14. The Statement (Norman Jewison, 2003)
Michael Caine and the French Riviera seem to go very well together. After “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, Michael Caine returns to the Riviera, this time in a more serious film entitled “The Statement”. Norma Jewison’s last film (to date) tells the story of the hunt for Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine), a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hit men and police investigators. It appears that, during World War II, Brossard ordered the execution of seven Jews.
Now the families of the victims seek revenge so they hire a contract killer to liquidate Brossard and leave a printed ‘Statement’ on his body proclaiming the assassination was vengeance for the Jews executed in 1944. Also on Brossard’s tale are two police investigators who want to take the man into custody so that this “incident” cannot escalate more than it already has.
The hunt for Pierre Brossard takes the viewer on an exciting trip throughout the south of France as the man takes refuge in different abbeys and monasteries, hoping that the hand of God will protect him. The audience follows Brossard and his enemies into the castles of Oise and Aix-en-Provence, working class Marseille and other spectacular French landscapes.
15. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
It’s been 9 years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) last saw each other and a lot has changed since then. They met on the night train to Vienna and had a brief but memorable encounter that was over at sunrise. The two parted ways and promised to see each other after six months.
None of them stuck to the plan and since they did not exchange addresses, each went their own way. Jesse became a writer and is married with one child, while Celine has become an advocate for the environment, and has a photojournalist boyfriend. None of them really forgot, or got over, their memorable encounter nine years ago. Jesse wrote a book inspired by that night entitled “This Time”.
While doing a public reading – as part of a book tour – in a Parisian library Jesse spots Celine in the audience and their romance reignites. Unfortunately, again their time is limited as Jesse has a plane to catch in the evening. They make the best of their day walking through the streets of Paris and depicting their lives since they last saw each other. Their conversations become deeply personal and each of them expresses some dissatisfaction with their current lives.
Like the first film, this one also has no other real characters except the two. The film is shot in real time and it consists simply of the two of them walking and sightseeing in Paris, while talking about the past, present and future. It is pretty obvious that they are still very much in love with each other.
While pausing from conversation, they find the time to look around them and ponder the beauty of Paris. Jesse has the tourist awe in him while Celine rediscovers the beauties of her home city – at one point she admits that she forgot how beautiful the city really is. A simple love story, a beautiful city…no need for more than that.
16. A Good Year (Ridley Scott, 2006)
Ridley Scott had owned a house in Provence for fifteen years and wanted to film a production there. He wanted to do a simple, intimate film (as opposed to the big-budget epic productions he has used his audience with) that would capture the spirit of the region in its entirely. Also living in Provence was Peter Mayle, a British author who had written several best-selling books set in the south of France.
Scott and Mayle were acquaintances and neighbors, having worked together in advertising and commercials during the 1970s, but as the author did not want to write a screenplay, he instead wrote a new book after discussing a film plot with Scott. The result was “A Good Year”, the story of Max (Russell Crowe), an unethical, aggressive, hard-working London-based bond trader, who inherits the vineyard estate of his estranged uncle.
An orphan from an early age, Max use to spend his childhood summers there but has lost touch since then. After hearing the news, Max goes to Provence to quickly sell the property and get back. Unfortunate circumstances force Max to spend more time in Provence that he would have liked. But it turns out to be all for the better, as Max rediscovers the simple joys of life and the beauty that surrounds it.
This light romantic/nostalgic is quite a change for both director Ridley Scott and lead actor Russell Crowe that belong to the action/drama genre. The film was shot mostly in locations Scott described as “eight minutes from my house”. The idyllic imagery in the movie was shot in locations such as Bonnieux, Cucuron, Gordes, Marseille and Avignon. Need we say more?
17. Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
Sofia Coppola’s modern spin on the ill-fated life of Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) was not well-received by critics and viewers. Many people were off-put by the use of modern music in historical drama. While on the history subject, there are many inaccuracies in regards to the actual events in the queen’s life.
Despite its many shortcomings, “Marie Antoinette” is worth a look for its extravagant and eye-candy costumes and for its cinematography and imagery. It one is able to get pass the historical inaccuracies and the modern music, one will discover a film like never before. This is due to the fact that the filming crew was given unprecedented access to the Palace of Versailles and its magnificent gardens. This is definitely the movie’s forte.
The impression that the Versailles lingers in the viewer’s mind long after the movie is over. The semi-private world that Antoinette builds for herself to escape Versailles’s codified, quasi-totalitarian atmosphere is also present in the film through a series of unusual cinema techniques. This is certainly not a film for someone seeking classic historical drama but if one is able to free his mind of cinematic conventions a whole world of magical extravaganza will appear on the screen.
18. Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008)
“Taken” was the action movies’ revelation in the ’00’s. Nobody expected it to do so well and start its own franchise. From reading the movie’s plot one is not at all impressed. A retired CIA agent travels across Europe and relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been kidnapped while on a trip to Paris. Deja-vu, right? It sounds like most of the action films out there that are a dime a dozen. But once you watch it you can’t help but be hooked – even if you are not an action movie guy.
A film critic observed that it doesn’t matter if you are popcorn movie guy of a diehard fan of art-house cinema; you will love this film. “Taken” has that certain something that makes a good film stand out. Another revelation is Liam Neeson as an action star. Although he was 56 years old when he did the film, Liam Neeson made it seem that he was an action star his whole life. His cool, dark attitude generated a lot of fuzz and the audience truly believe that this man can kick some serious but.
Unfortunately – as with all successful action films – the movie’s positive reviews encouraged the producers to star working on sequels. The film has two sequels, so far, that are both criminally inferior to the original film. The success of “Taken” also inspired Liam Neeson to reinvent himself as an action star.
As for Paris? Well, Paris is Paris no matter what the subject of the film. Liam Neeson takes us on a tour of the dodgy neighborhoods of Paris, as he pursues his daughter’s kidnappers. But even the dodgy neighborhoods at night look wonderful. Hey, it’s Paris!
19. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)
Every now and then Woody Allen likes to make a love-letter film. Before this film, there was “Manhattan” – an open love letter to New York. After this film, there was “To Rome with Love” – an open love letter to Rome. “Midnight in Paris” is not just an open love letter to Paris but also an open love letter to early 20th century literature.
The film begins with an amazing montage of Paris’s main sights. The bohemian, picturesque Parisian streets are put through the specter of the sun, the mist and the rain. Then after the opening credits, Allen’s shows us a beautiful natural landscape set somewhere near Paris; a lake with lilies and a romantic bridge over it. Then when hear a couple (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams) talking about the beauty of Paris.
We just hear them talk; our visual radius is still filled by the beautiful lake seemingly taken from a Monet painting. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a successful but creatively unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter, talks about the troubles he is having on writing his novel and the possibility of moving to Paris for inspiration. His fiancé, however, will have none of it. Rain starts to fall and Gil’s fiancé is desperate to find a cab while Gil would much rather walk in the rain, as he finds it very romantic.
One night Gil gets drunk, while his fiancé is out dancing with friends, and has the most wonderful and bizarre experience an aspiring writer or avid reader could have. He is picked up by a vintage car and taken to a party where he meets all his literary idols: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jean Cocteau, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and many others. At dawn, everything fades away leading Gil to believe he was daydreaming.
But then the next night, in the exact same spot, he meets Pablo Picasso and Luis Bunuel. And so Gil begins live and socialize, amongst the people he has admired all his life, very midnight in Paris. One could say that Gil literally lives in the past. But that seems to be fine with him as it is a perfect way to escape the banalities and the worries of present life.
This is, hands down, the best movie Woody Allen has done in a long time. His romantic views on Paris are exactly the way the city should be portrayed. From the Eiffel Tower to the Luxembourg Garden, from the Champs-Elysees to the river Seine and from 2011 to the times of the Lost Generation…Woody Allen leaves nothing out in this one-of-a-kind gem of a film.
20. My Old Lady (Israel Horovitz, 2014)
This superb and sadly under-seen movie has such wonderful poetry to it that it is very hard to believe that this is playwright Israel Horovitz directorial debut in film. But it is. The film is a visual pleasure and it likes to take its time and linger through the action and the wonderful Parisian settings.
It tells the story of a very unlucky American, named Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), who inherits an apartment in Paris that comes with a surprise; a stubborn tenant that will not move for anything in the world. But wait, there’s more. Not only will the tenant – an old lady named Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) – not move but also Mathias has to pay her a life annuity of 2400 euro a month.
Mathias has no money and no place to live, but Mathilde allows him to stay in the apartment with her for a price. However, to pay for the next life annuity payment he steals and sells furniture from the apartment, and embarrassingly asks a prospective buyer of his contract for an advance payment. Mathias discovers that Mathilde and his father had a long-lasting affair while both were married. He also falls in love with Mathilde’s daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas).
The film is an adaptation of Horovitz’s own play and it proves, once more, that Paris and France in general will always be a source of inspiration for artists all over the world.