Friday, June 11, 2010

#25: Woody Allen

- "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying."

The thought of trying to make it through Woody’s entire filmography before starting this project was nearly enough to call the whole thing off. It would be a virtual impossibility, unless I watched absolutely nothing from anyone but Woody and thus had gaping holes in the lists for many other directors. At the same time, leaving Woody out of such a list would be a total lie on my part – there is little doubt that he ranks among my twenty-five favorite directors. So, with that in mind, I tried to pick and choose as best I could, getting to as many of his films that I had not seen in such a short span of time. His work rate over the last few years makes things infinitely more difficult, as even at 75 years of age, the man still manages to crank out a film every year. Even if they are not of the high quality of his best work, you have to admire the dedication. Anyone willing to do that kind of work after accomplishing as much as Allen has must truly love what he is doing.

It is kind of easy to take potshots at Woody now, considering that his indefatigable work rate has resulted in a number of bad films and that the salacious details of his personal life are now the punch lines to jokes that he would have been making in his prime. While I personally think that his production in the 2000s has been better than it is generally regarded, that wouldn’t be the defense that I would offer when arguing why the man is an all-time great. The 1980s, for me, are far and away my favorite period of Allen filmmaking, as I think his run with Mia Farrow in that decade eclipses even his great collaborations with Diane Keaton. There is much personal preference in that statement, I know, but I don’t hesitate in making such a claim - his 70s output is great as well. More specifically, though, what separates Woody from so many of his contemporaries is his versatility. Fans of his work recognize it quite often, but to the general movie fan at large, a perception still persists that Allen is little more than a comic. Comedy is certainly incorporated in some form into all of his films, but his body of work is incredibly diverse. In the 1980s, specifically, you get to see nearly every facet of immense talent – the satirical side in Stardust Memories; the farcical mockumentary Zelig; the traditional Allen-type film in Broadway Danny Rose; the nostalgia of The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days; the romantic comedy of Hannah and Her Sisters; the serious drama of Crimes and Misdemeanors. Going further back than the 80s, you see even greater versatility in the physical comedy of films like Bananas. There may be unifying themes and elements in each of these films, but to argue that they are all alike is ludicrous.

As for the assertion that Allen always plays himself in his movies, or at the very least is playing the same persona, I can’t necessarily argue. His characters do tend to mirror each other. I would counter in saying that many a great Hollywood star put together amazing careers playing similar characters (John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney), but even that claim is almost unnecessary. I would never argue that Allen is the same kind of acting talent as Wayne or Cagney - he most definitely does not. The thing is, though, he doesn’t need to be. His strengths lie in his direction and his writing. The writing in particular is second-to-none. His acting is not needed to carry one of his films. What should never be overlooked is how good he is at handling a lot of talented actors and using his script to have them play off of each other. For me, Hannah and Her Sisters is the prime example of this.

So here is a Woody Allen list that, unfortunately, comes nowhere near covering his entire filmography. Even still, there are a lot of great films listed here.

1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
2. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. Radio Days (1987)
5. Zelig (1983)
6. Manhattan (1979)
7. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
8. Love and Death (1975)
9. Sleeper (1973)
10. Match Point (2005)
11. Husbands and Wives (1992)
12. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
13. Interiors (1978)
14. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
15. Stardust Memories (1980)
16. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
17. Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
18. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
19. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
20. Scoop (2006)
21. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
22. Bananas (1971)
23. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

And still so many to see!

Next up is a true icon and, according to many here at Goodfellas, the man who should properly be called the hardest-working American senior citizen in cinema: Clint Eastwood.


  1. Dave, I lost interest in Allen for no particular reason sometime during the 1990s, and I don't believe I've seen any of his films from the new millennium. Even by the time I stopped paying attention he had a formidable filmography, and here are my favorites from it.

    1. Zelig
    2. Sleeper
    3. Crimes and Misdemeanors
    4. Bullets Over Broadway
    5. Stardust Memories
    6. Bananas
    7. Annie Hall
    8. Love and Death
    9. Broadway Danny Rose

    And if asked to name a least favorite of those I've seen, I'd say Shadows and Fog.

