LOS ANGELES — The chimes may have tolled midnight in Paris, but in Hollywood, it’s the dawn of another career revival for Woody Allen after his biggest hit in decades and a new round of awards accolades.
How much will the success of Midnight in Paris change the filmmaker’s career? Not one bit, says Allen.
In nearly 45 years of alternating between toast of the town and yesterday’s news, Allen has barely deviated from a simple formula: make a movie a year on an economical budget and avoid the show business baubles — counting box-office grosses, obsessing over reviews, glad-handing for awards — that would distract from his routine.
“I’ve managed to avoid over decades the hit-flop syndrome,” Allen said in an interview during a recent trip to Los Angeles, where he and his Dixieland jazz band wrapped up a six-city tour. “Most filmmakers work in that spectrum, and they have the pluses and minuses. They get the delight and pleasure out of a great hit, and they love the awards, they love the parties, the opening-night parties, the premieres. The box-office returns are heady for them, and they love it. But when something doesn’t work, very often, they have trouble getting money for their next picture.
“I’ve never had that problem. I’ve never had their joys or their lows. I’ve just sort of existed since 1968 making films kind of on a low flame, burning on a low flame. And that’s fine, because the fun for me is to make the picture.”
By the time the romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris began packing theatres last summer, Allen was on to the next film, preparing to shoot his ensemble comedy Nero Fiddled in Rome. He had put Midnight behind him, but his love letter to Paris was charming critics and fans like no other Allen film had done in ages.
A clever romp examining people’s perpetual discontent with modern times, the film stars Owen Wilson as an American writer whose yearning for the 1920s Paris of Hemingway and Fitzgerald gives him a chance to spend some quality time with his idols.
Allen may not have been counting the grosses, but the rest of Hollywood was as Midnight in Paris became the independent-film success of the year with $56.4 million domestically and well over $100 million worldwide.
The film has four nominations at Sunday’s Golden Globes, picked up an original-screenplay nomination for the Writers Guild of America Awards and brought Allen his first Directors Guild of America nomination since 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanours.
Already the record-holder with 14 writing nominations at the Academy Awards, Allen seems likely to pad that total and possibly pick up his first Oscar directing nomination since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway and first best-picture nomination since 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters.
“Woody Allen still has a lot to say, and he’s as prolific as ever, and he’s at another peak,” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which released Allen’s last three films, among them Midnight in Paris, and is putting out Nero Fiddled this summer. “Look at Midnight in Paris. It’s one of the freshest, most-original screenplays imaginable. It’s a fantasy film with no special effects.”
No special effects, that is, except rhapsodic images of Paris — a city 76-year-old Allen says he would consider moving to if his wife were not set on remaining in Manhattan — and the latest in a long line of magical casts the filmmaker has assembled over the decades.
Roles in Allen’s films have brought Oscars to Diane Keaton, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest and others, while 1977’s Annie Hall won best picture, director and original screenplay. Allen also won a screenplay Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters.
Even with such awards success, Allen talks about his films as though they’re a lightweight body of work.
“I’m still trying to make a great film, and that goal keeps me going,” Allen said. “To keep trying to make something that I feel could play alongside films that I consider great. If there was a festival in a theatre, and they were showing 12 films, and they were showing Citizen Kane and The Bicycle Thief, that I could have one of mine in there with it, and they would say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s one of the 12.”’
Recent Allen films such as Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger left fans and critics indifferent. But his movies almost always find enough of an audience domestically and overseas to make their money back on modest budgets of generally less than $20 million.
And Allen occasionally scores a mini-hit like Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, two of the seven films he has shot in Europe in recent years after decades of shooting mainly in Manhattan.
The upcoming Nero Fiddled is another light comedy, told through four simultaneous story lines, and it marks Allen’s first time on screen since 2006’s Scoop. He co-stars with Penelope Cruz, who won an Oscar for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, Judy Davis and Alison Pill.
Allen is trying to decide between another light comedy and a more serious idea for his next film, which he plans to make this summer. Whichever he settles on, he’s thinking about shooting it in the United States.
For all the neuroses he displays on screen, Allen likes to point out that he comes from a long-lived family, with parents who both lived well beyond 90. Allen can see himself continuing his film-a-year routine at 86 or even 96.
“If my health holds out and if people want to keep financing my films, why not?” Allen said. “It’s not rocket science. I mean, it’s not such a Herculean task. You’re talking about a film a year. That’s like saying to a cab driver, ‘You want to do 10 fares a year?’ I’m not doing a film a month or some ridiculous thing.
“We’re also pampered in show business, you know. Guys work these enormous schedules — lawyers, teachers, doctors, they work around the clock all year long. In show business, what is it to do a film? It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t.”
If money or audiences for his films ever dried up for good, Allen said he could not imagine “sitting home and just twiddling my thumbs.” Rather than retiring, he said he might write for the theatre or work on a novel.
“But I feel that’s older man’s work. A film — while I have the vitality and the strength and the backers, why not make them?” Allen said. “If you have something to say and a good idea, the age is irrelevant. If I saw myself, cut to me in my 90s and I’m making these films that drone on and nobody sees them and they’re utterly irrelevant to everybody, that’s pointless.
“But if I make a film and it entertains people and they like it? If I made ’Midnight in Paris’ — I mean, there’s no reason I couldn’t make that same film, if I had the health, 20 years from now.”