Friday, October 2, 2009

Woody Allen Used To Be Good, Honest

I was quite excited by the idea of the new Woody Allen film Whatever Works. It's about a misanthropic scientist played by Larry David - of Seinfeld and Curb fame - but when I finally saw the flick over the weekend I was disappointed. It's not so funny or interesting and as I talked to a few people about it I realized that there was an entire generation out there who only know Woody Allen from his scandalous personal life and his weak later period works. He's also in the news this week for being the first signature on a creepy list of people who want the immediate release of Roman Polanski. Anyway it sometimes helps to divorce the artist from his work and as a very small corrective, here's my list of the Top 10 best Woody Allen films:
1. Annie Hall (1977): Woody at the height of his powers. A bittersweet geek-meets-girl romance containing such classics as: Marshall McLuhan, the JFK conspiracy sex excuse, the Grammy Hall dinner, the party at Paul Simon's house etc. Genius. A+
2. Hannah and Her Sisters (1985). The story of Hannah and, er, her sisters. Funny, twisted, dark, very sad, and then funny again with a kick ass happy ending. Brilliant. A+
3. Love and Death (1975). Woody's take on classic Russian literature.
Sonja: You were my one great love.
Boris: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm dead.
Sonja: What's it like?
Boris: What's it like? You know the chicken at Tresky's Restaurant? It's worse.
Sonja: There are many different kinds of love, Boris. There's love between a man and a woman; between a mother and son...
Boris: Two women. Let's not forget my favorite.
Sonja: And I want three children.
Boris: Yes. Yes. One of each.
Anton Inbedkov: Shall we say pistols at dawn?
Boris Grushenko: Well, we can say it. I don't know what it means, but we can say it.
4. Sleeper (1973). A health food store owner from the 70's wakes up in the twenty third century. The giant pudding scene may the funniest thing ever put on celluloid. A
5. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1991). Martin Landau hires Lenny from Law & Order to murder Angelica Huston and that's when his troubles really begin. Nice subplot involving Woody and Alan Alda. A
6. Radio Days (1986). A sentimental favourite of mine. Woody captures the universe of pre war radio stars. The War of the Worlds bit is LOL hilarious as the kids would say if they could stop tweeting for five minutes and watch a good film for a change. B+
7. Manhattan (1979). Beautifully shot, bittersweet somewhat troubling romance between a young girl and an older dude. (No prizes for guessing who plays the older dude) B+
8. Take the Money and Run (1969). Early anarchic comedy about an incompetent criminal. The scene with the cello and the marching band just about kills me. B+
9. Play It Again Sam (1972). All the old Woody cast in a kind of prequel to Annie Hall. Its mostly shot in San Francisco and its a bit wackier than the mature Woodman, but there's some great stuff in there. B+
10. Match Point (2003). Much derided in England because Woody dared show the Swiss Re Building and had a lot fun with a London setting. Great central performances and Scarlett Johansson appears in a wet T shirt. Whats not to like? B+