city. Alongside said images is a narration that lays everything bare with the most minimal effort: Vicky and Cristina are off together to Barcelona for a summer, they’re going to stay at Vicky’s parents’ friend’s place, Vicky is studying for her Masters, Cristina doesn’t know what’s next for her, et cetera. And there they are, five minutes into the film, the audience expectantly wondering what adventures will befall them?
“This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ’Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ’Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ’I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it, because… most of us need the eggs.”—Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
Woody Allen ended his Oscar-winning Annie Hall with that joke, one of the most unconventional yet appropriate odes to love to ever be committed to film. Since then, he has spent nearly 30 years trying to recapture the mix of humor and pathos that have helped make Annie Hall such an enduring classic, and, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he has finally found it again. If not quite up to the level of Annie Hall or his masterpiece Manhattan, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is nonetheless Allen’s strongest, most philosophically and morally profound film since 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.