In just a couple of days, Woody Allen, the Academy Award-winning director of such films as “Annie Hall” and Manhattan,” will turn 77 years old. Although he is still going strong by writing and directing a film each year, let’s look back at his top gems.
“If my film makes one more person miserable, I’ll feel I’ve done my job.”
Since the age of 15, I have been an avid watcher of Allen’s motion pictures. Whether it’s his slapstick comedies, like “Love and Death” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” or his morose takes on life, such as “Match Point” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” he has moved me either in the direction of misanthropy or chuckling to the point of tears.
Each year since 1977, audiences across the globe have been delighted with an Allen movie. It doesn’t matter if it’s a neurotic writer, a man in his autumn years committing adultery or a younger man confronting death (in a humorous way, of course), his films have always been entertaining, even if they’re so-called “Allen-lite.”
Currently, he is in the post-production stages of his latest picture that stars Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay and Michael Emerson. Personally, my wish is to see one last hoorah starring himself, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Judy Davis and Julie Kavner – just like the good old days.
If that can’t happen, I guess I’ll just have to view one of his earlier films again. With that being said, here is a list of top 10 films of Allen’s career that spans more than five decades, which has garnered him a total of four Oscar wins and 129 award nominations.
10. “Match Point” (2005) – starring Jonathan Rhys Meyes, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer and Brian Cox
Maintaining the theme of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and even his earlier work with “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Allen provokes discussion over the morality of murder and what punishment fits the crime: imprisonment or moral torture.
(If anyone is a fan of Edward G. Robinson, you’ll remember his superb performance in the 1945 picture “Scarlet Street” with the same type of message.)
9. “Husbands and Wives” (1992) – starring Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Juliette Lewis, Mia Farrow and Sydney Pollack
Upon first viewing, this picture started on a high note with the Leo Reisman orchestra’s rendition of “What is This Thing Called Love?” As the movie continued on, the relationship between Pollack’s character and Davis’s character seemed to be more captivating than Allen’s character going after one of his pupils (Juliette Lewis).
8. “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) – starring Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn and Natalie Portman
Perhaps it’s my love of the old fashioned musicals, but this picture was surely one of his best ones when it comes to romantic comedies (maybe my adoration for the old music). It was fantastic to see Allen put on sublime choreography to the classic tunes of Cole Porter, Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn and Harry Ruby.
7. “Love and Death” (1975) – starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton and Feodor Atkine
If you’re an admirer of classic Russian literature, including the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Alexander Pushkin, then this picture takes a comedic take on the stories of these excellent novelists. Indeed, Allen’s character’s meeting with death is also hilarious.
6. “Stardust Memories” (1980) – starring Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Daniel Stern and Tony Roberts
Many credit this film as paying homage to Federico Fellini with his black and white cinematography, the opening train scene and a director having obsessed fans. Indeed, this would be a great introduction to the world of Italian neo-realism if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.
5. “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1993) – starring Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Diane Keaton and Anjelica Huston
Inspired by “The Thin Man” series starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, “Manhattan Murder Mystery” is a hilarious tale about a middle-aged married couple solving a murder mystery for fun, while also rekindling their marriage.
4. “Radio Days” (1987) – starring Julie Kavner, Seth Green, Josh Mostel and Dianne Wiest
This picture is surely an underrated Allen film. It is definitely an educational movie about the golden days of radio, which is certainly a treat for those who admire the classic sounds of jazz, the prominent radio shows of the day and how important radio was prior to the invention of television.
3. “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) – starring Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow and Max von Sydow
This was one of Allen’s only profitable films, but this is an inviting story so it’s no wonder why audiences went to the cinema to watch this classic Allen movie. As an ex-hypochondriac and a continued fearer of death, I have a lot of empathy towards this film.
The bonus about this movie is that you get some instances of nostalgia: a Marx Bros. clip, the appearances of Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O’Sullivan and two vintage Harry James tunes: “You Made Me Love You” and “I’ve Heard that Song Before.”
2. “Annie Hall” (1977) – starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Christopher Walken and Shelley Duvall
Most will paint this as Allen’s top accomplishment. This was my very first viewing of a Woody picture and I am glad that my father kept an old VHS copy of it because perhaps I would have never had the pleasure of sitting down and watching one of his films in my teen years.
1. “Manhattan” (1979) – starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep and Mariel Hemingway
Anyone who loves New York, enjoys black and white photography and Allen’s unique stories must see this movie. It is understandable that a lot of people dislike Allen either for his work or personal life, but witnessing “Manhattan” was certainly one of the top pleasures in my morose teenage years – there’s also a wonderful “What makes life worth living” list.
Happy birthday, Mr. Allen. Thank you for the wonderful years of laughter and thought-provoking discussion that have come from your pictures.
- “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
- “Broadway Danny Rose”
- “Play It Again, Sam”
- “Deconstructing Harry”