Backstage Spotlight: The Overlapping Themes of Hugo, The Artist, and Midnight in Paris

Having finally seen Hugo this past weekend, I was once again brought into France via the movies–this time, a Parisian world, namely a train station, built by Martin Scorsese. After seeing it, I noticed that Midnight in ParisHugo, and The Artist all share some overlapping themes that made 2011 film feel very full circle for me. These are the similar ideas/themes I gleaned from watching the three films:

French Influence/Setting

I started to think about how France majorly influenced some of the biggest pictures of 2011. The ArtistMidnight in Paris, and Hugo–all were nominated for Best Picture. The Artist took the big prize (and then some other big ones) without breaking a sweat, Woody Allen was once again MIA to pick up his Best Original Screenplay trophy, and Hugo ran away with five technical awards at the Oscars.

Midnight in Paris is perhaps the most self-explanatory in terms of relating to France. It was filmed in Paris! The City of Lights was highlighted most in Midnight in Paris of the three films. Castor over at Anomalous Material wrote this great article that acts as a travel guide for many of the locations where Midnight in Paris was filmed.

While Hugo was actually filmed in London, Scorsese built a Parisian world that was often viewed through the eyes of Hugo, sitting in a clock tower in a train station. Multiple shots of the Eiffel Tower sitting in the distance appeared throughout the film, although the majority of film took place on a train station set. Scorsese celebrates Georges Melies, the early French filmmaker and most notably the film, A Trip to the Moon. You can learn more about how Hugo celebrates Melies in this Star News article.

The Artist has become one of the great film feats of France to take place in America, having won most of the big awards, Best Picture at the Academy Awards sitting at the top. Other French actors and films have received accolade, but The Artist triumphed in showcasing relatively new director Michel Hazanavicius, French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, and French film composer Ludovic Bource. Jerry Garrett wrote a well-researched article about the different LA locations where The Artist was filmed and how some related to old Hollywood or were specifically chosen by Hazanavicius for inspired reasons.

Love Letters

It’s fitting that Paris is dubbed the “City of Love”–the theme of each of the three films had the idea of “love” well-integrated into them, each acting as a love letter of sorts: Midnight in Paris, a love letter to the past and to the city; Hugo, a love letter and homage to film; The Artist, a love letter to art and expression, and a well-developed underlining theme of love itself.

Not only was Midnight in Paris a masterpiece and a beauty to view as an audience, but the film elicited charm, bringing the early 1900s Paris to life, and showing the origination of some of the most celebrated artists and writers in the city. The “starving writer” Gil, seeks solace in a discovered early 1920s Parisian world filled with the writers and artist who inspire him. French culture abounds, taking center stage throughout the film.

The brilliant Martin Scorsese decided to share one of his loves with the world–a film about film. There’s a scene when Hugo and Isabelle sit in a library and open a book that talks about early film, silent film, and the first film made–about a train. Scorsese really thanks the past films that served as both mentors and inspiration for Hugo and his other films.

While Hugo hits the love of silent film, The Artist puts its complete focus on it, not only being a silent film itself, but telling the story of a forgotten silent film star in the rise of talkies. In the middle of the film emerges a love story that starts off innocently, transitioning to Peppy extending a saving grace to George, and then ultimately finds the two dancing alongside one another in the end.

Lost, But Not Forgotten

Each of the three films also press the issue of forgetting–Midnight in Paris reminds us to not live in the past, but also not to forget it and how it influences us today; Hugo tells the story of a forgotten filmmaker, and in the process delves into early film and how it got its start; The Artist takes the most personal route of the three, showcasing a silent actor’s life unravel as the world not only forgets silent film, but ultimately forgets him and moves on to “make room for the young.”

Woody Allen really plays a trick on us–the lesson Gil learns in Midnight in Paris is that you need to live in the present, that the past belongs in the past, and that you have to make decisions now and learn to live in the now. The trick is that the film also serves as a reminder of what was, and what past art and culture has done for the future. I viewed Midnight in Paris as Woody Allen’s way of saying, “Paris, art, beauty of the past–the world may have forgotten you, but I haven’t. Thank you for paving the way and opening it up for today’s artists. You continue to inspire me.”

