My Love For Woody Allen: Week 1

I recently finished watching every single film Woody Allen has ever directed, as well as most of the ones he either wrote or just starred in, but didn’t direct. His latest film, Midnight In Paris, is set to open at the end of the month. Thus I have decided to write a little bit about all of his films up until its premiere. I’m not going to go very in-depth, mostly because of the sheer volume of his body of work. Also, I’m going to start with Take The Money and Run because that’s the first film he wrote and directed (but you should still give What’s New Pussycat? and What’s Up Tiger Lily a watch). Other films I won’t write about but suggest you watch include Play It Again, Sam (based on a play Allen wrote and starring Allen and Diane Keaton) and The Front (a really great look at the Hollywood blacklist). So for this first week I’m going to go through Stardust Memories and then pick up at A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy next week, etc. etc. Also, while you’re at it check out this handy dandy aStore I set up featuring all of Allen’s work.

1969 – Take the Money and Run

This was actually one of the last Allen films I saw. I’ve recently started reading Woody Allen on Woody Allen and in it he talks about how with his “earlier, funnier movies” all he was really concerned about was “is it funny?” Most of his pre-Annie Hall films are all about the joke, and made joke from joke without any real trajectory. That’s not to say they aren’t great films. They are a different type of film and a representation of a different era in the writer/director’s life. I really enjoyed this film actually. Allen is great as bumbling crook Virgil Starkwell. The film is also notable for its mockumentary style, something Allen would perfect with Zelig and Sweet and Lowdown.

1971 – Bananas

This film is definitely focused on two things: the joke and sex. Sex is a huge theme in most of Allen’s films, but I think in this film it is a lot more front and center than most. Allen’s character, Fielding Mellish, finds himself in the middle of a revolution in South America after trying to impress a girl in order to sleep with her. The bulk of the film is sight gag after sight gag. I can definitely see how fans of a film like this might be a little put-off by something like Annie Hall. This film also features what may well be the screen debut of Sylvester Stallone.

1972 – Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

This film is a serious in vignettes, answering questions asked in the book of the same name by Dr. David Rueben, though with Allen’s own answers. Some of the vignettes are better than others. My favorites are the sheep one with Gene Wilder, the parody of Italian cinema, the one with the giant monster breast wherein Allen says one of my favorite of his lines, “Don’t worry, I know how to handle tits,” and the final scene wherein Allen plays a bespeckled sperm. Allen was definitely having fun while making this film.

1973 – Sleeper

This was probably the second Allen film I ever saw (the first being The Purple Rose of Cairo) I was probably in middle school when I saw this and I just thought it was the strangest and most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. Diane Keaton is fabulous in this film, her first with Allen as a director (they had both co-starred together in the Broadway production of his play Play It Again, Sam, as well as the Herbert Ross-helmed 1972 film version). I’m not really sure this was an appropriate film for a middle schooler to watch and I think perhaps I need to watch it again, because I’m sure there are some jokes that went over my head (though, I watched Seinfeld as a young child, so maybe not…)

1975 – Love and Death

This film was Woody Allen’s first foray into something a little deeper. While still filled with plenty of jokes and sight gags, Allen begins to infuse philosophy into his writing; this can be most prominently seen at the film’s close. Allen is also beginning to come into his own as a filmmaker, as well as beginning to reference those filmmakers he idolized. The most notable of these filmmakers are Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein. The film is a satirical take on Russian literature, such as those by  Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. I think the end of this film, both Boris’s final monologue and the final shot of him dancing with Death is one of my favorite endings from any of Allen’s films.