  2. "It is kind of easy to take potshots at Woody now" - Indeed, Dave. What Allen writes in half-sleep turns out much better than certain modern comedies. And it is really remarkable that he churns out about a movie per year. And yes, I like his acting more than many do.

    Somehow, I find Woody's films are better before they are filmed. I'm not saying that he should stick to script writing (His direction and acting are something to behold too), but that he's far less a great director than he is a great writer, IMO.

    01. Manhattan (1979)
    02. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
    03. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
    04. Stardust Memories (1980)
    05. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
    06. Zelig (1983)
    07. Annie Hall (1977)
    08. Interiors (1978)
    09. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
    10. Husbands and Wives (1992)
    11. Match Point (2005)
    12. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
    13. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
    14. Love and Death (1975)
    15. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
    16. Take the Money and Run (1969)
    17. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
    18. Another Woman (1988)
    19. September (1987)
    20. Radio Days (1987)
    21. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
    22. Cassandra's Dream (2007)
    23. Anything Else (2003)
    24. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
    25. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
    26. Small Time Crooks (2000)
    27. Shadows and Fog (1991)
    28. Sounds from a Town I Love (2001)
    29. Sleeper (1973)
    30. Celebrity (1998)
    31. New York Stories (1989)
    32. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
    33. Scoop (2006)
    34. Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)
    35. Alice (1990)
    36. Don't Drink the Water (1994)
    37. Bananas (1971)
    38. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)
    39. Hollywood Ending (2002)
    40. Whatever Works (2009)
    41. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
    42. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

  3. Dear Dave:

    I am Woody Allen’s age, a native New Yorker and an admirer. He and I have much in common – shared New York experiences and films seen. But I am not funny – and there is some other stuff. Hard to argue with your list -- no one agrees consistently on ranking, particularly when one works down the list.

    Your top eight are close to mine, except I would have “Manhattan” at 1 and “Purple Rose” much higher than you. I am pleased that you left off “Shadows and Fog” and I could do without “Melinda and Melinda”. And I could make a case for “Mighty Aphrodite” and “Alice”.

    I am new to your site and read your top 100 Film Noir list. On first reading I knew I had seen 93 of them and wrote down the seven numbers of which I was unsure. I checked the seven and memory kicked in that I had seen six of them. I have not seen number 63, as you indicated is often the case. But it is on Netflix so that is on its way to remedy. Thank you. I like your site and will visit regularly.

    Gerald of Laszlo’s

  4. The quintessential New Yorker, and with Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Altman and Lynch, and Malick, one of the seven most important American directors of the past 40 years. In fact even on that shortlist, he rates in the top three. What he has done in the later period would be formidable even without the stellar legacy he forged in the 70's and 80's, and as you rightly note above he's a vital filmmaker for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the dedication to release a film virtually every single year, despite his advancing age. He's a legacy, and in Europe especially, intellectual critics adore him. I'll restrict my list to my twenty personal favorites, though a long list like JAFB's is a pleasure to read, and is marvelously and passionately comprehensive. Your own list is superbly compiled, and I share your affinity for so many, and concur with your #1 choice:

    1 Crimes and Misdemeanors
    2 Annie Hall
    3 Manhattan
    4 Everyone Says I Love You
    5 Stardust Memories
    6 Broadway Danny Rose
    7 Bananas
    8 Love and Death
    9 Match Point
    10 Zelig
    11 The Purple Rose of Cairo
    12 Sleeper
    13 Bullets Over Broadway
    14 Hannah and Her Sisters
    15 Radio Days
    16 Interiors
    17 Sweet and Lowdown
    18 Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex
    19 Mighty Aphrodite
    20 Deconstructing Harry

  5. Sam!!!

    Your seven most important American directors of the past 40 years doesn't include Jarmusch and Cassavetes (who are two of my ALL TIME favorites)? Well, that's OK (whimpers...).

