Tuesday, July 10, 2012

my woody allen favorites

Woody Allen's latest, To Rome with Love, is a bit of a misfire.   Like a higher brow Valentine's Day, the movie is clunky and the multi-character rom-com plotlines don't really work cohesively.  But looking over Allen's ouvere, it's pretty impressive how many films he's made, and many of them so different from each other, but all with his indelible stamp.  Here are my faves:

I guess this is a given. Annie Hall is a classic, enduring comedy, full of memorable scenes and featuring Diane Keaton and her breakthrough fashion.  It definitely has a different edge to it seeing it after moving to New York!

"This is a movie that establishes its tone by constantly switching between tones: The switches reflect the restless mind of the filmmaker, turning away from the apparent subject of a scene to find the angle that reveals the joke. Annie Hall is a movie about a man who is always looking for the loopholes in perfection. Who can turn everything into a joke, and wishes he couldn't." - Roger Ebert

Really beautiful chamber drama with an emotionally moving performance by Gena Rowlands as a woman in an unhappy marriage, reconsidering her life.  Nice use of Erik Satie music as well.  This one doesn't get as much attention as his other films, but I really love this one.

"Rowlands is best-known for her daring performances in the films of her husband John Cassavetes. However her quiet, gracefully subtle work in Allen’s film shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating the richness of her career. Like her performance, the theme music by Satie is regal, and elegant but also tinged with sweetness and vulnerability. Rowlands gives the camera and the audience 'little gambits to seduce.'" - from my PopMatters article on Rowlands in the film

Charming comedy with stunning black and white photography (by Gordon Willis).  Mia Farrow does a pretty good job against-type as an obnoxious moll. 

"The black and white NYC cinematography is gorgeous throughout, and there are several stellar scenes that will likely stick in my memory forever. The Thanksgiving dinner at the end of the film is foremost among these, and the atmosphere of the comics discussing old times at Carnegie Deli. Less poignant, but much funnier, is the chase scene through a warehouse filled with parade floats, which halfway through turns from suspense to farce with an entirely unexpected and hilarious twist. Broadway Danny Rose is a masterpiece in Allen's career, and it belongs in the company of his other bittersweet, nostalgic masterworks like Annie Hall and Manhattan." - Ed Howard

So many good moments in this loving screwball comedy and great performances, especially from squeaky-voiced Jennifer Tilly and an Oscar-winning turn from Dianne Wiest.

"Set in New York in the Roaring Twenties, when midtown Manhattan was teeming with show-biz dollies and wise guys in spats, Bullets Over Broadway ... is Woody Allen at his best -- a gem of a Broadway fable with a crafty premise, a raft of brilliant actors at the top of their form and a bouncy, just-for-pleasure attitude." - Edward Guthmann

Lots of arrogance and power playing going on here. Martin Landau and Angelica Huston's performances are haunting.

"Crimes feels like a tug of war between Landau's potent depiction of a blandly evil man, a man trusted with vision, and Allen's eternally comic hand-wringer. This way Allen has his own great clanking Russian tractor of a drama, and pleases his critics too, the ones who want Annie Hall II. Actually, Cliff is Alvy Singer's first cousin, condemning Lester's high-blown non sequiturs, like 'Comedy is tragedy plus time.' Artistic nuspeak, the emperor's new paintbrush." - Rita Kempley

Vivid and rich, wonderfully-acted comedy-drama, with deep adult themes.  I think I need to re-watch.

"With this film, it's apparent that Mr. Allen has become the urban poet of our anxious age - skeptical, guiltily bourgeois, longing for answers to impossible questions, but not yet willing to chuck a universe that can produce the Marx Brothers." - Vincent Canby

Could be his best movie? That opening montage of New York backed by Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is simply breathtaking and his rich characterizations are both hilarious and poignant.

"Woody Allen's Manhattan has materialized out of the void as the one truly great American film of the '70s. It tops Annie Hall in brilliance, wit, feeling, and articulation, though it is less of a throbbing valentine to a lost love, and more of a meditation on an overexamined life." - Andrew Sarris

I think it's his most suspenseful movie and its ruminations on class and desire are pretty dark.  

“... arguably may be the best film that I’ve made. This is strictly accidental, it just happened to come out right. You know, I try to make them all good, but some come out and some don’t. With this one everything seemed to come out right. The actors fell in, the photography fell in and the story clicked. I caught a lot of breaks!" - Allen

One great aspect of many of Allen's flicks is the play with time; this one goes back and forth between different eras through a joyously fun, half-baked intellectual's romantic vision of Paris.

"Given that Woody Allen’s imaginative universe has long been a closed ecosystem (no contemporary culture can penetrate a defensive shell hardened by such determined phobias), it’s a miracle he can still turn out a movie as disarming as Midnight in Paris. This supernatural comedy isn’t just Allen’s best film in more than a decade; it’s the only one that manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, graceful, and glancingly funny, as if buoyed by its befuddled hero’s enchantment." - David Edelstein

A Depression-era abused wife (Mia Farrow) escapes through the movies is one of Allen's more melancholy pics, despite its whimsical blends of fantasy.

"Allen trusts us to find the ironies, relish the contradictions, and figure things out for ourselves. While we do that, he makes us laugh and he makes us think, and when you get right down to it, forget about the fantasies; those are two of the most exciting things that could happen to anybody in a movie. The more you think about The Purple Rose of Cairo, and about the movies, and about why you go to the movies, the deeper the damned thing gets." - Roger Ebert

Silly and so weird, a fun send-up of those apocalyptic futuristic sci-flicks of the early 70s.

"Thus begins Sleeper, Woody's 2001 (actually, it's his 2173), which confidently advances the Allen art into slapstick territory that I associate with the best of Laurel and Hardy. It's the kind of film comedy that no one in Hollywood has done with style in many years, certainly not since Jerry Lewis began to take himself seriously. Sleeper is a comic epic that recalls the breathless pace and dizzy logic of the old two-reelers." - Vincent Canby


  1. Great list! And rather unusual too. I still need to watch some of those, but they sound pretty good. I must re-watch Match Point, I think it was my first Woody Allen film and didn't really get it.

    Also, I agree - the opening of Manhattan is stunning, but I was a little put off by his relationship with the girl. But that final scene, when he's talking with her on that lobby or something, I thought "gosh, he's so serious, calm and honest right there, how odd", but refreshing and great!

  2. Manhattan is one of my all time favorite films!


  3. I have never before seen a Woody Allen film; but Match Point has been on my radar since it was first released - it looks fantastic! :)