Friday, March 13, 2009

Woody Allen Top 10

Someone brought up an interesting fact to me when we were discussing Woody Allen: being a hypochondriac, and having an intense attention toward his health, there's a good chance that he could live to be a hundred years old. If that's the case--and if his filmmaking trend continues--then we'll be privileged to at least 25 more Woody pictures to enjoy. Granted, I'm a huge Woody fan, but can't find myself getting into any of his later work; even Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona seemed a little prickly to me. That being said, I'll use this post to count down my ten personal favorites of his:

10. Another Woman (1988)

Woody's best pure drama, led by one of his best-written female roles. As a successful writer, Marion Post, Gena Rowlands owns the screen. Marion rents an apartment in order to do her writing, only find that rick-shack central air system is piping in conversations from other rooms; including one where a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) has a personal discussion with her psychiatrist. As she continues to ease-drop, she reflects on her own life, including a hollow marriage with a vain man (Ian Holm), her former lover who'd offered her true happiness (Gene Hackman), and a young step-daughter, whom she loves to mentor (Martha Plimpton). An equally heartbreaking and breathtaking film, this is Woody at his most pure Bergman-inspired best.

9. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

In my measure, this is Woody's last great film. In a quasi-docudrama style, Woody tells the story Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), the 2nd greatest guitar player on the planet. Emmet is an overcompensating egotist, who is only humble in the presence of his musical idol: Django Reinhardt. Of course, his obsession with Reinhardt is so strong, that he can't even see him without collapsing. Throughout his life, he encounters numerous lovers, including a sweet, but strong-willed mute (Samantha Morton), and a high-town heiress (Uma Thurman) who's only interest in Emmit seems to be existential. Featuring two Oscar-nominated performances from Penn and Morton, Sweet and Lowdown is a movie of pure delight.

8. Love and Death (1975)

Before Annie Hall, sophistication was not the focus. Instead, jokes were meant to be as rapid as jump shots on a Mike D'Antoni basketball team. Love and Death is the best and funniest example of this phase of Woody's filmmaking career. Dissecting the melodramatic novels of Leo Tolstoy and Boris Pasternak, the film follows the neurotic Boris (Woody) and his life and trials in czarist Russia. He lives most of his life hoping that he can impress the love of his life Sonja (Diane Keaton) who is as narcissistic as she is beautiful. With more one-liners than your average Rodney Dangerfield stand-up show, Love and Death is the peak of Woody Allen as a comedian.

7. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Part zany comedy, part love song to 1930's New York theater, Bullets Over Broadway is a hilarious ensemble piece, with a nice dash of gangster film sprinkled in. When an idealist playwright (John Cusack) finally gets the money to finance his play on Broadway, the only catch is that the main financier's girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) has to have a role, and since the financier's a dangerous gangster, its a guarantee. Add to that, the play is being lead by a huge stage star (Oscar-winning Diane Wiest), and that the gangster's girlfriend is always being escorted by a strong-arm thug (Chazz Palmintari), you have a recipe for hilarity.

6. Stardust Memories (1980)

Thought by many to be Woody's first real clunker, Stardust Memories does many things. For one, it's an obvious homage to Federico Fellini's 8 1/2; and also, a comment on his life as a high-profile filmmaker. Woody plays Sandy, a film director who used to direct successful comedies, but is now only interested in droll, realist films. Attending a festival meant to honor his career achievement, Sandy has trouble balancing his romances; with a steady, responsible mother (Marie-Christine Barrault) on one side, and an eccentric, moody actress (Charlotte Rampling) that he can't get out of his mind, on the other. Juggling numerous themes, this is not Woody's blunder, but his most fully-realized surrealist film.

5. Hannah and Her Sisters(1986)

One of Woody's most financially successful pictures, Hannah and Her Sisters is probably Woody's sweetest film. Following three sisters, one a neurotic drug addict (again, Oscar-winning Diane Wiest) who can never decide what she wants to be in life; the other a naive young woman (Barbara Hershey) whose penchant for romance with older men gets her into impressionable situations; and a successful actress (Mia Farrow) who's used to making everybody happy. Also containing an Oscar-winning performance from Michael Caine as a bumbling intellect who's married to one sister, but in love with another, Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody's more delightful movie experiences.

4. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Mentioned on numerous occasions as Woody's personal favorites of his own films, The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the very best movies ever made about movies. When a Depression-era waitress (Mia Farrow) struggles with her thug husband (Danny Aielo), her only solace is going to the movies to watch her favorite movie star (Jeff Bridges). Noticing her constant attendance, the character in her favorite movie literally walks right off the screen, just to be with her. Concerned, the actor (Bridges, as well) comes to town to get his character back on screen, only to fall for the waitress as well. In the end, she must choose between fantasy and reality, and its an ending of startling truth.

3. Manhattan (1979)

Intoxicating in its use of George Gershwin music, and not to mention Gordon Willis' beautiful black & white cinematography, Manhattan is certainly Woody Allen's best film if the criteria is style. It's the only film of Woody's where the overall production takes place over the characters and the dialogue. Not that there isn't a story: a television writer (Woody), who's dating a seventeen-year-old (Mariel Hemingway), quits his job. His professor best friend (Michael Murphy) tries to comfort him, but has an eccentric mistress (Diane Keaton) with whom Woody falls for. Despite being Woody's personal least favorite film, Manhattan has always been one of his most popular.

2. Annie Hall (1977)

To those who know movies, Annie Hall is known as the greatest romantic comedy ever produced; and for those who don't, it's known as the movie that beat Star Wars for Best Picture. Truly, Annie Hall is Woody's only Best Picture winner, and as a matter of fact, it's the only one that's even come close. Following the up and down relationship between a comedian (Woody Allen) and his neurotic girlfriend (Diane Keaton), Annie Hall pokes and prods various points of romance, and even though they don't end up together, it's still quite a happy tale. Even though relationships sometimes end, doesn't always mean the entire time was bad.

1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Part comedy, part drama; part morality tale, part zany romance; part criticism of religion, part criticism of materialism; and in the end, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a whole masterpiece. Two stories, one about a struggling documentarian (Woody) who has direct the biography on his pompous brother-in-law (Alan Alda), and the other about an optamologist (Martin Landau) who must decide what to do when his mistress (Angelica Huston) wants to spill the beans about their affair. Attempting for the most part to try and display the various hardships and idiosyncrasies of life, Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of the very best films ever made.

1 comment:

sophomorecritic said...

I'm glad that you didn't pick Annie Hall as #1. I haven't seen Match Point or Vicky Christina Barcelona but I think that Sweet and Lowdown as a great film, and i'm glad you picked up on that. It's better than anything that I saw that came after it (Small Time Crooks, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion which I thought was very cute and funny even if it was fluffy, Melinda and Melinda and Hollywood Ending). I've also seen Sleeper, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets over Broadway, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Everything You've Wanted to Know About Sex, Antz, Mighty Aphrodite, and about half of Hannah and Her Sisters