  6. The 1980s was my fave period for Woody Allen films altho, I do like many of the ones he cranked out in the 1990s. I agree, say what you will about the man and the quality of his films, but that he manages to crank out a film pretty much every year is impressive.

    My faves:

    1. Manhattan
    2. Hannah and Her Sisters
    3. Annie Hall
    4. Manhattan Murder Mystery
    5. Crimes and Misdemeanors
    6. Husbands and Wives
    7. Broadway Danny Rose
    8. Bullets Over Broadway
    9. Mighty Aphrodite
    10. Sweet and Low Down
    11. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
    12. Celebrity
    13. Melinda and Melinda
    14. The Purple Rose of Cairo
    15. Radio Days

  7. It's no secret that I love Woody Allen, and consider him not only a great writer, and a great performer (those two are granted even by those who are ambivalent about him), but a great director as well, and an underrated visual stylist. Check out Linden Arden's passionate defense of Woody's September, which really highlights Woody's cinematic skill.

    Here's my (long) list:

    Hannah and Her Sisters
    Broadway Danny Rose
    Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    Annie Hall
    Anything Else
    Love and Death
    Deconstructing Harry
    Stardust Memories
    Crimes and Misdemeanors
    Manhattan Murder Mystery
    Husbands and Wives
    Another Woman
    Shadows and Fog
    Sweet and Lowdown
    Radio Days
    Bullets Over Broadway
    The Purple Rose of Cairo
    Match Point
    Take the Money and Run
    Everyone Says I Love You
    A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
    Mighty Aphrodite
    Whatever Works
    Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sex...
    Small Time Crooks
    Cassandra's Dream
    Don't Drink the Water
    Melinda and Melinda
    Curse of the Jade Scorpion
    Hollywood Ending

  8. JAFB:

    I definitely do not rate Jarmusch with the likes of those seven myself, and Cassevettes is certainly important, but not quite on par with those seven either. I would rate both on a second tier, but hey, that's only my own view, which is no better than anyone else's. Other names could also be posed here by some: P.T. Anderson, the Coens, Aronofsky, Haynes, Eastwood, and a few others, but I still think some of those are in the "proposal" stage.

    Since Goodfellas is a place of numerical listings, I can certainly feel at home in making such a list:

    1 Spielberg
    2 Scorsese
    3 Allen
    4 Coppola
    5 Lynch
    6 Altman
    7 Malick (only this "low" because of scant output, but what an output!)

    As always JAFB, you raise the bar with your rightful suggestions.

  9. Ed, I too believe that Woody has directed some highly skillful pieces (Match Point, Manhattan and Interiors are jawdropping). Even in visual terms, he is an auteur. But somehow, it seems to me, that he is not very confident as a director. More often than not, he wants to get the message across and verbalizes it. And there is also the progressively acerbic tone of his films that now bothers me a bit.

    Sanm, thanks for the list. My own would be something like

    1. Jarmusch 2. Cassavetes 3. Scorsese ... maybe later!

  10. JAFB: That numerical list I posed can really be flushed down the toilet, as it changes every week, depending on what mood I'm in. And to be honest, it's obnoxious and foolishly definitive, when in fact there is no way to defend such a position aside from personal taste. I think dave would agree that even in his own listing there is an overriding desire to create high drama and to fuel discussion. On Monday, I might thing Allen is tops, on Tuesday, Spielberg, one Wednesday, Scorsese, on thursday Coppola, and so on. My colleague, Allan Fish, favors numerical placements based on the number of "masterpieces" each has directed, and in this scenario Coppola would win from him, as he has THREE masterpieces of cinema to his credit. While I do think Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola and Allen has exert incalcuable influence on the medium, I also know that is only one barometer of measurement.

    I've found through blogging over teh past two years, where many are on roughly even ground in knowledge, writing skills and energy, that personal taste is always the factor that means the most.

