Sure, weighty subject matter, literary pretension and a heavy hitter cast list can help to tip the scales in the right direction, but a real tell in the past 20 years bien sûr is the Academy’s enduring love affair with the City of Lights. The allure of the world’s most romantic cosmopolitan playground adds a certain ooh la la factor to films that is unequaled by any other European setting.
This destination bias toward films set in Paris is why Les Miserables (out Christmas day) is a surefire Oscar contender. The grandiloquent musical centering around Jean Valjean, a parole-breaking loaf thief on a redemptive quest, tugs at the heartstrings and even those who fail to get enveloped in the emotional rollercoaster cannot help but hum along to the charming choruses. Can’t you just hear the critics toe tapping along to a rousing rendition of Do You Hear the People Sing? while tears stream down their cheeks by the second time “…when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums” comes around.
Before you pshaw at the sentiment-stoking power that causes seasoned film goers to well up when they catch a mere glimpse of the Champs-Élysées or the river Seine, let’s examine Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The entire movie plays out like a walking tour of the city.
Owen Wilson and his mishpokhe lodge at the five-star Hotel Le Bristol on the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré and patronize a gaggle of mainline tourist attractions from Monet’s garden to Rodin’s thinker statue where France’s then first lady, the ravishingly beautiful Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, turns up for a cameo as a museum tour guide.
Table time is logged at famed eateries including the Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor, the brasserie where Wilson picks Ernest Hemingway’s brain. Despite doubling as a two-hour advertisement for Paris’ Convention and Visitors Bureau, the film’s warm embrace of the romantic city of cute berets and crisp baguettes led to a quartet of Oscar nominations and a Woody win for best original screenplay.
Setting an identically plotted film in Bucharest or Bratislava instead might have intrigued certain cineastes, but the unfamiliarity might have engendered indifference in the hearts and minds of members of the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences when it came time to punch their ballots.
Imagine for a second if Moulin Rouge was set in a nightclub in 19th century Paris, Texas and the hit song that emerged from the movie featured the far less insouciant “lovely lady, lay with me tonight,” lyric in lieu of “voulez vous couchez avec mois ce soir?” Those eight Oscar nominations would go poof.
Amélie, lavished with five Oscar nominations, is another flick where the setting overwhelms the senses, making viewers misty with Parisian wanderlust and wistful to try their own hand at skipping stones from the St. Martin canal. The camera fawns over the colourful shop fronts of Montmartre, imbuing the district with a fairy tale luster. In a particularly poignant scene shimmering with Paris ennui, Amélie aids a blind man in finding his way to the metro. While helping him along Lamarck Street, she paints a vivid picture of the bustling market ambience, offering a play-by-play description of the sights, sounds, and smells that Lonely Planet readers would drool over.
The awards voting crowd is even susceptible to visions of an animated Paris. Pixar’s award gobbling Ratatouille makes the mouth water for sophisticated and authentic haute French cuisine like the movie’s namesake eggplant dish. Then there’s Scorsese’s 3D children’s movie Hugo, set in the Gare Montparnasse railway station with stunning views of snowflakes falling down on the La Tour Eiffel in the distance. The recipient of 11 Oscar nominations, Hugo leaves viewers longing to peruse antique shops in Paris in search of intricate French clockwork while contemplating the pioneering silent films of Georges Méliès.
Filmmakers angling to be walking on red carpets come award season might want to consider setting their next opus in the French capital.