In honor of Woody Allen’s latest film, Magic in the Moonlight, this blog post is dedicated to the five films of the Oscar-winning director which I consider to be personal favorites, which display artistic originality with qualities that I believe define Allen both as a director and as an influence in cinematic history.
5. Annie Hall (1977)
The movie that won Allen Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, Annie Hall is a charming film that takes both a bittersweet and humorous approach to the relationship genre. This film displays, in my opinion, the complexities of relationships without the dramatic overtones that tend to accompany a film of this its nature by showcasing the humor as well as the conflicts that can arise within a given relationship. Diane Keaton gives a delightful and headstrong Oscar-winning performance as the title character, the first of many to come from Woody Allen’s oeuvre. Although I do not consider Annie Hall to be my favourite Woody Allen film, I consider it to be the initiator of Woody Allen’s greatest achievements as a writer and filmmaker (his Golden Age, if you will). Plot elements, characters, and settings featured in this film would later became trademarks that audiences came to associate with Woody Allen films in the years to come, such as the neurotic Jewish protagonist, the strong, outspoken female protagonist, the New York City locales, and the comedy of human relationships.
4. Midnight in Paris (2011)
This film proved to me (as well as the Academy Awards, from whom Allen received his first Oscar since 1987 for the film’s screenplay) that Woody Allen is still capable of making a genuinely entertaining film. Experimenting with a new setting outside of New York, Allen employs his cinematographic prowess by capturing the beautiful and romantic views of Paris in various districts and at certain times of the year. Owen Wilson gives a charming performance as the film’s protagonist, although sometimes, I feel that he is used as a mouthpiece for the neurotic Allen, which is hardly reflective of the charismatic and amiable Owen Wilson that we have come to know and adore. Nevertheless, this film marks a return to the Woody Allen city-as-a-character film, creating the plot and themes based on the city’s aura and history, and how they influence his characters and their perspectives on society. The supporting characters could be more developed, but overall this film is a wonderful critique of Paris and society both from a historical perspective as well as in the present day.
3. Blue Jasmine (2013)
Blue Jasmine is a hilarious dark comedy chronicling the eponymous title character as she struggles to rebuild her life in San Francisco after suffering a nervous breakdown and losing her entire estate. Normally, one would think that a plot that consists of a mentally unstable woman and her misadventures would result in an ultimately dismal and lacking in entertainment value. In the case of Blue Jasmine, however, the movie can be thought of as a ‘comedy of errors’, with Jasmine’s inner torment played with quirkiness by Cate Blanchett in her Oscar-winning performance. In fact, the viewer will quite enjoy the downward spiral that Jasmine takes throughout the film. I consider Blue Jasmine to be the best of Woody Allen’s Renaissance, which began following the release of Vicky Christina Barcelona. Woody Allen’s genius of tragicomedy is brought its full potential in this film, with an excellent supporting cast (including Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin) that allowed Jasmine’s character to develop into the highly original and memorable Woody Allen female protagonist that he has often succeeded in creating in his previous films
2. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
The last film of Woody Allen’s Golden Age, Hannah and Her Sisters is a heartwarming film that deals with romance, life, death, music and literature in a more wistful and lighthearted manner than Annie Hall or Manhattan, and even possesses a happy ending! Like Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the few Woody Allen films in which the plot takes a sentimental turn at the conclusion of the film. Woody Allen’s character in this film is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, with his neurosis at its peak, influencing his fear of death, his search for a higher understanding of life and his quest to find meaning through religion and near death experiences. Through the variety of interconnected relationships displayed throughout the plot, the films critiques how complicated and often unoptimistic situations can have positive outcomes, despite how dismal an outlook they may have.
1. Manhattan (1979)
My all-time favorite Woody Allen film, which has sadly gone, underappreciated having been released following the great success of Annie Hall. Made during the height of Allen’s ‘Golden Age’, Manhattan features a wider variety of engaging and memorable characters and storylines than Annie Hall, which was based primarily around only two main characters. The opening sequence of Manhattan, standing alone itself, possess artistic brilliance both as a grand display of New York City as well as an hilarious and epic narrative of a proud native New Yorker. Throughout the course of the film, Allen creates the romantic atmosphere that the characters are placed in through the use of black-and-white cinematography, the Gershwin soundtrack, and the beautiful New York City locales expertly framed by cinematographer Gordon Willis. These plot elements may be viewed as characters within the movie, acting alongside the trademark Woody Allen male and female leads. Moreover, Manhattan is a film that pays tribute to a great and timeless city, lending itself to the romance between the main characters, and contributing to the undying brilliance that is Woody Allen as a cinematic auteur, defining him as a director more so than any other film in his entire body of work.