Hugo shows the origination of film and brings to live a forgotten filmmaker and master of the art. It celebrates a life that was all built on a risk one day, turned to a dazzling career, and then seemingly forgotten, being shoved to the side with the coming of war, his films and effects destroyed in an impulsive act of sorrow and rage. Hugo journeyed back to the roots of film to share the beginning of one of the greatest mediums of time.

Yes, forgotten filmmakers and stars have “made room for the young,” and have also been left out to dry. George Valentin is a forgotten silent film star–along with the medium, watching as the world shifts its eyes toward younger stars and ears toward talkies. Valentin grasps onto what stardom and life he has left, trying everything in his power to get the world to divert its gaze just long enough to remember that silent film is still powerful, beautiful, and worthwhile. What do you do when the world forgets you? I think Michel Hazanavicuis answered that with bringing us The Artist in the twenty-first century.

What themes did you notice in the Best Picture nominees? Did you pick up any other common themes that I missed in these films?

Yes, I’m Going to Talk about the Golden Globes

And the nominees are . . .

Not going to be listed here. But if you’d like to see a list, they’re just about anywhere else. Like Fandango, or Rotten Tomatoes, where it lists the movies with their RT rating. Kinda nifty.

Unfortunately, I haven’t see all of the films/performances that are up for awards yet. It’s difficult to make it to the theater for all of them, but I can comment on what I know and hope to happen. Here are my personal thoughts on each category, and who I guess will win each.

Best Motion Picture – Drama

I’ve seen 4 out of the 6 nominations. I’m actually stunned Ides of March made this list. Really? But then again, the Golden Globes occasionally pulls an odd nom or two out of a hat, so I’m crediting Ides with being the weird pick. My greatest disappointment is that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is entirely void from not only this list, but from the Golden Globes as well. Come on! I’m happy, however, to see Tree of Life not present, because people were making far too big a deal out of that film (if you ask me). I would be happy, however, to see The Help or The Descendants win this category. I enjoyed Moneyball a lot, but don’t think it deserves to win over either of those. I also think Hugo is entirely overrated because it’s a Scorsese film. I can’t comment on War Horse because I haven’t seen it, but it’s difficult to put into the mix when I don’t even have a desire to see it. Perhaps when it is in full release, I will reconsider.

Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

In this section, I’ve seen half the films. My Week with Marilyn was always on my list to see, but it hasn’t worked out yet. I will personally be pulling for 50/50 to win, because it was my favorite film of the year thus far, but with The Artist having the most nominations of the season, I see it easily stealing this win. Midnight in Paris is a close personal second pick for me. It’s a Woody Allen treat and a great film, but I find it unlikely to beat out The Artist. Unlike the rest of the world (and critics alike), I was not a giant fan of Bridesmaids, although I was impressed with Wiig’s writing more than her performance with it. Surprisingly, Carnage is really pulling out a nice string of nominations, but I doubt it will fare against The Artist, much less Midnight in Paris.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

This is perhaps one of the easiest categories for me to comment on, because I have seen all the performances except for Michael Fassbender in Shame. However, after reading reviews, if I were to bet on who would surprisingly come up and win this category, I would bet on him. Plus, I think those awards voters smile upon nudity, but that’s those awards voters for you. Judging on all other performances, it appears to be a pretty tight race. Unfortunately for Brad Pitt, I don’t see Moneyball nominations faring well at all against it’s competition. Despite my dislike of J. Edgar, I think DiCaprio gave a fantastic performance. And despite my thoughts, I think voters will overlook him again and go with Fassbender. My personal pick would be between George Clooney in The Descendants and Brad Pitt in Moneyball. I won’t even give Gosling a fair chance in this match because I’m still one of the many stunned that his performance in Drive wasn’t considered for this category.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I find myself with little to say, seeing that the majority of these performances are difficult to judge since half the films haven’t been widely distributed yet. The competition appears to be even more fierce in this category when big names like Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton are included. Although I will be biased and think that Viola Davis is more than deserving of this win, I see either of the former winning this category. I’m also left disappointed with Emma Stone not getting any credit for her work in The Help, but it doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. I’ve heard great things about Rooney Mara’s performance in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I don’t think she has a fighting chance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

