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Christina

I love this post and the films you cover. I'm a big Woody fan - his personal life doesn't ruin it for me at all. (And after seeing the recent documentary, I like his current wife.) I wonder what you think of Stardust Memoires? By far, it's my favorite film of his, though not necessarily a rom com. (There's some rom-com subplots.) I don't think Pauline Kael got the point of the film at all. I see it as his attempt to depict how distorting fame can be to the famous, not an idictment of his fans.

Frank  Conniff

I love obsessively-compulsively thinking about Woody Allen movies. Your post has given me license to do this, so here goes:

Woody's Great films:

Annie Hall
Manhattan
Zelig
Broadway Danny Rose
Purple Rose Of Cairo
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Husbands and Wives

Woody's Just Plain Hilarious Films:

What's Up Tiger Lily
Take The Money And Run
Bananas
Sleeper
Love And Death
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (Interesting tidbit: out of the 40 or so screenplays Woody has written, this is the only one based on material -- the book by Dr. David Rubin -- written by someone other than Woody himself)

Woody's Really Good Films:

Stardust Memories
Radio Days
Mighty Aphrodite
Bullets Over Broadway
Everyone Says I Love You
Deconstructing Harry
Match Point

Woody's Pretty Good Films:

Manhattan Murder Mystery
Celebrity
Sweet and Lowdown

Woody's Films Based On His Plays:

Play It Again Sam
(He didn't direct it, but he wrote it based on his play and it's a delightful romantic comedy.)

Don't Drink The Water
(A TV movie that he made in 1994 based on his first play. I saw it when it first aired and really enjoyed it.)

Okay, so out of the 35 movies Woody has made, about 25 range from good to great as far as I'm concerned. Yes, he's also made about a dozen clunkers (mostly in the last ten years), but big deal, who cares? The only other screenwriter whose career matches Woody's in terms of the ammount of good films he's made is Billy Wilder (and he made more than a few stinkers in his day too).

Name me one great filmmaker with a body of work who hasn't made some bad films. Great artists all make bad art. The creative process is mysterious and beyond our understanding in many ways. Only the mediocre achieve their potential.

Scooter

Thanks for the post, Billy. In my book, no one has ever topped the bi-fecta of Annie Hall and Manhattan (both of which are romantic comedies, as well, now that I think about it), but I think you're right-on in your analysis of the three you mention. Not to mention the fact that he made them in consecutive years, something I hadn't realized.

Walter

Great post about a director for whom I've got, um, complicated feelings. One quibble: I think he was born in 1935, which means he just turned 72, not 77.

mernitman

Christina: I too am a "Stardust" (not really a rom-com) fan and think Ms. Kael got it wrong; it's certainly the best Fellini movie Woody ever made.

Hey Frank: Nice! Add "Hannah" to the top tier and I think we pretty much see eye to eye.

Scooter: Yeah, that one-two of Annie and Manhattan is pretty freakin' amazing... though to be technical, "Interiors" came in between the two.

Walter: Yikes -- never said I was good at math -- thank you for the correction, which has gone into the post, post-haste.

Judith Duncan

Hey Billy,thankyou for acknowledging Purple Rose,it's one of my all time favorite films and very rarely gets a mention.I think it speaks volumes about the power of cinema,why we consistently go into those dark rooms with a bunch of strangers and watch the flickering image.As far as I'm concerned,reality is highly overrated.
Cheers,
Judith

Joanna Farnsworth

Whew! I'm glad he's only 72. I'm not ready for Woody Allen to any closer to 80 than that. Although he'll always seem ageless. Kind of eternal. I hope his highs aren't over yet.

Billy, yet again a great post. I was on pins and needles to see how you rated my beloved Purple Rose. Thankyou for making it a Trifecta Gem.

j

I try to like Woody Allen every time I see a new movie of his, but it never seems to work.

His earlier stuff is fine...but whenever he's on screen...a little part of me wants to cover him up with masking tape.

Besides, doesn't anyone else find it weird that he unabashedly worships scarlett johanson...an actress who isn't so much about talent as she is pouting on cue?

I often wonder why society as a whole isn't just a *little* more creeped out by this.

Will

My own personal faves are Love & Death (Diane Keaton has never been funnier,) Annie Hall and Manhattan. Crimes & Misdemeanors demands special attention as well, come to think of it. Those are the ones that tower. Those are the ones that inspire true awe.

I'm a Woody fan (and these days I've become something of an apologist.) I find something charming or marvelous in everything he's done. His latest stuff seems to be the work of a man on autopilot, true, and they hardly compare to the top tier, but I still enjoy a less-than-perfect Woody outing to a lot of today's cinema.

The only one I truly disliked, that I emerged from the theater going, "?" was Hollywood Ending. And the entire middle section of Small Time Crooks could have been replaced by a rutabaga and I might have liked it better. But I think he's got a few greats left in him. He'll pull off a miracle or two before we lose him for good. I have faith.

mernitman

Judith: Yes, reality is overrated, but to paraphrase Woody, where else can you get a good slice of pizza?

