Woody Allen must be the most hard working filmmaker. He has released films almost every year for five decades – sometimes two per year. Alex Withrow chooses his top 10.
I’ve seen every single film Woody Allen has directed. My compulsion to view his entire body of work started as just that: a nagging urge to take it all the way. In early 2011, I realized I had seen half of his films, so I dedicated the next month to seeking out the remainder of his work. When I was done, I read any book I could find on him. This Woody Allen overload has led to a type of limitless praise that I have yet to shake.
Sure, Woody Allen has made some seriously crap films, but I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to hear a director admit that garbage he’s made (I’m thinking The Curse of The Jade Scorpion) is indeed just that. Love him or hate him, when you watch a Woody Allen film, you watch a Woody Allen film. While his specific humor may not interest you, there’s no denying the man’s talent and insatiable work ethic. Me? I love Woody Allen. Here are 10 reasons why.
10. Interiors (1978)
Upon reaching newfound success with his Best Picture-winning Annie Hall, Woody Allen was given complete artistic freedom. And with that freedom, he elected to do precisely what no one wanted him to do: create a gut wrenching drama.
Interiors chronicles three wildly different sisters as they battle the emotional trauma of their parent’s recent divorce. The film, by far the most daring of Woody’s career, is anchored by remarkable acting (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt and Kristin Griffith play their respective sister roles flawlessly, while E.G. Marshall and Geraldine Page are heartbreaking as the ex couple) and breathtaking cinematography by Gordon Willis (this is arguably the best looking color film Willis shot for Woody).
Woody Allen has long admitted that the most significant influence on his dramatic work is the great Ingmar Bergman. Interiors lends itself perfectly to that notion.
9. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Hannah and Her Sisters, like all of Woody’s best dramedies, gets better every time you watch it. In detailing a few years in the lives of sisters who sleep and fall in love with each other’s current and ex spouses, Allen created a classic film, one of the very best films of the ‘80s.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite aspect of this film, from Woody’s relentlessly accurate script to that many solid performances (Max Von Sydow and Oscar winner Diane Wiest have always stolen the show for me). Pure Woody Allen bliss.
8. Annie Hall (1977)
There’s simply no denying it, Woody Allen’s most popular film is also one of his best. I’ve had the tendency to talk myself into dumbing Annie Hall down; convince myself that it isn’t as good as it is. Then, of course, I watch it and am reminded of its genius.
I want to draw particular attention to something I don’t think gets mentioned enough in Annie Hall discussions, and that’s the film’s seamless shift of narratives. There is animation, black and white, color; the fourth wall is broken, narration is used, then abandoned; the timeline is linear, until it’s not, and so on.
I know a few people who have been putting this movie off because they think they know what they’re in for. How wrong could they be?
7. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the very few gimmicky Woody Allen films that I actually enjoy. The gimmick, while obviously implausible, is rather simple. Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is an unassuming waitress living in a small New Jersey town during the Depression. At night, she goes to the movies, particularly The Purple Rose of Cairo, a film she’s seen several times. At one screening, the lead actor in the film (Jeff Daniels) actually walks off of the screen, into Cecilia’s world. The two begin a quiet, sincere relationship until what has to happen, happens.
The plot may sound silly to those unaware, but The Purple Rose of Cairo is as hilariously unconventional and shockingly devastating as anything Woody has ever done. And with an ending that’s as risky as it is satisfying, this film is not to be missed.
6. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
An amusingly layered tale about an ex standup comedian (Woody Allen) who now manages a once-popular comedian vying for a comeback. After Woody is mistaken as the lover of the comedian’s mistress (Mia Farrow) things get seriously out of hand, in all the best Woody Allen ways. If the plot sounds complicated, don’t worry, it’s not – when he’s on his game, Woody has a way of making the most complicated stories seem like second nature.
As the big-haired, sunglass wearing, chain smoking, Tina, Mia Farrow delivers the best performance of her career. She steals the show from a movie full of scene stealers. An 84-minute delight of a film.
5. Stardust Memories (1980)
Remember how I said nobody wanted Woody to make Interiors? Stardust Memories is his incredibly entertaining rebuttal.
After Sandy, a famous film director played by Woody, elects to attend a film festival that will showcase his prior accomplishments, he begins to regret it immediately. Once he shows up, Sandy is hounded by anyone within earshot. Support this cause, sign a petition for that cause, sleep with this girl, sign this autograph, and so on. Sandy (like the man playing him) is constantly chastised for having switched from making screw-ball comedies to serious dramas. Sandy (or is it Woody?), however, doesn’t seem to mind. He takes it as it comes, storing it all for later.
