The trouble with coming up with the top 10 Woody Allen films is ditching the other 50-odd contenders. I know already that I’ve done an inadequate job – I switched Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo in and out, I promise – but I’m going to write this one up as confusion in the face of an exceptional filmography.
There’s no writer and director, in my book anyhow, so consistently both funny and intelligent. Of course, there’s his personal life (but I’m running out of words now…) which seems to have set so many permanently against him. You couldn’t accuse him of not empathising with his characters, though.
10. Sleeper (1973)
Tempting as it is to put an Allen clanger like Match Point down here at number 10, I’m going to go for a partial pleasure instead. Sleeper has a lot of faults – it doesn’t so much have a plot as a wander and the jokes about health food stores haven’t stood the test of time. On the plus side: that shuffling robot walk.
9. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
Let’s get it out in the open: I’m not a big fan of Allen in Europe. Like Match Point, this is showy, over serious and severely lacking in Allen-ish wit. Unlike Match Point, some great performances almost make up for it.
8. Oedipus Wrecks (1989)
Along with Coppola and Scorsese, Allen contributed a short for release under the title New York Stories. Allen plays Sheldon a lawyer whose dead mother comes to haunt his love life as embarrassingly as possible, hovering over the city. “You really have to have some sense of humour about [her criticism],” Sheldon’s therapist says. Allen does.
7. Small Time Crooks (2000)
An under-rated farce, Small Time Crooks pairs Allen with Tracey Ullman. He’s a – somewhat feckless – crook, trying to pull off a bank robbery; she’s a surprisingly good cookie chef with pretentions. It’s light and fast-paced. Watch with Allen’s debut Take the Money and Run (1969).
6. Everything you always wanted to know about sex* but were afraid to ask (1972)
Least useful sex education film ever. Because of Allen, a generation harbours suspicions about the fantasies of rabbis and can’t hear the magic words “I’m a graduate of New York University” without a hopeful jolt. You know, more than usual.
5. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Another lovely, light comedy with the twist that, as seems to happen so often in life, a Greek chorus is in control of the action. Lenny sets out to track down the mother of his adopted son Max who turns out to be a prostitute played by Mira Sorvino with predictably messy results.
4. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Allen finally gets to express here what he had his characters talk about so often elsewhere – jazz and La Strada – in this tale of Django Reinhardt obsessive Emmet Ray. Sean Penn is excellent in the title role and Samantha Morton got an Oscar nomination without saying a word.
3. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
A portrait of (sometimes) happily convoluted family life told between two thanksgivings. Allen always does perfectly planned messiness well – as usual, someone should be making martinis – but never as well as here. Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest play the three sisters.
2. Annie Hall (1977)
Annie Hall is one of those films that has fallen into my vocabulary – from my favourite excuse (“sorry, my raccoon has hepatitis”) to my favourite break-up line (“sorry, it’s a dead shark”). Even so, I laugh the whole way through and Allen’s outlook is never so sweetly expressed.
1. Manhattan (1979)
How could you not love Manhattan? It’s a film about beauty – Mariel Hemingway’s face, Diane Keaton’s neurotic intellect and, most of all, the beautiful city itself – shot in semi-grainy black and white. The jokes balance out the sentiment, though.
Written and compiled by Julia Kukiewicz
Julia Kukiewicz is editor of Choose.net, a news and reviews site covering – among other things – DVD rental. The site covers big names like Lovefilm and ways for film-lovers to save money like blu ray rental.
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