If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Woody Allen is a controversial figure. No, I'm not talking about his lewd personal behavior (though that's another article onto itself...); I'm talking about his film career. Many have called him a genius comedic artist while others have called him an overrated schmuck who stole the 1977 Best Picture from that one sci-fi movie. Whether you hate him or not, you have to admire this guy's work ethic; dude's been making movies since 1966 and has made them on an annual schedule to this day, with his most recent film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger opening this week in limited release.
Now, I'm no Allen expert; of the 44 films he's directed I've only seen 18 of them. However, I feel that I should enlighten those who are unfamiliar with Allen's filmography on what I consider to be a few of the works to check out.
Take The Money And Run (1969): Allen's first real film is not just a great look into his style of slapstick, but is also quite notable for being one of the earliest examples of a comedic mockumentary, 15 years before This Is Spinal Tap came along and perfected it. Yes, despite being a supposedly essential view, the film doesn't completely hold up as some gags near the end of the film tend to go on far too long (ie the prisoners ankle cuffed together; if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about). Still, the film holds up despite recently turning 40 years old. The film's humor is very reminiscent of the works of fellow Jewish comedic filmmaker Mel Brooks with its rapid fire pace and its ability to constantly throw gags out that hit a high percentage of the time.
Sleeper (1973): Let's get this out of the way; this movie looks pretty dated. The effects for a low budget 1970s independent comedy about the 22nd century haven't aged too well, but they aren't the film's spotlight. What really matters here is the comedy and it works tremendously; Allen's physical comedy is pitch perfect, the satire of futuristic ideals can be quite spot on and the chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton is so sharp that you cane see why the two continued to work together so often... but we'll talk about that later on.
Neurotic In New York Films:
Annie Hall (1977): Probably Allen's most famous film and the one that won him Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture (though not Best Actor, which he was nominated for). There's an obvious reason for this; it's one hell of a great movie. This is the romantic comedy that inspired jems like When Harry Met Sally and (500) Days of Summer. The realistic dialogue, the authentic chemistry between its two leads (wonderfully played by Allen & Diane Keaton) and the bitter truth about how some relationships turn out all show how interesting this genre can be if a filmmaker can be creative enough. The film does have some dated aspects (yes, the outfits Diane Keaton wears were worn by actual females in the late 70s), but it still has a universal appeal 33 years later.
Manhattan (1979): Allen's beautiful love letter to New York. Even if you see this and don't like the comedy or storylines involved, you can't deny how gorgeous the shots of New York look and how well they mesh with the works of George Gershwin that Allen chose for score. Still, the storyline does provide a lot of fodder for Allen to throw some of his philosophies on us, especially on what it means to be happy in life. It isn't laid on in a preachy way; it's just put there to make people think about their own perceptions on relationships.
Nostalgia Fueled Films:
The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985): I'd like to make something clear about these movies; they aren't going to be for everybody... for the most part. However, this is the one Woody Allen film that I can safely say anyone (especially people on this site) can enjoy regardless of Allen's other works. Why? Because it's about the joy involved in watching movies! Everyone here has been in Mia Farrow's shoes at sometime or another; life's bringing them down and they just want to escape into some pure entertainment for a few hours. The film's plot of a movie lover falling for a movie character that comes into the real world gives us a boatload of hilarious situations, universally lovable romantic moments and an everlasting reminder of the power film has over all of us.
Radio Days (1987): I know what some of you are thinkin'; "A movie about how people used to listen to the radio? How's that supposed to relate to the current youth like myself?" Well, the real streangth of this Allen movie lies in what people remember from their childhood, whether it be their family life, their first peak at the unclothed opposite sex or just their favorite types of entertainment. This one really captures the feeling of being part of a big family, with the conversations, the memorable situations and the general quirks every family member has. It also serves as a reminder of an art form we've lost in the ever expanding entertainment sphere; the radio drama. When you see how these people used their imaginations to dream up the visuals of these programs, it makes you think about the lack of imagination needed in today's entertainment world.
Romantic Comedies Within A Family:
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): This is yet another prime example of Allen at his best and his incredible ability to bring out pitch perfect performances from his cast. Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow, Mia Farrow and Allen himself each have very down to earth and human performances here that endear you to them in the most sincere ways possible. Allen's writing is crisp here, in particular a monologue he himself gives in the middle of the film that sticks with me as one of the most touching and truthful arguments for why life is worth living.
Everyone Says I Love You (1996): Allen's foray into the musical genre. Now I know some of you are scoffing off at that statement, but the musical numbers are here for a reason. Many of the actors here aren't trained singers or dancers and it shows; the limited vocal range, the varied pitch, the noticeable lack of experience in their dance numbers, etc. Yet in spite of this, the numbers still work due to the energy and earnestness they put into their performances, which makes each number seem like its from the heart. Plus, Allen selects some beautiful songs for them to sing that also fit perfectly in context with the situations their involved in.
Other Uncategorized Films:
Stardust Memories (1980): This one should be approached with caution. Opinion of this film Allen made as a reaction to people's perceptions of his career up to that point range from glowing to venomous. Some say its a brilliant introspective look into his career while others say its a pretentious film equivalent of a director bashing his critics. To me, its not brilliant and not even on of my favorite Allen films, but I still admire it a great deal. Why? Because it takes a dude with a lot of balls to call out his critics and a talented filmmaker to make it work in context of a story and I think Allen accomplished this in a solid way.
Match Point (2005): What many called Allen's 21st century comeback. This is another one that divides people, but mostly for the controversial actions of its characters and the lengths to which it goes to. To me, this is a perfect case of a director successfully remaking an earlier film in his career for the better; the film shares many similarities with Allen's earlier film Crimes And Misdemeanors , which suffered from having two really good movies that didn't mesh together that well as one movie. With this film, Allen took the plot of Crimes revolving around Martin Landau and fleshed it out into a film by itself to great sucess. The morals of this film will haunt you long after its over and will at least insight a discussion between you and your fellow movie watchers that may just reveal a few personal things that you never knew about yourself.
So those are my personal recommendations. You may not like them, but don't just stick to these works. Woody Allen has made so many movies over the past 40+ years that there's bound to be one for you out there for you. Just go watch one of them, already!