“A trip down memory lane” are words that float in the mind, hum in the ears and jingle in the proverbial breeze during the summery afterglow of Woody Allen’s enchanting rumination on art, romance and writing, Midnight in Paris, and not just because it marks the prolific 75-year-old writer/director’s best film in many years.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a likeable, mellowed version of Allen himself (with a dash of Paul Giamatti neurosis thrown in) as a well-off Hollywood writer who strolls the streets of Paris seeking inspiration to finish his first novel.

The film begins as part travelogue drama, part late-age-coming-of-age, part romance. Gil is engaged to the pretty yet flustered Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, and her family are snitchy upper crust cranks. 

When the hour strikes midnight one evening Gil, alone on the streets, is transported back in time to the 1920s. Inspiration begins to seep through his veins when he meets some of his most admired writers and artists — Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleton), T.S. Eliot (David Lowe), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and others.

Enchanted, just like the audience, when he mingles with his titanic icons of yesteryear, Midnight in Paris explores and literalises the foggy charms of nostalgia, the fun and folly of romanticising the past. Allen then observes how, through a mist of reflection, things can be remembered better than they actually were. To make that point while simultaneously embracing the smokey beauty of the past, bathing in a perfumed mist of fact-tinged fantasy, is one of the film’s crowning achievements.

Midnight in Paris takes a slight dip when Allen returns the plot from the 20s back to the present, but it probably needed to in order for the fairytale-fangled old-set bits to truly beguile.

Framed, directed, acted and scored (it has a lovely, swooning soundtrack by Stephane Wrembel) with beautiful deftness of touch, the film sprays from the screen like mist from a fountain, a bottle of freshly popped cinematic champagne as elegantly pieced together as anything you’ll see at the cinema this year.

Midnight in Paris isn’t just the most financially successful Woody Allen film of all time — collecting $110+ million worldwide and counting — it is also one of his finest. Included are scattered hints of films strewn throughout his CV, from the simple chatty elegance of Manhattan (1979) to the showier spectacle of Bullets Over Broadway (1994). It’s sensual like a night with a beautiful new lover; hopeful, teasingly incomplete; lingering on the palette with a taste of possibility for the future.

Or in this case, the past.

Midnight in Paris’ Australian theatrical release date: October 20, 2011.