Joanna: I, too, think he's got a few highs left. We shall see...

J: Scarlett has felled many a major intellect of our time. What did Woody say? "The heart wants what it wants"... or was that another all-too human organ? There's no excusing it, but so goeth the male animal.

Will: I agree that Annie and Manhattan are the tops of the tops; see Frank's list in the comments above for what seems like a reasonable assessment of the rest. Funnily enough, Woody in the Lax book is utterly baffled by why people don't like "Hollywood Ending," which he thinks is one of his funniest. But good news for all us apologists -- Woody Allen himself suggests (in the same book) that he's gotten too old to be in his movies. Thus we'll be spared a good deal of the cringe factor in the future.

Patty

What I recall from the time of seeing the three movies you discuss, was how much conversation a Woody Allen film generated between people just standing in line there, at the little theater where we could always see any movie for $2. I don't recall any other director of that period who got strangers just talking casually like that.
That memory is bittersweet. I long boycotted his flims, old and new, after his affair with his step daughter (now his wife, of course.) But I recently broke that self-imposed boycott to see Annie Hall. That movie feels like a memory of people I once knew, of that period. His films will live on, undoubtedly.

Will

Why didn't I like Hollywood Ending, I wonder? I loved the premise. I thought it was great Woody-verse stuff: a character's problem manifests itself in real-world affliction (kind of like the Robin Williams character in Deconstructing Harry, who loses focus, both figuratively and literally.) But it was too lazily handled. The ending bit, where he regains his sight, was tossed-off and perfunctory. The jokes, while occasionally funny, fell flat for me and most of them depended on the notion that a blind person can't tell where a voice is coming from. I just couldn't suspend my disbelief, which is a strange thing to say given the overall premise. I believed that alright.

But then I'm not the best judge by any means. I loved the almost universally reviled "Jade Scorpion." Of all his latter films, it made me giggle the most.

mernitman

Patty: Yes, wasn't that a loverly period, when one of his movies -- any movie for adults, for that matter -- was something everyone talked about and shared at the same time? Nice memory.

Will: Yes, it's odd. I have a hunch that it was Woody himself, ironically, that didn't quite work (his "blind" performance is really off, as he keeps not facing people when clearly, simply by the direction of their voices, he should easily be able to know where they are). Meanwhile, JADE SCORPION? Oh, you're the one!

Will

Yes, I know. Can't help it. I love it.

Rosina Lippi

I'm new to your weblog, but I think I'm here to stay, given this post. These three films of Allen's along with Manhattan and Annie Hall somehow symbolize my whole adulthood from 20-35. I saw Annie Hall on the night it opened and everything about that evening is crystal clear for me. The same goes for Purple Rose. Whole chunks of dialogue are in my head forever. (I met a wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything.)

I think romantic comedy is tremendously challenging but boy, when it works, it's heaven. It's unfortunate that it's not taken more seriously.

mernitman

Welcome, Rosina: Nobody (but writers who try to write comedy) knows how hard it is. Ironically, Woody himself disparages his entire oeuvre in the Lax book, saying he's "never made a great film" because he makes comedies...!

Rosina Lippi

I'll have to get hold of the Lax book to get a sense of his tone. Is it possible he was saying those idiots don't pay attention because they underestimate or devalue romantic comedy.

Not that I'm defending the guy. I think he's made some fantastic films and some real stinkers. His short story 'The Kugelmass Episode' is a masterpiece.

But I try to keep the creations separate from the creator, where that's possible. I don't think I'd like him much if I spent any time with him.

Just to be clear: not defending him. She said defensively.

Rosina Lippi

sorry, I used html codes that didn't work on that post so the first paragraph runs together.

Lassie

You write very well.

mernitman

Lassie: Thank you for reading me!

Asasia

Good post.

mietwagen

Sehr gute Seite. Ich habe es zu den Favoriten.

Kimberly

Another wonderful reivew! I can't wait to see the movie. I love Woody Allen, and it's hard to believe he has made 44 movies. I'm not sure what your favorite five are, but mine would be Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Purple Rose of Cairo, and Match Point. I also loved Everyone Says I love you, and many others. I'm reading Paris Wife now a fictional account of Hemmingway's wife Hadley and their time in Paris in the 20 s; so this fits in nicely.

Rob in L.A.

"Zelig" is my favorite Woody Allen film, and he's made some really good ones. (Oh, and Happy Spring, everybody!)

mernitman

Kimberly: Your comment came in the midst of a spam-blitz, so I'm not entirely sure you're not a Spambot. If you're not, thanks for visiting! And I'm trying to sort out my favorite Top 5 Woody films, knowing only that one of them would be...

Rob: GMTA - ZELIG is definitely in my Top 5 Faves of the Allen oeuvre, and I feel it's always unjustly neglected, due to its unusual one-shot faux-doc format.

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