Here's a little secret: the Oscars are this weekend. That's not enough time to watch every nominated film, and frankly, I don't want to be held responsible for you watching Albert Nobbs. If you don't want to be embarrassed at your roommate's Academy Awards party or at the water cooler on Monday morning, I suggest you watch the following two films.
Without a doubt, my favorite film of the year was Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen). The glorious scenery of Europe is a constant reminder of history, drawing up strong feelings of nostalgia. Owen Wilson is phenomenal as Gil, a screenwriter struggling with artistic inadequacy. He embraces the quirky self-deprecating humor so specific to an Allen hero, but he adds a certain charm in the place of overpowering neuroses. His gleeful naïveté and endless longing are endearing; after all, we can all relate to his longing for completion.
His obsession with the past takes him to the 1920's. Certainly, this was an amazing moment in history, with some of the world's greatest writers getting insanely drunk and partying all night while carrying on brilliant conversations. The supporting cast manages to encapsulate the charms (and follies) of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, and other influential figures of the time. Whenever Gil meets a new celebrity, he exclaims, "Wow, T.S. Eliot!" As an viewer, I too felt the thrill of meeting my idols each time he had a new encounter -- a testament to Wilson's enthusiasm and Allen's writing prowess.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight Corey Stoll's phenomenal turn as Ernest Hemingway. Generally, Hemingway does not tend to elicit much sympathy from modern readers. Stoll captured Hemingway's tortured spirit beautifully, showing how the first World War managed to fracture every man it touched. His speech on the similarities between sex and death was delivered with sharp Hemingway punctuation, but it remained eloquent and moving. His foil to the other rollicking figures shows Gil that every time period has its own struggles, either for or in spite of its prolific art.
Of course, the most important lesson here is that nostalgia is timeless. Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Gil's 1920's love interest, finds herself fixated on the 1890's. No one is ever satisfied with the present; this is especially true for artists. Allen shows that we can carry our nostalgia as inspiration, but it must not cloud the future. This is the perfect statement for this era of his career, and I couldn't have been more charmed by the experience.
On the same theme of nostalgia, The Artist showcases the difficulty of advancement. It's much easier to simply look backwards or continue on the same path than it is to adapt and improve. Like Midnight in Paris, The Artist shows that endless nostalgia is ultimately fruitless -- time keeps moving forward, so it's impossible to stand still.
While the film is obviously nostalgic for Hollywood's golden days, it is also daring in its use of silence. Most modern American audiences refuse to even watch subtitles. This makes The Artist's critical and mass success all the more impressive. The casting had a large part to do with this, which I discuss at length here. I won't repeat myself, so suffice it to say that you should watch this film -- not just because it's this year's most buzzed about film, but because it's a damn good movie.