The Academy Awards are tomorrow, and whether you’re Team Lincoln or Team Argo, it sure would impress your friends if you could say not only say, “seen it” but also, “been there!” Inspired by some of the Best Picture nominees, here are a few choice locations to explore.
If you want to see the exact locations of some of the key scenes from Les Miserables, you may be frustrated to learn that in the mid 19th century the French urban planner Baron Haussmann razed much of the old city, destroying the narrow streets and hidden neighborhoods in favor of broad avenues that define modern Paris. (This was, in part, an attempt to prevent erecting the very types of barricades used by French revolutionaries.)
Fortunately, there are a variety of tour companies that will lead you through the Marais, the historic district in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements where Victor Hugo lived – or you can take a self guided tour thanks to sites such as Smithsonian.com. Following their advice, you can visit not only Victor Hugo’s apartment in the Hotel de Rohan-Guemenee, but also tour the Church of St. Paul where characters Cosette and Marius were married, the park Jardin du Luxembourg where Marius first saw Cosette walking with Valjean, and perhaps most fun, the Musee des Egouts de Paris (Paris Sewer Museum,) the best chance to glimpse remnants of the 100 miles of underground sewers where Valjean carries the wounded Marius.
Big Hugo nerds might prefer the work of this Harvard Grad who found a digitized map of Paris from 1832 and then projected it onto a map of modern Paris to find exact locations from the novel. This extensive guide will lead you to Valjean’s first apartment in the Gorbeau tenement, the bridge Pont d’Austerlitz where Valjean escapes from Javert, the location of Courfeyrac’s apartment where Marius lived with his revolutionary pals, and most excitingly, the location of Javert’s suicide, which is situated along the Seine River between the Notre Dame Catherdral and the Palais de Justice, symbolizing the conflict of Grace vs. Law.
It might seem a complete contrast to jump from the city of lights to the swamps of Louisiana, but in the case of Les Miserables and another Best Picture nominee The Beasts of the Southern Wild, the stories concentrate on the downtrodden, and the locations where they take place are as much a character as the actors who travel through them. Call forth your inner Hushpuppy and start with a boat tour of the swamps, where you can see a Cajun fishing village and scan the water for gators, yet enjoy the comforts of on-board restrooms. If you are in the mood for a bit more adventure why not explore the vast bayou system on your own?
Make sure to bring some snacks for the trip. Fans of the film will inevitably make the bakery where lead actor Dwight Henry was discovered a must-visit destination. Previously famous in the local community for their mouthwatering buttermilk drops, the café may now be known as the reason why this celebrated first time actor turned down the role of Wink several times before finally being persuaded by the director that he was the only man for the job.
History buffs are probably putting their Oscar money on Lincoln. If it’s the man you admire, plan a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. If it’s the actual locations where battles were fought and lives were lost in the struggle for emancipation, prepare for your visit to Gettysburg by checking out the National Park Service website to brush up on the history of the place.
As the case with modern Paris, the Washington DC of today bears little resemblance to that of the 1860s, so much of the filming took place in and around Richmond, Virginia. ( ) If you want to know more about the locations used in the film, check out Virginia is for Lovers, which provides photos of buildings that were stand ins for the White House of old, and other fun details about the filming.
Feeling adventurous? Really adventurous? Why not hop a plane and check out the places where events occurred in the movie Argo? Yes, that’s right, we’re talkin’ Tehran, Iran. While there is no longer a functional American Embassy in Tehran, the building still stands and has housed a revolutionary guard training center and a museum, not generally open to visitors. Anti American murals commissioned by the Iranian government can be viewed by brave passersby.
Not feeling so adventurous after all? Apparently, neither were the filmmakers. Due to budget and other more delicate restrictions, much of the film was actually shot in sunny Southern California, including Zsa Zsa Gabor’s mansion which was used as producer Lester Siegel’s home in the film, as well as an old terminal at the Ontario Airport which stood in for the real thing in Tehran. The US Embassy depicted in Argo was actually a Veterans Affairs building in the far end of the San Fernando Valley, but the restaurant where they plan the hostage rescue plot is in fact a real place, the Burbank fixture The Smokehouse, operating near Warner Brothers studio since 1946.
If the greater Los Angeles area is not your idea of exotic, consider visiting Istanbul, Turkey, where two weeks of filming turned the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia mosque into key scenes in the movie.
Finally, we would like to thank the Academy for leading us to the discovery of the Indian coastal town of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), where the first act of Best Picture nominee Life of Pi was filmed. Hosting a colorful blend of French colonial and Indian cultures, this area is unique in Southern India. Here you can visit the Botanical Gardens where the zoo scenes were filmed, get blessed by an elephant, gaze longingly out at the sea along coastal avenues, and visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where Pi’s uncle swam 30 laps every morning. As a guest of the Ashram, you can have a more relaxing stay enjoying yoga and mediation for less than $8.00 a day!