  11. Similarly, if someone asks me who the greatest French director of all-time is, what would I say? Renoir? Bresson? Gance? Godard? Max Ophuls? (worked in French) Rivette? Rohmer? Truffaut? It's a foolhardy bait to take. Ha!

    I once tried rating Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa and Naruse (the Big Four of Japanese cinema) and found that I was changing my mind all the time, even if the whole of Ozu's work has made the most profound impression on me in the matter of taste, where humanism has always floated my boat.

    And who is better? Fellini, DeSica or Visconti?

    Murnau, Pabst, Lang, Fassbinder, Herzog?

    Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovshenko, Tarkovsky?

    I think the only thing that you and I and others can agree on without any question is that S. Ray is the greatest Indian director of them all, Luis Bunuel the greatest Spaniard, and Ingmar Bergman is the greatest Swede.

    Or can we? Ha!

  12. 1. Malick--3 masterpieces
    2. Scorsese--3 masterpieces
    3. Coppola--3 masterpieces
    4. Lynch--3 masterpieces
    5. Altman--2 masterpieces
    6. Spielberg--2 masterpieces
    7. Allen--0 masterpieces

    This is my own personal ranking from Sam's directors list. Malick may have made very few films but the overall quality cannot be discounted. I'm a atypical Malick fan because I find Badlands to be his weakest film. The Conversation by Coppola comes very close to being his fourth masterpiece (Dracula is also very good)......M.Roca

  13. Sam, Excellent set of arguments there. You know, it has so much in common with the ongoing discussion at the Spielberg post (Where Bay is pitted against the giants!).

    I'm all for subjectivity. But there sure is a point where, as Ebert once said, it's not merely your opinion. The point is that I do like some objectivity in judgments. But within the pantheon of greats, where everyone is objectively so good, the only ranking possible is based on tastes and your idea of greatness and beauty. So, I really have no qualms with that list, even if you present me all the 7!(=5,040) possible rankings (although some might have reservations about some of those directors)!!!


  14. Absolutely JAFB. I was going to write back before and admit that I was giving you the 7, when in fact who said that those had to be those seven?!? LOL!!! And WHO made the decision that those were the Big Four among Japanese directors? What about Ichikawa, Shindo, Kinoshita, Kobayashi, Yamanaka, Oshima, Imamura, Matsumura, and others? You are quite right. If it's open-ended, then there are no sacred rules to be abided by.

  15. I've always liked Woody Allen and have seen most of his films at the cinema as they came out from the late 70s onwards, except for the last few years when some of them haven't had a cinema release in the UK and one or two haven't even been released on DVD here. However, I find that a lot of them blur together in my memory - my favourites out of those I've watched again more recently are Sweet and Lowdown, Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Small Time Crooks
    Radio Days and Stardust Memories.

  16. Woody Allen has been one of my favorite filmmakers, and I go back even further having seen him do standup on Ed Sullivan in the 1960's and seeing Clive Donner's 1965 film "What's New Pussycat?" which Allen wrote a small part for himself. In watching this film you see the "Woody" character already fully developed. A consummate writer and visually a lot more stylish than he is sometimes given credit for, Allen remains one of the most prolific filmmakers around. Along with Scorsese, Spike Lee and Sidney Lumet he has been responsible for shaping many folks vision of New York City.

    Annie Hall
    Hannah and Her Sisters
    Crimes and Misdemeanors
    Manhattan Murder Mystery
    Husbands and Wives
    Match Point
    Love and Death
    The Purple Rose of Cairo
    Vicky Christina Barcelona
    Broadway Danny Rose
    Radio Days
    Bullets Over Broadway
    Take The Money and Run
    Stardust Memories
    Everyone Says I Love You
    Sweet and Lowdown
    Shadows and Fog
    Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...
    New York Stories (Segment)
    Curse of the Jade Scorpion
    Small Time Crooks
    Hollywood Ending
    Whatever Works
    What's Up Tiger Lily
    A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy
    Anything Else
    Don't Drink The Water (TVM)
    Mighty Aphrodite