Stardust Memories is Woody Allen’s 8 ½, I can watch it ceaselessly and never grow tired of it. For the record: Sandy is the best performance Woody Allen, the actor, has ever given.
4. Manhattan (1979)
Just this evening, I’ve come back from New York City after spending two days with a good friend of mine who has lived in New York his entire life. Before I headed back home, I walked around the city for a few hours, taking pictures with my Canon 7D. After an hour, I realized that I had not taken one picture I enjoyed. Then it hit me. I switched the setting to monochrome and began capturing in black and white. From then on, I was golden.
I mention this because after viewing Woody Allen’s masterful Manhattan, I appear to only fully enjoy seeing the city that never sleeps in black and white. Interesting, given that Gordon Willis’ cinematography for this film ranks among the best ever achieved.
Sorry, I haven’t even discussed what the film is about. How its several different love triangles perfectly encapsulate lust vs. love, carnal desire vs. human connection, all with earnest sensibilities and remorseless pessimism. See it, or, better yet, see it again. (Can you believe this is Woody Allen’s personal LEAST favorite film that he has made?)
3. Husbands and Wives (1992)
After making a host of stuffy films that were either commercially ignored or critically condemned, Woody made the rawest film of his career with Husbands and Wives. The film details the high and lows of two vastly different marriages in a way I’ve never seen. The handheld camera moves freely, jump cuts are often implored, lines of dialogue are repeated, or cut out of during their delivery, continuity is completely disregarded, and so on.
This method, mind you, suits the material effortlessly, resulting in a distressing drama that hits all the right notes, which may not exactly make for the most pleasurable viewing experience. No matter, Husbands and Wives is as honest as relationships get. Buckle up, you’re in for a dozy.
2. Match Point (2005)
I suspect that Match Point is Woody Allen’s personal favorite film of his own because it is unlike anything he has done before or since. Sure, certain elements echo Crimes and Misdemeanors, but as Woody has said, Match Point is everything he wanted Crimes and Misdemeanors to me, and then some.
When retired tennis pro, Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a perfect snake) marries Chloe (Emily Mortimer, a perfect fool), he marries into her family’s limitless wealth. Soon, Chris begins a passionate affair with Chloe’s brother’s ex, Nola (Scarlett Johansson, a perfect vixen), and he soon must decide between a life of heated love or carefree wealth.
Pointless to describe what happens, as those who have not seen Match Point are in for some of the best work Woody Allen has ever accomplished. If you’re not a fan of Woody’s films, then Match Point will suit you perfectly. It’s the least Woody Allen film Woody Allen has ever made.
1. Another Woman (1988)
When I began tackling the Woody Allen films I had not yet seen, there were much more disappointments than surprises. But buried in the middle of Woody’s filmogprahy was an 84 minute masterpiece that I had never heard of. And make no mistake, Another Woman is just that: undeniably flawless.
The film is said to be Woody’s Wild Strawberries, again immolating his hero, Ingmar Bergman. And while I agree with that comparison to a point, both films are great for very different reasons.
Another Woman tells the story of Marion Post (Gena Rowlands) a cold, desolate woman trying to finish her new book. When she comes across a very pregnant Hope (Mia Farrow) by chance, she is forced to look deep into her life and examine why she is the way she is. The result is as moving a character study as I’ve ever seen.
It’s odd: the first time I watched Another Woman, my breath was literally taken away by its subtle emotional power. I couldn’t formulate a coherent opinion, but I knew what I had seen had changed my perception of the man who made it. Months later, I watched the film for the second time and wept during its final scene (which, for the record, does not purposefully evoke that kind of emotion). I was so into the characters, so longing for Marion to reach some kind of solace, that my body, I suppose, could think of nothing but to cry.
It was a remarkable film-watching experience, one I’ll never forget. And hopefully, when you do scout out and watch Another Woman, your experience will be as engaging as mine.
Alex Withrow has documented his adventure through every single Woody Allen-directed film since 1966’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? at his site And So it Begins…
Over to you – what are your favourite Woody Allen films?
Written and compiled by Alex Withrow.
Alex Withrow is a magazine Editor based in Richmond, Virginia. He has been the sole writer of And So it Begins since it went live in 2007. He appreciates, and is obsessed with, anything related to film. Whether it’s writing about them, watching them, or making them, he is a cinephile dedicated to the moving picture. You can read more of Alex’s writing on film at his website and follow him on Twitter @shiftingPersona
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