Woody Allen, born in the Bronx as Allen Stewart Koningsberg in 1935, has been making movies since 1965, having starting out as a sketch writer and stand-up comedian.
In total he has written and directed (and in many cases starred in) 46 films starting with ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?‘ and is currently in post-production on a film called “Blue Jasmine” starring Cate Blanchette and Alec Baldwin.
I admire him immensely: starting from his early stand-up comedy records (watch his famous and hilarious “I shot a Moose” sketch from 1965″) to his early relationship comedies to later more dramatic works.
Manhattan has been the canvas for his stories, but he’s also made London, Paris and Barcelona backdrops for his films.
Not all have been classics, some have been mediocre and forgettable and others have been plain awful.
Why do I admire him so much: it’s the stories he tells about love, relationships, anxiety, existentialism, religion all brought together with classic Woody Allen wit and insight.
It’s also his iconic angst-ridden, questioning, self-doubting and fallible jewish male character, portrayed so often in his films that I love so much.
These are 10 of his films that I have loved (I’ve not seen all of his films) and recommend highly:
Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) is Woody Allen’s greatest cinematic achievement. It brings together all of his key themes – religion, morality, family, guilt, the meaning and purpose of life – in a seemless way with great writing, a pitch-perfect soundtrack and wonderful performances by its ensemble cast. There are numerous plots and sub-plots, but the film principally revolves around Judah Rosenthal (a brilliant Martin Landau), a successful and wealthy ophthalmologist, who resorts to desperate measures to end an affair with Dolores Paley (equally brilliant Angelica Huston). Despite the heavy material, it is also extremely funny with the humour provided by Allen himself an idealistic documentary film-maker Clifford Stern, given the opportunity to make a documentary about his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), an obnoxious big-time television producer. He does it so that he can earn enough money to make a documentary about a life-affirming jewish professor, Louis Levy, all the while falling in love with Lester’s associate producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow).
Annie Hall (1977) would be top of many people’s lists of favourite Woody Allen films. At its heart it’s a love story between the angst-ridden, neurotic Alvy Singer (Allen) and quirky, lovable, absent-minded Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) with some of his best lines and jokes thrown in and questions about God and the meaning of life. There’s also some great cameos from Paul Simon, Christopher Walken and Sigourney Weaver.
One memorable line comes after Annie Hall parks her VW beetle almost perpendicular to the curb following an exhibtion of some of the worst driving ever seen on film.
Alvy remarks: Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here.
Shot beautifully in black and white, Manhattan (1979) is Woody Allen’s visual homage to the city that he loves. The city is the backdrop to Isaac’s (Allen) affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), while pursuing the mistress of his best friend, Yale. There are so many iconic shots of Manhattan to drool over and great lines like:
Yale: You are so self-righteous, you know. I mean we’re just people. We’re just human beings, you know? You think you’re God.
Isaac Davis: I… I gotta model myself after someone.
Matchpoint (2005) sees Woody Allen move locations to London with this dark tale about seduction and murder starring Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Play it Again Sam (1972) is actually directly by Herbert Ross, but based on Woody Allen’s stage play and stars him in the lead role of a love-sick film critic and schmuck who turns to his alter ego – Humphrey Bogart in his role as smooth talking Rick Blaine from Casablanca – for inspiration as to how to be a lady’s man.
Love and Death (1975) is a historical comedy set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. Woody Allen plays neurotic soldier Boris, in love with his Sonja (Diane Keaton) who gets involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon, with philosophical musing and some very silly (but hilarious) skits thrown in.
In Midnight in Paris (2011), Owen Wilson plays Gil, an American would-be writer in Paris with his pretentious fiancée who finds himself transported back to the Paris of the 1920s where he meets, drinks and parties with his literary idols including F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and artists like Picasso, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Zelig (1983) sees Woody Allen play the title role of the chameleon (literally) like Leonard Zelig who can change his appearance to match the people he is with and becomes a global phenomenon. Told in documentary style, it’s hilarious.
In Deconstructing Harry (1997) Woody Allen plays Harry block, a writer suffering from writer’s block, with a penchant for prostitutes and vulgarity. It’s a very funny film as Block recalls events from his past and characters from his books. There’s a memorable scene played by Robin Williams, an actor worried about losing his focus who is shown as actually out of focus in the movie.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984) sees Woody Allen play a talent agent to a string of bizarre performers that no one else will hire. One of them is Lou, a talented lounge singer, making a comeback. Allen goes out of his way to help Lou, but finds himself being pursued by mobsters after trying to bring Lou’s crazy mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) to his concert.
And here’s four to definitely avoid:
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Small Time Crooks