Will Owen Wilson get an Academy Award nomination for his role as the starstruck time-traveler in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris? If Wilson does -- and I'm guessing that the zen slacker will -- it will be his second bid: In 2002 he won a screenwriting nomination for his collaboration with Wes Anderson on The Royal Tenenbaums.
Will he win? Probably not. The playing field is dramatically slanted against comedy. But he is enormously gifted, both as a screenwriter (he co-wrote Bottle Rocket and Rushmore) and as a one-of-a-kind actor.
Wilson's gee-whiz sunniness as the hack writer who has a brush with Jazz Age greats Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein elevates a second-tier Allen movie to first-rate entertainment. Wilson's forte, tweaking drama from comedy and tickling humor from despair, is in large part responsible for putting Midnight in Paris on track to be Allen's biggest success. (Hannah and Her Sisters made $40 million in the U.S. in 1986, roughly $77 million in 2011 dollars. So far Midnight has earned $77 million worldwide.)
From his debut in Bottle Rocket through the midday of Shanghai Noon, the twilight of Wedding Crashers and Midnight in Paris, Wilson endears by simultaneously being sympathetic and unsympathetic. Very few performers earn the audience goodwill to dare that. After Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, who? Who else could preen as Hans, the runway model in Zoolander, and generously take second billing to a Labrador retriever in Marley & Me? With his frisky energy and melancholy eyes, Wilson is something of a human Labrador.