Ranking Woody Allen
There are two kinds of people. Those who, according to Woody Allen, “like my work go and see it and overlook my faults,” and those who “don’t like it only see where I screw up because I always screw up.” I fall into former category and am humbled by his staggering body of work. Even if you don’t “get” Allen, the fact remains that no other director alive (or dead for that matter) has achieved what Allen has. He is peerless, which is not to say he doesn’t “screw up” from time to time but let’s see Terrence Malick make a film a year with such (relative) consistency. Throughout the hits (Allen is an Oscar winner in the 70s, 80s and 10s) and misses (um, “Curse of the Jade Scorpion”), the endlessly prolific Allen has helped to define and shape the cinema throughout multiple eras without any sign of slowing down or running out of things to say. Last year’s best original screenplay winning “Midnight in Paris” was touted as a return to greatness while this year’s “To Rome With Love”… was not. Allen could care less either way, he just keeps making films.
So which era of Allen is best? The screwball comedies of the 60s and 70s? The sulking Bergmanian filmmaker of the late 70s and 80s? The sophisticated comic director of the 90s? Or how about his anything goes approach in the 2000s? Though I’m probably most partial to 80s Allen it’s hard to say for certain and though his work in the 2010s is limited to just “You Will Marry a Tall Dark Stranger” and “Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome With Love” I have a feeling some of Allen’s best films are still very much ahead of him.
Below is my top 43 Woody Allen movies ranked in order of preference. Truth be told pretty much all of them are good except for the final two or three titles. “To Rome With Love” will make it 44 and I will update as soon as I see it. Here we go, let the kvetching begin…
1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
“I don’t know from suicide, y’know. Where I grew up in Brooklyn we were too unhappy to commit suicide.” When I watch “Crimes” I’m never sure whether to laugh or cry or indulge in some pathetic variation of both. An entirely appropriate bipolar reaction considering Allen’s two major influences are Bob Hope and Ingmar Bergman. Very few can agree on what the “best” Woody Allen film is. His cannon is far too varied to yield a consistent choice. For what (little) it’s worth, “Crimes” is my top pick because, for just one in long list of reasons, it contains the best (and most cohesive) sampling of all the variations within Allen’s unique range: comedy, whimsy and a deep, dark disturbed moral pathos. The first time I saw this movie I was deeply affected by its ability to intersect a plot about a rich man (Martin Landau) who kills his mistress with a more traditional Allen plot about a filmmaker (Allen) attracted to another woman. “Crimes” contains not only Allen’s most complex story to date but it is his single best work as a filmmaker. And that’s saying something!
2. Zelig (1983)
One of the first (and certainly the best) mockumentaries ever made. Running at a lean 79 minutes I’ve watched “Zelig” more than any other Allen film. The personality shifting gimmick never gets old, it only gets better. This is not only Allen’s most stylistically innovative work to date but perhaps his funniest too. The film documents a man (Allen, of course) who is so insecure that he is able to morph physically and mentally into anybody in order to fit in. That allows for situations like… “To the gentleman who’s appendix I took out, I…I’m, I don’t know what to say, if it’s any consolation I… I may still have it somewhere around the house.“ “Zelig’s” newsreel fantasy approach is fantastical to be sure but rooted in a simple truth about the human condition. Allen carries the admittedly thin chameleon premise to its emotional (and surprisingly romantic) conclusion with an exquisite sense of pacing, dialogue, interviews and “found” documentary footage.
3. Match Point (2005)
Sex, death, blind luck and greed. “Match Point” sums up the human experience (according to Allen) and is the cinematic embodiment of Allen’s famous quote about life being “divided by the horrible and the miserable.” About a man who commits murder without any moral, social or cosmic consequences, “Match Point” is a stripped down version of what Allen was attempting to do in “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What it lacks in that film’s variety it more than makes up with a streamlined approach to the crime genre aided by an impossibly bleak Dostoevsky worldview and a technical execution worth of Alfred Hitchcock. Haunting in its message (“you can commit a crime and get away with it because the universe is godless” according to Allen) yet timeless in its sensibilities, the sober but elegant “Match Point” may very well become Allen’s Magnum opus when all said and done. By then Woody will have finally gotten his answer to what does or does not lie beyond the chaotic void of existence.
4. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
It’s easy to overlook this one. It’s Allen’s most edgy, post-modern and alienating work to date. A great tribute to Allen’s own creations of the past, present and, without fully knowing it, future. At the same time it’s also a worthy tribute to Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” (one of Allen’s favorite films of all time). But the influences don’t stop there. The opening, featuring multiple re-takes of a character getting out of a taxi cab, recalls the (better) moments of French New Wave while the ending devilishly reenacts the classic scene in “8½” as Allen is stuck in a room with all of his creations. Allen’s application of multiple characters in multiple realities with multiple POVs is quite the narrative juggling act and I can think of no movie in Allen’s cannon similar to this title. Or as exhilarating. I just love it when Allen experiments with the form; he does not do it often but when he does (“Zelig,” “Melinda and Melinda,” this film) I find myself blown away by how progressive this filmmaker is. And yet people still claim that Allen has limited range! I think, or at least hope, that time will be good “Harry” and that one day people will embrace it as the masterpiece it truly is.
5. Take the Money and Run (1969)
Best “old school” Allen comedy which, admittedly, is not saying much (sorry “Bananas” fans). Allen poured everything into his first proper feature and his enthusiasm translates into an unusually assured first film experience. Despite its age the laughs in this film are far from old. I lose it every time I pop in my VHS copy of this film (don’t laugh, VHS is my preferred method to watch older Allen movies as you can see in the picture of my collection above). Bottom line: this is vintage Allen at his more purely comedic.
6. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
We all must choose between reality and fantasy. And when we pick reality, as we all must, our dreams die. With this simple theme Woody Allen made a perfect little movie. A modern, cine savvy fairytale in the truest sense. This film cannot be praised enough and, indeed, IS praised enough, even by the self-critical Allen. It ties with “Match Point” as his all-time favorite. No arguments here.
7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Vintage Allen. If you don’t like it then you probably don’t like him. Sophisticated, funny and beautifully shot. This is the film where one of my favorite directors and my all-time favorite actor (Michael Caine) come together in what I can only describe as a meeting worthy of the two. I love that Allen considers “Hanna” to be his greatest creative failure. He feels he botched the ending and will never forgive himself for that. Most directors would kill or marry an adopted daughter to make a film this good.
8. Love and Death (1975)
“Love and Death” marks the end of an era. This is the last film Allen made before “Annie Hall” and it’s fun to watch it in that context. This manic period comedy features Allen as a Russian soldier who teams up with Diane Keaton to assassinate an invading Napoleon (upon hearing her request Allen says “It’s getting a little late, let’s do it after dinner”). A fitting plot for a filmmaker so obsessed with Russian literature. What makes this film truly special though is its intelligence. Sure, there are plenty of screwball/rom-com moments but the dialogue is really a step above Allen’s usual (at the time) light banter. Wrap your head around this great line: “To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.” If that doesn’t translate as well on paper then just listen to the dialogue in this clip and tell me that “Love and Death” not one of Allen’s most enjoyable films in terms of how the dialogue flows. Not only is “Love and Death” smart (with a much needed sense of humor about how smart it’s trying to be) but contains Allen’s first successful use of film and literary references: Allen jumps from Marx Brothers references to Dostoevsky shout-outs and even finds time (in a period movie no less) for a “Battleship Potemkin” homage, countless Bob Hope-isms and of course the obligatory Bergman nods.
9. Stardust Memories (1980)
I had to watch this three times to to get to a place where I loved it. Maybe four. I stopped counting when I started enjoying. About a director at a junket freaking out over past successes and future uncertainties, Woody does Fellini (again) in a way only Woody of the 1980s can: by making himself the tortured filmmaker and replacing science fiction sets with Kierkegaard. “Stardust” is another rare personal favorite of Allen’s. Only hardcore Allen fans need apply. Best line in the movie: “I took one course in existential philosophy at, uh, at New York University, and on, uh, on the final they gave me ten questions, and, uh, I couldn’t answer a single one of ’em. You know? I left ’em all blank. I got a hundred.”
