Woody Allen. Again.

Deep breath, now! After looking at the cream of Woody's crop, let's try and keep the neurotic behaviour at bay whilst we take a whistle-stop tour through a bunch of Woody's other films, listed in order of preference. Long-time collaborators and real-life loves Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow make regular apperances, not to mention several plots in which Woody casts himself as a character romancing a younger female. I think he secretly writes the plots for all the older actors in Hollywood.

Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) is a black comedy-drama, which tells two interlinked stories. In one, Judah (Martin Landau) must deal with his role in events which led to a murder. In the other Cliff (Allen) struggles with his career and love-life. How these two men come to terms with their individual moral crises forms the central thesis of the film, which asks if people can ever overcome their past 'crimes and misdemeanours'. But this rather heavy, philosophical theme is studded throughout by some fantastic one-liners and comedy moments. A mature treat.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) tells the interlinked stories of an extended family through a series of romantic entanglements, personal crises and the other ups-and-downs of life. Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest both won Supporting Oscars for their performances, but everyone else is just as good in a warm-hearted affair, which celebrates the power of family in both causing and overcoming problems.


Manhattan (1979) is Allen's love-letter to New York City and it does look brilliant captured in glorious B&W photography, set to the music of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Story-wise, it makes a nice companion piece for Annie Hall, though it's not as funny or inventive as that film. It's probably a more mature one though, and in its character interactions it has some thought-provoking commentary on romance and relationships.

To date, Sweet and Lowdown (1999) is Woody's last great film which bookends the later end of that astonishing 25 year run of quality movies. Sean Penn is superb as the arrogant alcoholic jazz guitarist, who claims to be as good as the legendary Django Reinhardt, but Samantha Morton steals the show as a young woman who doesn't utter a single word thoughout the whole film. A sweet film with great music. After this, his output through the Noughties took a distinct downturn in quality.


Remember how everyone raved about how Forrest Gump featured Forrest in various interactions with famous figures? Well, Allen did the same thing over a decade earlier with Zelig (1983) and without the new-fangled technology that makes the approach so commonplace nowadays. It's a fake documentary about Leonard Zelig, a 'human chameleon' who invariably turns up in newsreel footage of key events in the 20th century, footage which Allen created by seemlessly blending real footage with faked footage to provide the convincing special effects. Another superbly inventive concept from Allen's fertile mind and another really clever film which continued Allen's 80s purple patch.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) stars John Cusack (in the neurotic role Allen usually plays) as a young playwright who agrees to have his latest production funded by the Mob, but ends up being forced to cast the supremely untalented gangster's moll (Jennifer Tilly) in the lead role. Worse still, her menacing thug of a bodyguard (Chazz Palminteri) proves to be a much more astute judge of stage-writing and production than he is. The uniformly excellent cast (including another Oscar-winning turn by Dianne Wiest) enjoy themselves in a witty and clever period farce. It lacks an emotional impact and you can't help wishing a young Allen in the lead, despite Cusack's best efforts, but this is still an effortlessly snappy entertainment.

Mighty Aphrodite (1995) is a reworking of Pygmalion, in which Allen plays an intellectual New Yorker (again), who is aghast to find the biological mother of his adopted son is a trashy prostitute (an Oscar winning Mira Sorvino) and sets about giving her a lifestyle makover. A lightweight affair and the dialogue lacks the usual spark, but still put together with wit and invention, particularly the use of the Greek chorus, which turns up regularly to narrate, pass comment on the plot, and directly interact with the characters. Good fun.

Sleeper (1973) is a science-fiction comedy in which Allen plays health-shop owner Miles Monroe, who is placed in cryogenic preservation in the 1970s, then defrosted after 200 years into a world ruled by a rather inept totalitarian state. It's often classed as Allen's comedy masterpiece, but it's actually a bit patchy - a fitful Sleeper, if you like (Woody, if you're reading this, you can have that joke for free). Once again, there's fine comic support from Diane Keaton. I can't believe he broke up with her and ended up with Mia Farrow.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) recounts the tale of Danny Rose (Allen), a Broadway talent manager (whose inept acts include a one-legged tap-dancer), who gets mixed up with the Mob. Another charming and seemingly effortless story from Allen, although the balance of comedy and drama isn't quite as delicate as usual. The biggest surprise is Mia Farrow who gives an outstanding, brash, sexy performance a million miles from her usual wimpy, whiny roles. I understand now why he ended up with her.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) is loosely based on Bergman's Wild Strawberries, with Allen playing a writer heading to recieve an honorary degree at his former university in the company of an odd assortment of characters. It's all as clever and inventive as ever, with flashbacks and surreal moments where he interacts with some of his own characters from his writing, but there's a underlying viciousness and bitterness, particularly toward women (presumably precipitated by real-life marital problems), which makes it hard to warm to. There's a great visual joke about an actor losing his focus for a scene, though.



Love And Death (1975) demands a bit of knowledge about Russian literature and European cinema, so if that's your thing, you'll enjoy a witty pastiche of those subjects, with Allen and Diane Keaton on good form. Even if you don't know your Boris from your Bergman, there's still some inspired jokes and sight gags, although there's a fair few weak ones too. A short, mostly amusing watch.


Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) sees Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and an Oscar-winning Penelope Cruz swan around Barcelona in a romantic comedy drama. They are all easy on the eye, admittedly, but there's little else to this rather slight tale. It's always watchable, but lacks the wit, warmth and intelligence of Allen's best work and quickly fades from the memory.

In Small Time Crooks (2000), a gang of crooks open a restaurant as a cover for their robbery of the bank next door, but the unexpected roaring success of the restaurant interferes with their plans. It's a nice central premise and the cast give amiable performances, but overall it lacks Big Time Laughs.


Match Point (2005) is an unusually dark and quite callous film, featuring none of Allen's trademark humour. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers gives a credible performance as an unlikeable social climber forced to take drastic action when he puts himself in an awkward situation, whilst Scarlett Johansson and the London backdrop provide the eye candy (Scarlett admittedly more so than London). The pace is slow, though, and the tension never really grips even as it moves to the climax, which features some hard-to-swallow contrivances. Probably not worth going out of your way to see.

Interiors (1978) was Allen's first clean break from comedy is a worthy, austere homage to his hero Ingmar Bergman and suffers from the same problem as many of Bergman's films: for all the nice photography and fine acting, it's dull as dishwater.

Shadows and Fog (1991) is a homage to German Expressionism and wastes a good cast (John Cusack, John Malkovich, Jodie Foster, Madonna, Mia Farrow) in a dull, messy noir-whodunnit. Some nice shadows and fog, though.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) is an early-but-not-that-funny one from Woody Allen, inspired primarily by Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. There's some amusing one-liners, but this is Allen-lite and disappointingly it doesn't really get much comic mileage out of the clash between reality and spiritual elements. Overall, not much sex and not much comedy, but there is some midsummer night.


Bananas (1971) has a a few good gags bunched in with a lot of lame ones in a patchy, slapstick comedy. I give it Fyffe out of ten


So there you go. A long, beautiful post about a short, ugly fella. Best described as witty, erudite and a marvellous contribution to the annals of movie history. No doubt Woody Allen will also be remembered fondly too.

No comments:

Post a comment