If there’s one word to describe Woody Allen’s career, it’s prolific. Since 1965, he’s either acted, directed, or written in over 60 films, and in 31 of them he performed all three duties. Over the years, he’s been nominated for 13 Golden Globes (winning twice), 22 BAFTA’s (winning nine), and 24 Oscars (winning four).
Many times, selecting the cream of the crop from an artist’s work can be a fun exercise. With Allen, however, it’s no easy task. Mainly because once you’ve selected his ten best and are left with the remaining scraps of his filmography, you could select another ten that would stand up to most other great filmmaker’s careers.
It’s distressing to find yourself leaving off films from his pre-Annie Hall days, when he made movies like Play It Again, Sam, Bananas, and Sleeper, the last two being named to AFI’s list of top 100 comedies of the 20th century. Or some of his work from more recent years which, had they been made by a director without such a high standard set for himself, would likely be much more appreciated. Films like Match Point, Midnight in Paris, or Blue Jasmine.
With his newest movie, Magic in the Moonlight coming out this week, now is as good a time as any to look back on the career of one of America’s greatest movie makers.
image courtesy of: Walter McBride/INFphoto.com
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10. Manhattan Murder Mystery (2003)
Rotten Tomatos Score: 93%
This film functions as a slightly more conventional movie than we’re used to seeing from Woody, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feature all the quirks and neuroticism we’ve come to expect. Starring Allen alongside oft-collaborator Diane Keaton, Manhattan Murder Mystery is exactly as its title advertises, and it’s a rare film that mixes equal parts comedy and tension.
[ new page = Radio Days ]
Rotten Tomatos Score: 88%
It’s not unusual for Radio Days to get overlooked when discussing Allen’s finest works, which is a shame. With the help old radio and music, it paints a Rockwellian picture of 1930’s New York (but with all the disfunction of a tight-knit American family) and makes you nostalgic for a time and place you’ve never seen before.
[ new page = Zelig ]
Rotten Tomatos Score: 100%
Woody Allen makes Woody Allen movies. Even if he isn’t featured on screen, you know you’re watching a Woody Allen production, which is why he gets such a long leash to work with from his fans. He’s free to get as weird and eclectic as he likes, and he uses every bit of that freedom. Zelig shouldn’t work as anything more than a five minute sketch, but Allen managed to turn it into a hilarious full-length mockumentary, as well as a fairly iconic character.
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7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Rotten Tomatos Score: 81%
This is the most recent film on the list, as well as one of only two that don’t feature Woody in the cast. It takes certain types of actors to effectively deliver Allen’s dialogue, and while he’s historically been good at selecting such actors, Vicky Cristina stands out. Aside from great turns from Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and Javier Bardem as the uptight American, the free spirit, and the devastatingly charming Spaniard, respectively, Penelope Cruz comes in halfway through the film and steals the show in a fiery performance that earned her an Oscar for Best Support Actress .
[ new page = The Purple Rose of Cairo ]
6.The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Rotten Tomatos Score: 90%
It may not be the first thing you associate with him, but Allen is a fan of the fantasy genre. Maybe that’s because when he does go that route, he only chooses a single element that crosses over the border of fantasy and reality and the rest of the film feels grounded in reality. This is the case in Alice, Midnight in Paris, and especially The Purple Rose of Cairo.
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5.Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
In a 1989 episode of At the Movies, Roger Ebert accurately describes Crimes and Misdemeanors as, “the first movie I can remember where virtue is punished and evil-doing is rewarded…a rare movie that considers serious questions, and yet plays like a thriller.” Everything is there, from superb writing to excellent performances to gripping drama to dark humor. Although it came in the middle of his career, this may be the culmination of all of Allen’s talents as a filmmaker rolled into one. If you were to teach a course on Woody Allen’s films it would be difficult to decide whether to introduce this one first, or save it for last so it can be fully appreciated.
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4.Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Broadway Danny Rose stars Woody as the title character, a hapless, slick-talking talent agent that is lacking any actual talent, but banks on the bounce-back success of a has-been lounge singer, played by Danny Aiello. Danny Rose is one of Woody’s straighter comedies, but with just enough heart to make you connect with his character.
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3.Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Rotten Tomatos Score: 91%
In case you weren’t reminded already, the 80’s marked a decade in which Woody went on an absolute tear-perhaps the best ten year period of his career. Stardust Memories (1980), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and he wrapped it up with his segment of the Coppolla/Scorsese/Allen anthology New York Stories. If this list only consisted of his films from that period of time, Hannah and Her Sisters would top it.
[ new page = Manhattan ]
Rotten Tomatos Score: 98%
Woody Allen is the quintessential New York director, and Manhattan is his love letter to the city. The film as a whole is his finest (well, almost), but it’s also bookended by two of his greatest scenes ever. The opening scene shows scenes from the city to the tune of George Gershwin with Allen’s character Isaac verbally writing his book over it. The other is one of the later scenes, when Isaac decides to evaluate what’s important to him in life. No matter how many times you’ve seen it before, it’s always worth revisiting.
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1.Annie Hall (1977)
With all his great movies, Annie Hall still manages to stand out as his best. It’s the ultimate romantic comedy, and the only one to ever win Best Picture. It’s also the first movie to ever capture the New York hipster, which in a way is as hip as it gets. It’s one of the most influential films of all time, which sometimes can mean only the artist’s peers in the medium can appreciate it, but not in this case. It could also be attributed as a major catalyst for today’s mumblecore genre. Even though the script isn’t improvised, it’s a dialogue-driven film about average young people with intellectual and artistic pursuits living in the big city. Diane Keaton’s Annie remains an iconic figure in film. Even nearly 40 years later, Annie Hall still holds up and stands out.