10. Annie Hall (1977)
One of the all time great experimental love stories. But love is a funny word, especially when it comes to Woody Allen movies. “Annie Hall” is as much of a great break-up movie than it is a great romance. This departure from conventions is one of the cornerstones of Allen’s legacy. “Annie Hall” is also one of the best examples of a movie made/saved in the editing room. As the story goes the Annie Hall character sections were not intended to be the main storyline. The film was written from the point of view of Alvy’s stream of consciousness before being radically changed into its current form. My guess is that many of the memorable fantasy scenes (the Marshall McLuhan and Truman Capote’s cameos, Annie and Alvy’s juxtaposed family life, subtitles that reveal subtext, etc.) are remnants of Allen’s “failed” experiment. I would do anything to see the original cut but of course Allen is famous for discarding (“burning” in his words) anything not in the final cut. Despite the film’s clear lack of focus or depth, “Annie Hall” is widely considered to be his best work to date and was the winner of a ass-load of Oscars including ones for director (Allen), screenplay (Allen again), actress (Diane Keaton) and of course best picture (over “Star Wars”!). Many directors would have been ruined but such mainstream success and the pressure to follow it up with something similarly crowd pleasing but Woody just shrugged it off, sighed, and pretended it never happened.
11. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Another classic from Allen’s fruitful 90s output. “Bullets” does a brilliant job of blending Allen’s sensibilities with more mainstream period movie and comedy conventions. With a story about neurotic writers, divas and the mop, this is as close as Woody Allen ever got to making “The Producers.” Channeling Allen in the best way possible, John Cusack’s character insists: “I don’t write hits. My plays are art. They’re written specifically to go unproduced.” Mel Brooks couldn’t have said it better.
12. Midnight in Paris (2011)
A triumph. The film that won back the hearts of countless Allen deserters/haters and filled the pockets of his financial backers who, lets face it, rarely saw huge profit margins from his creations. With its playful sci-fi/fantasy time-travel premise (anchored by the rarest of things: a good role for Owen Wilson!) the story of a man out of time who goes back in time taps into something timeless and magical. Allen is wise not to get involved in explanations but, rather, trusts his audience to suspend disbelief as Owen Wilson hobnobs with the likes of Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, Buñuel and of course Hemingway (brought to life by a humorously humorless performance by Corey Stoll who gets all the movie’s best lines: “All men fear death. It’s a natural fear that consumes us all. We fear death because we feel that we haven’t loved well enough or loved at all, which ultimately are one and the same. However, when you make love with a truly great woman, one that deserves the utmost respect in this world and one that makes you feel truly powerful, that fear of death completely disappears.”). “Midnight” is Allen’s most hopeful and happy film to date but with a classic Allen twist… here’s Woody Allen talking to Film Comment talking about “Midnight in Paris”: “It’s a recurring, nagging feeling of mine that the reality we’re all trapped in is, in actual fact, like a nightmare. I’m always looking for ways to escape that reality. One escapes it by going to the movies. One escapes it by becoming involved in the trivial nonsense of ‘Are the Yankees going to win?’ or ‘Are the Mets going to win?’ When in fact it means nothing. But life means nothing either. It means as much as the ballgame. So you’re constantly looking for ways to escape reality. And one of the fallacies that comes up all the time is the Golden Age fallacy, that you’d be happier at a different time.”
13. Radio Days (1987)
I hate coming-of age movies. HATE them. Allen, however, gets a pass. By not exploiting the audience, this film is thankfully more Truffaut than Rob Reiner. The best scenes in “Annie Hall” featured a young Woody (persona) depressed about the expansion of the universe while roller coasters rattled above his family’s dumpy house. Well, this entire film is practically based on that wonderful concept. “Radio Days” is a one time deal for Allen and is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. Trivia time: this is the first Woody Allen film to feature Larry David. There’s also a young Seth Green in the lead role.
14. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
A pleasant surprise in store for anyone who revisits this wonderful film. It contains one of the best performances ever committed to film and, no, it’s not from star Sean Penn (though he is very good here). Rather, it comes from Samantha Morton playing Hattie, a mute girl in love with a sleazy-and-loving-it Penn whose idea of a good time goes something like: “Wanna go to the dump and shoot some rats?” Set on the fringes of the swinging jazz movement of the 30s, Morton steals this movie which with, ironically, total silence. Her performance, seemingly out of a silent movie, might be the most beautiful (and heartbreaking) performance every committed to film. Just watch her in this scene where Penn plays the guitar for her and tell me I’m wrong. On an unfortunate note the film would be ranked in the top ten had Allen not made the baffling decision to literally bail on her character half way through the movie to focus on Uma Thurman as a love interest. While it makes perfect sense for Penn’s character to do this from a narrative point of view the movie’s spirit could not recover from Morton’s departure. That aside I love how “Sweet and Lowdown” jumps around the timeline in its depiction of the lost music genus Emmet Ray (Penn). The film contains a great use of Zelig-like documentary interviews.
