18 May 2009

You Know You Really Like A Director If....

You know you really like a director if you can make a top ten list of your favorites from among his films. In the first in an occasional series of looks at my favorite directors I present my ten favorite Woody Allen movies. And yes, they’re in order. Needless to say (so why am I saying it?)

Allen is one of my very favorites. He is one of our most prolific directors, generally churning out a movie a year, and for over four decades! Allen was a comedy writer and a stand up comic before turning his attention to directing and not surprisingly his first few movies ere pure comedies. He's turned his attention to more serious topics over the years but the vast majority of his films have reflected his brilliant sense of humor.

You know to expect something special from a director whose influences range from Groucho Marx to Ingemar Bergaman and something special is what audiences have gotten. Now in his 70's Allen is still going strong with a new film soon to be released and another soon to start shooting. I've enjoyed Allen's work for most of my life and coming up with my ten favorites was a breeze. Actually not true, it would have been easier to create a list of 20. Narrowing it down to ten was a bit of chore. Anyway, here they are.

1. Manhattan (1979). A film that has been nestled securely in my top five of all time for several decades now. Upon releasing it to some acclaim Allen reportedly said, “I got away with it.” He also has supposedly chastised fans of the film for being terribly middle class. He can call me any name he likes (except an upstart, no one calls me or a Firefly an upstart) I love this movie. I don’t watch it, I luxuriate in it. The characters, the music, the cinema photography the profundity, the laughs. Sometimes you’ve just got to have faith in a movie.

2. Annie Hall (1977). Allen’s one and only winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Woody also got the best director Oscar though he couldn’t be bothered showing up. A great comedy. A great love story. A ground breaking film with umpteen memorable lines and moments.

3. Zelig (1983). If I live to be a 150 (I’ll be really old) I’ll never understand what critics and audiences have failed to see in this incredible movie. I’ll say no more than to suggest that you click on this sentence to see an earlier post of mine on the incredible changing man.

4. Broadway Danny Rose (1985). Again I hate to appear to be lazy or for that matter facetious or didactic but I must refer to your an earlier post of mine. Click on this here sentence for my thoughts on this delightful comedy.

5. Hannah and her Sisters (1986). I’m not sure if anyone on the planet will know what I mean by this (they get me on Jupiter) but here goes: This is the Woodiest of all Woody Allen films. Call it the ultimate Woody. So much going on, not so much with Hannah, but those sisters! And Woody’s character and Michael Caine. What a cast too. The perfect Thanksgiving movie.

6. Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Greatest premise ever. A character walks out of film into “real life.” Real life is as stark as it gets in this movie what with the Great Depression doing its thing to America. Mia Farrow is an abused wife, out of work and out of hope except for what she can get from regular visits to the picture show. The film lives up to the outlandish and irresistible set up.

7. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). My favorite film of 2008. Penelope Cruz recently became the zillionth woman to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for an Allen film and by gum she sure deserved it. Javier Bardem went from playing Anton Chigurh to the roguish Spanish artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo. Scarlett Johannsson and Rachael Hall were two American’s in Barcelona who found love (or at least sex) and more. Much more.

8. Bullets Over Broadway (1994). Dianne Wiest won one of her Woody directed Oscars for this movie. For my money (what there is of it) they could have also tossed one Jim Broadbent's way for his high-larious turn as over-eating actor Warner Purcell. The cast also included Jack Warden, Chazz Palminteri, Rob Reiner, Mary-Louis Parker (yum), Tracy Ullman, Jennifer Tilly and the lead, John Cusack. Gangsters and the theater -- can’t go wrong.

9. Bananas (1971). For just plain old yucks this very early Allen film is unbeatable. If Allen had stuck to making slapstick farces likes this no one would have squawked. What a riot! A not so thinly-veiled riff on Cuba and its revolution played for laughs.

10. Match Point (2005). The most accessible of Woody’s “heavy” movies. Instead of trying to go all Bergman on us he told a very Hitchcockian story (kind of a Theodore Dreiser does London) of love and murder. Beautifully told. The lovely Miss Scarlett’s first woody, so to speak.

And you know you really, really, really like the director if after the top ten list you can offer a half dozen honorable mentions, like so:

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Small Time Crooks (2000), Radio Days (1987), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and Stardust Memories (1980).


Kathryn said...

My list would be similar to yours with the following exceptions:

I'd replace "Match Point" with "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and "Bullets Over Broadway" with "Everyone Says I Love you" 'cause that's how I roll.

LeisaR said...

Richard, I love movies but I have never seen a Woody Allen film. You have inspired me, I will seek one out.

Skitch said...

Even though I've seen them many times, I just bought Radio Days, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Manhattan.

The two that are purchased and waiting to be viewed are Broadway Danny Rose and Purple Rose of Cairo.

Thank goodness for the Barnes & Noble inexpensive movie bin!

John said...

Excellent choices Richard - I would perosnally make small changes like move "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" into the top ten, moving "Bananas" into the HM category (I know that makes 11 in my top ten but so be it!) I would also add "Love and Death" to the HM list.

Colt said...

My biggest Woody Allen question is this "Why did everyone hate Scoop?" I don't think it is a top ten, but it seems to get slammed at almost every turn. Why?

Richard Hourula said...

I loved Scoop. If my list was top 20 it would have been included. I think critics are harder on his comedies. Scoop was a pure delight.