Hugo is the ultimate love letter to the cinema, showcasing the work of the father of the movies, Georges Méliès. Director Martin Scorsese has never been more accessible. His affection for the subject matter clearly shows.
The Artist is a silent movie set in the golden age of Hollywood, during the transition from silents to talkies. It radiates charm and viewers can enjoy its nods to Fred and Ginger musicals and classic films like Singin' in the Rain and A Star is Born.
Midnight in Paris takes Owen Wilson to magical eras in the City of Light's past where he can rub shoulders with Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and even the French Impressionists. But Woody Allen is also calling up the magic in classic Hollywood films like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Time After Time, where the hero has an opportunity to trip through time and find romance in the past.
My Week with Marilyn is a movie about the making of a movie. The Muppets is set in the present, but its plot and its entire vibe hearkens back to the Muppet's first movie, which came out in 1979. The Adventures of Tintin is a boy's adventure that evoke film noir. Puss in Boots has its obvious roots in Zorro and other classic movie swashbucklers and Rango uses Hollywood westerns as its inspiration.
Not since the early '70s have so many movies been looking backward. So many films seemed to have an affection for the '30s — and the movies made in that era.
The Sting (1973) wears its love for '30s gangsters movies proudly and also pays homage to silent films with title cards. Depression-era America is also the setting for Peter Bogdonavich's Paper Moon (1973), which calls to mind The Grapes of Wrath. Bogdonavich took another nostalgic turn with Nickelodeon (1976), where he featured the birth of motion pictures.
The Great Gatsby (1974) is about the nostalgia of a past love, and is filmed to look like the classic '30s doomed romances featuring Joan Crawford. Cabaret (1972) is in a slightly more modern era, Weimar Germany, but it calls to mind classic movie musicals as well as war movies filmed in the late '30s, early '40s.
Chinatown (1974) is Roman Polanski's '70s take on film noir, with Jack Nicholson playing the ultimate beleaguered P.I., fascinated and double-crossed by a gorgeous dame (Faye Dunaway), in the long filmic tradition of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974) is a true homage to the classic '30s horror films, characters, and actors. It's also still one of the funniest and beautiful-to-look-at moves ever made.
Is it because we are again in a recession that we would rather look back? When Hollywood looks back, it always seems to look back not just to another era, but on itself, its history. But its self-reflexive nature does make for some great films.