15. Husbands and Wives (1992)
Released at the height of the public’s Woody Allen hatred (which has died down but still around today), this wonderful drama was a casualty of Allen’s scandal. A shame because this is Allen as his Cinéma vérité best. If released today it probably would have gotten him a best director nomination. The film holds up surprisingly well and is one of a handful of films that Allen does not look back on with disdain. Beyond a few well-shot scenes in “Deconstructing Harry” I’m surprised and saddened that Allen never revisited the rough style of this film because he really seems to understand its mechanics more than most directors who (over)use it.
16. Manhattan (1979)
Rightfully considered one of the best and most beautiful tributes to New York ever filmed. Iconic to be sure but also, it must be said, uneven at times. It’s as if all of Allen’s wonderfully developed characters and their plot-lines were meticulously established only to evaporate in a poorly constructed third act. Perhaps that sense of literally being cut-off is what Allen intended in his plot about an out of work writer courting a capricious high school girl. I doubt it though. The movie still holds up thanks in part to the timeless cinematography by Gordon Willis, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” composition and this all-time classic film moment in which Allen explains what makes life worth living. Along with “Annie Hall” and “Hanna and Her Sisters” “Manhattan” is one of his most beloved films to date and it’s easy to see why… unless you’re Woody Allen who is notorious for hating “Manhattan” with the same passion that others love it.
17. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
A brilliant commentary on the nature of drama and comedy. Life and art is all about context. And content is a slave to context. Along with “Cassandra’s Dream” this film goes down as Allen’s most unfairly neglected work.
18. Hollywood Ending (2002)
A controversial choice. One of Allen’s leanest and most economical movies. It’s simple, it’s funny (not haha-funny but smile-a-lot funny) and quick to get to the point. Other than Billy Wilder very few directors would go this far to poke fun at themselves. The central hook/metaphor about a blind director put in charge of making a movie shows that Allen is aware of his “myopic” personality. When the film came out however there was very little interest in watching Allen make fun of himself or anything else for that matter. I proudly defend this film to this day. On a final note, and an appropriate one considering the title, “Hollywood Ending” contains one of Allen’s best endings. After the botched film-within-the-film is laughed out of the States and all hope is seemingly lost for the director there is a throwaway Wilder-esq punch line about the French loving it. This notion of a culture appreciating Allen’s vision when others do no acts a foreshadowing to Allen’s own self-imposed creative exile to a region (Europe) that still values his works.
19. Play it Again, Sam (1972)
The best Woody Allen movie not directed by Woody Allen. Not saying much considering the iffy quality of “What’s New Pussycat,” “The Front,” and “Casino Royale.” “Sam” stars Allen. It is based on a play by Allen. It is written by Allen. There’s even Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts. I rank it here because it’s so damn good. Vintage Allen quirks aplenty and a breezy plot reminiscent of many of Allen’s later movies (especially “Annie Hall”) with an added bonus of an imaginary Humphrey Bogart character that Allen talks to. I love the scene where Allen scatters intelligent books and magazines around his apartment before a date. There’s also a great scene in an art gallery where Allen tries to make sense of a ridiculous piece of modern art. Woody Allen sums the movie up best: “Long after I’m dead people will be able to curl up in bed and watch Sam on TV and say, ‘Oh, that’s a cute kind of story from the sixties,’ just as we watched It Happened One Night or that genre of films now. Not that I think Sam is very good–it’s not. More likely they will curl up in bed and say ‘What else is on?’” Not me. I’ve seen it four times and not once was there anything better on TV (unless of course any of the Allen films from above were on).
20. Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
The third entry in what I would call Woody Allen’s atheistic crime trilogy (after “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Match Point”). Perhaps Allen’s most underrated drama/tragedy to date. Like “Match Point” (and the chorus parts of “Mighty Aphrodite”) it approaches near self-aware levels of Greek tragedy and earns every moment of it. Woody’s Dream is by and large considered a misstep (critics, box office, fan reception) but is far from that. It is an assured tale of a crime that tears two brothers apart. McGregor and Farrell, while they don’t exactly look related, deliver strong performances and really sell the viscous pathos that Allen tosses their way. The film is, alas, Woody’s last serious drama and I hope he returns to the noir scene because he’s damn good at capturing the moral essence of this genre.
