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Woody Allen: 12 Key Films

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 9 October, 2012 - 11:13 AM
Woody Allen Take the Money and run

The long career of Woody Allen has produced some great films, both in comedy and drama. Here are 12 of his most important.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) The life-spanning failures of petty criminal Virgil Starkwell are chronicled in this timelessly funny mock-documentary, a comedy format Allen pioneered long before it became fashionable. Proof that some visual gags never loose their potency is there in the footage of Starkwell trying to play a cello in a marching band. Allen wanted Jerry Lewis to direct, but Lewis insisted Allen do it himself to maintain complete artistic control. It was a lesson he never forgot. 


ANNIE HALL (1977) After the success of Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972), Sleeper (1973) and Love & Death (1975) Allen shifted gear and began using character and story instead of gags to drive his comedy. The result: a seminal romantic comedy that won four Oscars - best film, director (for Allen) , actress ( Diane Keaton) and screenplay (with Marshall Brickman). It remains his most successful film.

A 41-year old Manhattanite suffering from a mid-life crisis breaks off his relationship with a 17-year old school girl (Mariel Hemingway) to take up with an easily flustered pseudo-intellectual (Diane Keaton). Shot in widescreen black-and-while by Gordon Willis (The Godfather), it's a rare example of rom-com as art film.


ZELIG (1983) Allen brought his mastery of the mockumentary form to a peak with his tale of Leonard Zelig, a jazz-era man so desperate to be liked he morphs like a chameleon into the form of those around him. To make the footage look suitably aged - long before digital technology - Allen and his crew stomped on the film's negative. Mia Farrow's role as the psychiatrist who tries imbuing Zelig with his own personality was originally intended for Diane Keaton.


THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) A lonely Depression-era woman (Farrow) escapes her abusive husband by escaping into the neighbourhood movie house and falls in love with a supporting character in a movie (Jeff Daniels). He falls for her and leaves the film to be with her. Allen's personal favourite film, he was pressured to change the ending to something more upbeat to widen the film's appeal. He refused.

Allen's evolving talent as a great ensemble director fused with his remarkable skill at creating strong female leads to produce a powerful comedy drama about the erratic lives of three sisters (Mia Farrow; Diane Wiest; Barbara Hershey). Michael Caine took out an Oscar for his touching performance as a successful family man who does not know his own heart; Wiest won for her portrayal of a romantically starved middle-aged woman.
A devotee of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman, Allen's attempts to flex his Bergmanesque muscles with straight dramatic detours such as Interiors (1978) and September (1987) came off as copy-cat works. With Another Woman, however, Allen synthesized the master's style with his own to produce his most accomplished and seamless homage. In one of her best performances, Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence; Gloria) plays an intellectual who gets caught up in the overheard conversations taking place in a psychiatrist's office.  

If the charm of Annie Hall needed a barbed antidote, it was this blistering, acidic, funny-sad comedy drama about the fallout of failing marriages. Amidst a powerful ensemble that included Mia Farrow, Liam Neeson, Allen, Juliette Lewis and Sydney Pollack,  Judy Davis managed to distinguish herself as a freshly single middle-aged woman whose initial fears soon give way to romantic liberation. Regrettably, Marisa Tomei's throwaway performance in My Cousin Vinny stole the Oscar that should have gone to Davis.

In 1930s New York, a struggling playwright (John Cusack) teams up with a gifted gangster (Chazz Palminteri) to create a hit Broadway play - only the gangster can't get any of the credit, even though he is the true talent. Another brilliant example of ensemble direction - the cast included Jim Broadbent, Jennifer Tilly, Jack Warden, Tracey Ullman and Dianne Wiest in another Oscar-winning performance - the comedy explored the allure of artistic compromise and whether a man and his art are two different things - one of Allen's favourite themes. 


MATCH POINT (2005) An ambitious ex-tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) learns about the power luck and secrets play in life when he marries into a rich British family, despite being in love with a failed American actress (Scarlett Johansson). Though very similar to Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), Allen delivered one of his best straight dramas here, shot entirely in London with a largely local cast. It was the first of his films to be shot outside the US.   

Allen's love affair with exotic locales continued with this breezy, passionate dramedy about the romantic tangles involving two American women (Rebecca Hall; Scarlett Johansson) and a womanising artist (Javier Bardem) and his fiery ex (Penelope Cruz).

A frustrated screenwriter (Owen Wilson) visiting Paris with his fiance (Rachel McAdams) time travels back to meet the literary greats of the 1930s, but discovers the passion for nostalgia infects every era, not just his own. Though one of Allen's biggest hits, the film's breakthrough success took him by surprise and won him yet another Oscar for best screenplay.


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