Last week the DFW Film Critics Association (of which I am a voting member) published its annual list of the best movies of 2011. I won’t get into which films were on my ballot and which ones made me wonder what my fellow critics were smoking; I’ll be publishing my own Top 10 list next week. However, it so happens that the DFWFCA’s Number 4 selection, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, comes out on DVD this week, and I found its inclusion rather thought-provoking.
When it came out last summer, Midnight in Paris became the most financially successful Woody Allen film of all time, which had various pundits scratching their heads. True, his literate comedy stood out in what was a remarkably low-grade summer for Hollywood blockbusters. Yet there was none of the “Woody is back!” hype that surrounded his 2005 thriller Match Point, or his 2008 comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Though reviews were widely positive, no one thought Midnight in Paris represented Woody Allen’s best work. Cole Williams’ review for the Weekly found it to be a pleasing trifle. So did I, when I caught up to the film later in the summer.
Its presence on DFW Film Critics’ year-end best list was a bigger surprise yet. After all, do you know anyone who thinks Midnight in Paris was the best movie of 2011? I’ve been scouring other critics’ Top 10 lists, and Allen’s film has figured on the fringes if at all. So how did our organization name it the year’s fourth-best movie? I e-mailed Todd Jorgenson, the president of the DFWFCA who has tabulated votes for the association’s awards for more than 10 years. Here’s what he said: “I don’t think anyone had [Midnight in Paris] as their top film, but it did show up in the lower portion of the top 10 on several ballots, so cumulatively it earned enough votes to make the top 4. Overall, the voting was more spread out this year than in most years. The Descendants and The Artist were a clear-cut No. 1 and 2, but several of the other films were tightly bunched in the middle of the pack.”
Here’s what this means for you, dear readers. There’s no consensus out there about which movies were the best this year. No front-runner has yet emerged. (Hey, look! This year’s race for the best movie is the same as the race for the Republican presidential nomination! Who knew?) So if you’re keying your moviegoing this holiday season to which films are likely to be nominated for awards, instead of four of five films, you’ll need to see about 40 or 50. Presumably having other things to do, you’ll probably find this to be a pain in the ass. On behalf of myself and my non-consensus-reaching colleagues, I would like to apologize. But then, what would I be apologizing for? After all, my colleagues and I didn’t make the movies that came out in 2011. It’s not our fault that Moneyball isn’t as good as The Social Network, or that The Iron Lady isn’t as good as The King’s Speech.
Of course, it would be easy for me to bemoan the lack of awesome Oscar-worthy movies this year, but I’m not going to play that game. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to look on the lack of consensus as an opportunity. There were tons of great movies this year; they’re just off the radar of most moviegoers, critics, and Oscar voters. Go looking in the foreign and indie films, and you’ll find not just pleasing entertainment and challenging works of art, but also causes to get behind. There’s lots of room this year for a dark horse to emerge. What will it be? Drive? (Yay!) A Separation? (Yay!) Albert Nobbs? (Boo!) I Saw the Devil? (Boo!) The Guard? (Yay!) You may just find that that puzzling Italian thriller or that American indie set in a religious community is the movie that changes your life, even if such films get lost when committees (like a critics’ organization or the Oscar voters) get together to decide these things. Me, I’m pulling the Bridesmaids bandwagon with all my might, just like I promised. There’s no good reason why everyone shrugs off the comedies at this time of year.
As far as Midnight in Paris goes, it makes a valuable point (even if Owen Wilson’s hero gets it right in calling it a “minor” epiphany) that nostalgia is a trap and that the romanticized past is no place to get caught up in. Cole’s review is absolutely right in highlighting Corey Stoll’s performance as Hemingway, but I would also add Adrien Brody’s side-splittingly funny cameo as Salvador Dalí. I wish Rachel McAdams hadn’t been saddled with such a shrewish part, but Michael Sheen does really well as an American blowhard intellectual. It isn’t one of the year’s best movies, but it’s pleasant and funny all the same.