21. Interiors (1978)
Allen has stated that Interiors expresses his feeling that life is a “cold, empty void we live in and art won’t save you–only a little human warmth helps.” While he views his also views this film as a pretentious misstep (ha!) this is clearly one of the most pivotal films in Allen’s filmography. Not just in terms of the skill in which it was made or it’s wonderful creative expressions (another great Bergman tribute) but, most of all, in Allen’s boldness. This was the film that let us know that Allen would rather be known as a great and enduring filmmaker than a comic actor or writer. As an answer (or from his point of view a panacea) to the worldwide success of “Annie Hall,” this film showed the world that Allen would not conform to what the system or indeed his fans expected of him. He had a lot back then and very few now which makes “Interiors” a wonderfully stated “fuck you” to just about everybody.
22. New York Stories (1989)
Ah, come on people, it’s awesome! Well, at least ? of the movie is. I’m talking about the “Oedipus Wrecks” segment from Allen’s collaboration with Scorsese and Coppola. Not only did Allen make the best story out of the three (not saying much) but one that serves as a great stand-alone truffle for Allen fans. A magician (Woody can never get enough of magicians) makes Allen’s nagging mother disappear one night only to have her magically appear in the sky where everybody can see and hear her rants about her son. This is one of the most creative and funny ways that one’s mother issues has been addressed on screen. I wish Woody made more one-act films.
23. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Great fun. Sometimes that’s all I want from an Allen film. The most crowd pleasing entry in Allen’s modern European phase and it’s easy to see why. But the film is deeper that just being fun. In particular I responded to how the film eloquently (and subtly) espouses the pitfalls of self-entitlement, especially among its American characters who demand romantic satisfaction and go home empty handed (but still entitled). This is the fourth film in which one of Allen’s supporting actresses won an Oscar.
24. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
When “Stranger” opens with one of Allen’s signature old time tunes it occurred to me that whatever happens in the world –and a lot happens– I can always count on Woody Allen to be Woody Allen. You can’t put a price, or rating, on that. This is an artist that will not change or be influenced past his usual inspirations and this is also one of those rare instances where one’s inability to change is a good thing. The film takes me back to the days of “Hanna and Her Sisters” where a group of people loosely connected go about their lives in a way that can not quite be called realism and not quite be called un-realism. More like Woodyness.
Observations are made, arguments are animated, trusts are broken, friendships are sparked, drinks are had, love is lost, and then found again somewhere else. Any fan of Allen knows what to expect.
Woody is a master at heavy drama/Greek tragedies (“Match Point” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” are classics in their own right) and perhaps more well known for his comedies but what’s more interesting is how good he is at the in-betweens. One of my all-time favorite moments in a Woody Allen movie occurs in this movie. I won’t dare spoil it because so few people have seen this movie but I’ll just say it involves struggling author Josh Brolin getting some “good” news about a comatosed friend he was certain would die. Trust me, the movie is worth seeing just for that amazing scene.
25. Anything Else (2003)
If you ever wondered what would happen if Woody Allen wrote a novel (and, believe me, I have) then watch “Anything Else.” A little known fact is that this project began as novel Allen wrote to completion and promptly tossed in the garbage (or burned along with all of his deleted scenes–I can just picture Allen tossing it into a ragging fire like a crazed Nikolai Gogol) only to rework it as a screenplay about love and mental illness. When it was finally made, “Anything Else” the film slipped through the cracks which is too bad but understandable considering the appallingly bad poster. Allen’s writing is quite sharp here and his camerawork is as underrated as ever (I love all the long shots and Allen’s trademark of having characters walk in and out of the frame). Also, Jason Biggs… well, didn’t suck. Woody’s decision to play a supporting character (Biggs’s mentor) is so inspired that he really should do more often (“Scoop” is not enough). As a bit of trivia Quentin Tarentino named this Woody Allen film as one of the best films to be released since he started making films. First of all: what?! Secondly: COOL!
