The "Movies" List: "Americans" in Paris

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For my second week back on the "Movies" beat — the film recommendation bit I'm doing during my weekly segment on The Chris Vernon Show — the topic is "Americans" in Paris, based on the new Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, which opens in Memphis tomorrow and stars Owen Wilson as a Hollywood screenwriter on holiday in the City of Lights. (My review here.)

So here are my Top 5 non-French films set in Paris:

5. The Dreamers (2004): Director Bernardo Bertolucci's second sexually provocative film about an American male in Paris, following the more titanic but also more dated 1972 landmark Last Tango in Paris. Here young American Michael Pitt has a meet-cute with Parisian siblings Eva Green and Louis Garrel at the cinema in the days leading up to the May 1968 national protests and ends up living with them while their parents are away, resulting in an emotionally and sexually complicated triangle. Full of references and homages to the classic Hollywood and French New Wave films the characters love. The title is both sympathetic and a critique. My original review here.

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4. An American in Paris (1951): Oscar-winning Technicolor musical directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly. It's not the best musical from either (that would be Meet Me in St. Louis and Singin' in the Rain, respectively), but I couldn't very well leave it off this list. Kelly is a struggling American painter in post-WWII Paris who finds himself torn between his patron (Nina Foch) and a young woman he meets in a restaurant (Leslie Caron). Looks a little too flamboyant and overblown now, but it has great music from George and Ira Gershwin and Kelly and Caron hoofin' it.


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3. Ratatouille (2007): One of the very best Pixar films, from Brad Bird, about a gifted young rat with unusually refined taste that yearns to rise above his station and become a chef at a famous Parisian restaurant, using a gastronomically unskilled kitchen worker as his vehicle. A celebration of Paris as place and of French cuisine, but American in its endorsement of and faith in self-invention: "Anyone can cook" is its mantra. See Addison Engelking's original Flyer review here.


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2. Ninotchka (1939): Directed by Ernst Lubitsch with Greta Garbo in the title role as a Bolshevik agent sent to Paris to find out why her bumbling comrades (including the great Felix Bressart) have been so slow to sell off jewels confiscated from the aristocracy in the revolution. Stern and rigid at first, Ninotchka eventually falls under the spell of Paris and of suitor/rival Mervyn Douglas (as "Count Leon d'Algout"). The satirical script from Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett sparkles, and Garbo is a hoot throughout. (Reporting on the goings-on back home as she gets off the train in Paris: "The last mass trails were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.") Very droll. (Wilder and Brackett penned another great set-in-Paris 1939 comedy as well: Midnight, directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Claudette Colbert. It was left off this list only for the sake of variety.)


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1. Before Sunset (2004): Richard Linklater's sequel — nine years later — to his Before Sunrise, in which a young American (Ethan Hawke) and a young French woman (Julie Delphy) meet on a train to Vienna and end up spending a night together in the city. Here they meet again for the first time: Hawke now a successful author at a book reading in Paris, Delphy the local surprising him with her attendance. Played out in real time, in the hour before Hawke's character is set to depart, the pair journey through Paris, shot in long takes that alternate walking and sitting (in a café, on a boat, in a cab), talking and catching up with each other, with knowledge of their past and the palpable sense of time running out ratcheting up the stakes. Hypnotic. A perfect union of style and content and my fifth favorite film of the 2000s. My original review.

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