1977 – Annie Hall

With Annie Hall we get Woody Allen at the beginning of his new phase as a director. This is his most fully realized film up to this point and it is the film that lost him many a fan, those who prefer his “earlier, funnier movies.” Allen wrote the titular character specially for Diane Keaton, basing it a bit on her as well. The result was the role of a lifetime for the actress, and an Academy Award win for Best Actress. Recently, at the TCM Classic Film Festival actress Drew Barrymore called this film the “greatest kitchen sink ever made.” By that she means Allen does everything in this film. He uses farce, he breaks the third wall, those out-of-body voice overs, there’s some animation, he even uses non-linear storytelling. On the surface one would think the result would be a giant mess, but somehow Allen pulls it off. In the end it was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning four: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Actor and Best Actress (won). Despite winning two awards for his work on the film, Allen did not attend the Oscar ceremony. In fact, in his forty-plus-year career, he’s only attended the ceremony once: in 2002, to present a film about New York after 9/11. Annie Hall is currently #136 on IMDb’s Top 250 and is featured on seven American Film Institute 100 Years. . .100 Movies  lists: AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Movies (1998) – #31, AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) (2007) – #35, AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Laughs (2000) – #4, AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Passions (2002) – #11, AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Songs (2004): “Seems Like Old Times” – #90, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes (2005): “La-dee-da, la-dee-da.” – #55, AFI’s 10 Top 10 (2008) – #2 Romantic Comedy. I’ve got several favorite scenes in this film, but the two I love the most is Alvy’s first encounter with Annie’s brother Duane, played by Christopher Walken, and the very last scene of the film. Another perfect ending.

1978 – Interiors

This was Allen’s first completely serious film and the first he wrote/directed in which he did not also star. The influence of Bergman is prevalent throughout the film, but especially with its final iconic shot of the three sisters (played by Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith and Mary Beth Hurt). The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, though not for Best Picture. These included Best Actress Geraldine Page (one of eight nominations she received throughout her career), Best Supporting Actress Maureen Stapleton, Best Art Direction, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. Again, this film is heavy in its philosophical ideas and is the first time Allen takes a look at a family of sisters, something he delves into again with his masterful 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters.

1979 – Manhattan

With this film Woody Allen first tries his hand at making a film in black and white and how beautiful is Gordon Willis’s  cinematography in this film! It’s also one of only two films that Allen shot in extreme widescreen. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress Mariel Hemingway and Best Original Screenplay. It’s currently #226 on IMDb’s Top 250 and was featured on two of the American Film Institute’s 100 Years. . .100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years. . .100 Laughs (2000) – #46, AFI’s 100 Years. . .100 Passions (2002) – #66. There’s a scene towards the end of this film wherein Allen’s character Isaac lists the things that make life worth living. It’s a scene I think about often, partially because I love the things he listed and partially because I think it’s important to remember what it is you love about life, to not take these things for granted. Isaac realizes he’s taken Tracy (Hemingway) for granted and the film ends with him trying to make up for this mistake. It’s beautiful. There’s also a line towards the beginning of the film that I think is just perfect: “Talent is luck. The real thing in life is courage.” I don’t know if that’s a personal motto of Allen’s or not, but it sure seems to me like a good way to live one’s life.

1980 – Stardust Memories

In this film Allen plays Sandy Bates, a film director who is stuck on what to do next. This is the film in which a fan tells fictional Sandy he prefers his, “earlier, funnier movies” – something that seems autobiographical, but  Allen has repeatedly denied this. Allen recently listed this among the films he considers his best. If I were forced to make a Top Five of Allen films (and I do mean you’d have to force me) this film would make that list. I love everything about it. When I first saw it I hadn’t seen Fellini’s , but now having seen both, it kind of makes me love them both more. Another film shot in glorious black and white, there’s a lot of great lines and characters and scenes in this film. Maybe it’s not for everyone (people were widely divided when it first came out), for me it’s everything I love about Allen as a writer/director/actor. At one point Allen’s character encounters some aliens (who, if my memory serves, also prefer his earlier, funnier movies”) and he says to them, “If nothing lasts, why am I bothering to make films, or do anything, for that matter?” Because we love you Mr. Allen, and your films will last with audiences as long as any of the great directors.

Again, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive Woody Allen aStore here, where you can find all of his films on DVD, as well as books written by and about him.

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About cinemafanatic

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 5, 2011, in Auteur of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Sleeper was actually the first Woody film I saw (when I was ten!). I remember choosing it because it seemed silly and slapsticky, and I was very into Charlie Chaplin as a kid. On that level, I think it’s a pretty good introduction to his work for younger folks, because it’s very silly and jokey and involves lots of people falling down.

    • in Woody Allen on Woody Allen he talks about how he wanted Diane Keaton’s character to be a kind of Buster Keaton-esque foil for his character, the kind that always got B.K. in trouble. I think she pulled that off well and Allen as the B.K. character with all his pratfalls really worked in the film.

  2. and of course the doctor with the sheep in EYWTKAS.. was Dr Doug Ross whose career was revived by getting a job in that ER in Chicago. I’ve always wondered if that was deliberate

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