26. Another Woman (1988)
Gena Rowlands hit this one out of the park. It’s one of her best ever performances and certainly one of the most underrated lead roles in any Allen movie to date. See it!
27. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
This is the last time Allen and Diane Keaton collaborated. While that’s sad considering all they had done together, “Manhattan Murder Mystery” is a pleasantly appropriate end to their legacy dating all the way back to the early seventies. They felt like an old married couple in this film, which Allen had intended to make in some form in the 70s. The “mystery” itself is nothing special but that matters very little because the film is just so charming and likable… which is kinda the point. As a final treat “MMM” contains a great Orson Welles homage. When Allen and Keaton run from a killer they encounter, the hall of mirrors chase set piece is taken directly from 1947’s “Lady from Shanghai.” It worked then and it works now.
28. Sleeper (1973)
A decent enough Woody Allen comedy on one hand but a solid science fiction film on the other. The two make strange bedfellows that’s part of “Sleeper’s” charm. The film is iconic and actually full of great, possibly even visionary, sci-fi concepts. There might not be a funnier science fiction film–unless you want to count “Starship Troopers” as a comedy.
29. Whatever Works (2009)
Speaking of something that works, I can’t possibly be alone in thinking “Whatever Works” is not that bad. Larry David teams up with Woody Allen. Hello? Anybody? Pff, fine, I will continue to search the earth until I find someone who agrees that this movie rocks.
30. September (1987)
September contains the most interesting bit of back stage trivia of Woody Allen’s films (to me at least). From the IMDb Trivia section: “Director Woody Allen cast and shot this film twice, without telling the original cast.” Wait, WHAT?! September feels more like a filmed stage play than a movie. Makes sense considering Allen’s background as a playwright. Perhaps for that reason this is one of Allen’s more hard to define features and one that very few people talk about these days–not to mention when it was released as it’s his lowest grossing movie to date.
31. Shadows and Fog (1991)
Expressionistic Allen doing his best impression of a Fellini movie. Okay, I can get behind that. This is his second of two collaborations with John Cusack… and the worst of the two. To an Allen fan it’s a pleasant curio but like many of the circus illusions, it evaporates before your eyes once you try to make sense of it.
32. Celebrity (1998)
A noble misfire worth checking out for a number of isolated scenes (the high school reunion, the sexual misadventures, the brilliant final shot) rather than the film as a whole. Watching Kennith Branagh interpret Woody’s persona is pretty crazy but not as disastrous as others will say. There’s not much more to say about this film except that I hope Allen returns to black and white filmmaking one day. It’s been too long.
33. Alice (1990)
No, this not a movie about a decapitated head. “Alice” is a hard title to place in Allen’s cannon. I think this film confuses many Allen die hard fans. Personally, I just don’t known what to make of it. There’s a lot that works here but in the end Mia Farrow was never my favorite of Allen’s muses and while she does not outright embarrass herself she fails to carry the film on her back. Perhaps that’s because of the tone of the film. “Alice” contains an awkward mix of magic and ghosts which we’ve seen before in a number of Allen titles such as “Scoop,” “Oedipus Wrecks” and even “Match Point.” Somehow, those films integrated the supernatural elements better. Or at least with more conviction. This is one of the only Allen films I’ve seen only once so a second viewing might clear up some of my ambivalence.
34. Scoop (2006)
“Scoop” was made to be fun. Nothing more. And it succeeds on that very basic level. People are hard on this one though and, yes, it’s not that hard to see why (the movie is pretty silly after all). Every once and a while, when Allen deliberately makes a “lesser” film, they should be evaluated in that context rather than held to the standards of his so-called better works. As Billy Bob Thorton in “Bad Santa” says “they can’t all be winners.” This film is basically Woody Allen decompressing and loosening up after he bummed everyone out with “Match Point.” On the plus side there’s Scarlett Johansson in a bikini! And Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from “Buffy”)! And Wolverine! And Ian McShane as a dead reporter investigating his, uh, death. Even unpopular Allen movies have great casts.
35. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
It pains me to say this but I could never get into this movie despite a total open mind and an enjoyment of the musical genre. I will tolerate Woody’s corny music affinities when they appear in his iconic black screen credit sequences but when they invade the movie proper with such blunt force as to have Goldie Hawn float in the air on the Left Bank, well, I just can’t abide by that. To his credit, Woody indulged in a postmodern music celebration starring non-singer celebrities before doing so was popularized by the likes of Moulin Rouge and Chicago.
36. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Don’t hate me but I gotta say this one of Allen’s most overrated films. Sorry. It’s too cute and shallow to respect on the same level of his other works. What kills me is how good this could have been if Allen stuck with the angle of the business of comedy and relationships between comedians and their managers because there’s something to that. Instead, manager Danny Rose (played by Allen) gets involved in a dumb as nails plot about the mob and ends up running through corn fields with that shiksa Mia. What a waist.
37. Small Time Crooks (2000)
Fumbling crooks lead by Allen open a cookie store as a front in order to tunnel next door to gain riches. The heist goes nowhere but the store takes off. A great Allen premise all the way up to the point where Woody and Tracy Ullman become rich. Then it just goes bankrupt.
38. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
“You didn’t want a BJ so the least I could do is get you a tie.” Proof that even underwhelming Woody Allen films have their moments.
39. Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)
Some sketches worked. “What is Sodomy?” features Gene Wilder hilariously lusting over a sheep. Not much else does however, especially the skit set inside Tony Randall’s head featuring Burt Reynolds as a sperm traffic controller and Woody Allen as, well, sperm in the world’s worst “Fantastic Voyage” homage. This is one of the only Allen films that is far more clever than it thinks it is.
40. Bananas (1971)
This shit is Bananas: B-A-N-A-N-A-S. This overrated Allen comedy is short on the wit Allen is known for. It was a big step down from his brilliant “Take the Money and Run” made just two years earlier. Still, it’s a harmlessly stupid movie whose success got Allen on the map and, most of all, made for a great training project in which Allen learned more about what not to do when making a movie than what to do. He would later call “Bananas” a “stepping stone to the more serious things that I enjoy more.” The turgid pacing in the films centerpiece courtroom scene for instance is all kinds of lame (a black woman says she’s J. Edgar Hoover and people believe her… ugh). And gimmicky moments like Howard Cosell’s “play by play” sex scene is embarrassingly amateurish by today’s standards and perhaps belonged more in a movie like “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…”. It’s not a total loss. It really is infectious to see this young filmmaker actually having a good time making movies. This is especially the case in some of the non-verbal visual gags that are well executed–the subway scene with Sylvester Stallone comes to mind as being a cool homage to physical gags in silent movies. But in the end the scattershot movie is basically just one corny and canned joke after another forced into a premise that is thin at best. Maybe I’ve been too hard on this title. I’ll try to watch it again one day.
41. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Having shot and edited “Zelig” and this film at the same time it’s almost as if “Zelig” sucked all the nutrients out of this one. It’s the “Twins” of movies. Speaking of which, why the hell has Danny De Vito never done a Woody Allen movie?! So, yeah, not Allen at his best. Woody Allen wrote the screenplay in two weeks and it shows.
42. What’s Up, Tiger Lily (1966)
It’s hard to include this as a full fledged “Woody Allen film” because… it’s not. Allen dubbed over a bad Japanese spy movie called “International Secret Police.” He changed the plot around so that it now revolves around –no joke– the search for the world’s best egg salad recipe. Oy vey–that’s the dumbest thing Allen has ever done! The funny thing is that I’d bet the original film’s dialogue is more (unintentionally) funny that this “comic” treatment. The only consolation is that this movie is at least better than the 2002 dub movie “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.”
43. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
You know things are bad when this is the best line Woody Allen can muster up: “It’s a match made in heaven… by a retarded angel.” So, yes, I can unequivocally state that this is Woody Allen’s worst movie. The only Allen film I would have to call “bad” as hard as that is for me to say. In this movie Woody Allen and Helen Hunt are hypnotized into stealing jewels. That’s the whole movie! Allen literally sleepwalks through the making of this movie. The fumbling gumshoe plot is lifeless, the gags are lame, the supporting characters exist to stand around and crank out bad punch lines, the parody elements fall flat, the chemistry between Allen and Helen Hunt is toxic (resembling “Song of Thin Man” more than the original “Thin Man”) and with lines like “You don’t have a kosher bone in your body” flying back and forth the couple’s inane banter is the poison that fully kills any chance the film had of being watchable.
Since I would hate to end on a bad note here’s closing clip of Woody Allen attempting to rob a bank.