I feel like I’ve really missed out on all the nominated performances this year–I’ve seen only one in this category as well! And that, being Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, which I don’t think will do anything. I see Michelle Williams easily taking this win with her performance in My Week with Marilyn. I’ve heard great things about Charlize Theron‘s polarizing performance in Young Adult, but I don’t know if that will come to anything or not. Two nominations are phoned in for Carnage, but again, it’s difficult to comment having not seen it. Although Kate Winslet seems to be an awards darling more than many.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical

Clear and simple, I would easily place my vote for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to win this category. I was blown away by his performance in 50/50. This is only the second time he has ever been nominated for a Golden Globe. But I think the obvious winner of this category will be Jean Dujardin in The Artist. Again, I’m stunned to see Gosling nominated for Crazy, Stupid, Love, of all the movies to be nominated for. And although I very much enjoyed Midnight in Paris, I doubt Owen Wilson will do anything. Either way, I’m happy to see him nominated.

Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

For this category, the stand-out performance for me was Shailene Woodley in The Descendants. The Help scored two nominations in this narrow category for Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, two actresses that I would also be happy to see win–I think Jessica Chastain has a little more edge then Spencer in this category. But then again, The Artist may take this category, too, with Berenice Bejo‘s performance. More than ever, I’m wishing I had seen that movie so I wouldn’t feel so begrudged in talking about it’s likely and hypothetical victories.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

It’s a strange thing to see Drive finally get a nomination with Albert Brooks in this category. My pick would go to Jonah Hill in Moneyball, although I see Christopher Plummer (Beginners) or Viggo Mortenson (A Dangerous Method) walking away with the trophy before Hill does.

Best Director – Motion Picture

I will admit I’m very biased in this category. First things first: No, George Clooney, I don’t think you should win, much less be nominated in this category. Yes Ides was good, but it wasn’t Best Director nomination-worthy. Second: Despite the hype over Hugo, no, Scorsese, I don’t think just because you decided to make a family film that was largely successful, that you should win this category either. What kid wants to sit in a theater for over two hours when the film is more fitting for adults? That’s what The Muppets is for–to make children laugh and smile and sing and enjoy going to the theater. And get ready for it: No, Mr. Allen, I don’t think you should win either. Yes, you are an incredible writer, director, and storyteller, but you’re also the biggest Academy Darling of those listed, and just because those voters love you doesn’t mean you should win every year you’re nominated. Off your high horse. Which leaves Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist). My gut tells me Hazanavicius is going to walk away with it, and I would be all the happier if he did.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

My first choice? Midnight in Paris. The writing is the strength of the film, and I think it’s spectacular. I think Ides should be thrown out the window on this one too. It is likely that The Artist could take this one, too, but then again, so could The Descendants. Moneyball was a nice adaptation, but for those who have read the book (*raises hand*), they know it wasn’t a great representation of the book. It was, however, an excellent way to translate the story for today’s viewers and make something that might not entertain most to something that could now entertain many.

Best Animated Feature Film

The question we should all be asking is, where the heck is Kung Fu Panda 2 on this list? Seriously, Cars 2  was the least successful Pixar film to date, yet it still makes it on the list of nominees. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be Puss in Boots. Then again, I remained unimpressed with this list, considering the great past couple years of animated filmmaking.

Best Foreign Language Film

I have little to nothing to say about this category as well, since I haven’t seen a single film on the list. My only thought is that it’s interesting to see Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut make the list, In the Land of Blood and Honey. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

There’s a great many popular and suspected composers’ scores on this list, from Howard Shore to John Williams to last year’s Oscar winners, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this time around. I put this category entirely up for grabs.

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

I’m definitely a fan of Mary J. Blige’s The Living Proof from The Help, but I can’t help but get angry at not seeing even a showing for The Muppets on this one. Really? I’m actually stunned. This is a huge disappointment for a film with such great original songs.

And those are my thoughts! What are your biggest disappointments and surprises for this year’s Golden Globes?