My favourite Woody Allen movie
Woody Allen has been the most consistent creative force in American cinema for over four decades. As his latest movie ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ heralds yet another return to form, Time Out writers choose their favourite Woody Allen movie
Derek Adams (DVD editor) : 'Take the Money and Run' (1969)
‘A prison hasn’t been built that can hold me, and I’ll get out of this one if it means spending my entire life here.’I started avoiding Woody films after ‘Broadway Danny Rose’; years of adenoidal kvetching simply took its toll. For me, his finest film was his second: ‘Take the Money and Run’ is pricelessly funny from the off. I love the documentary structure, the gruff American voiceover divulging the early life of social misfit-cum-bumbling crime figure Virgil, the standout quotes (see above), the slapstick bits and, above all, the hilariously deadpan ‘gub’ robbery. A fab companion to anything by the Pythons.
Pete Watts (Features writer): 'Bananas' (1971)
‘I object, your honour! This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.’I had never considered my mum an authority on American cinema of the 1970s, but for some reason her dislike of Woody Allen seeped into my head. I never watched his films, I wasn't interested. Then, one night, channel-flicking, I found a scene that tickled: a New York nebbish dressed in army fatigues and a fake beard learning the art of slapstick guerrila warfare from a ragbag selection of Latin Americans. It reminded me of 'Top Secret'. This was 'Bananas', probably Woody's purest, daftest, most Marxist comedy, and still my most cherished Woody film, partly for the closing scene in which his honeymoon night plays out like a boxing match, complete with post-bout interviews, but mainly for the bit where he gets beaten to pulp on the subway by Sly Stallone.
Gordon Thomson (Editor): 'Play it Again, Sam' (1972)Woody: 'What are you doing Saturday night?'
Girl: 'Committing suicide'
Woody: 'What about Friday night?'A Saturday night double bill of ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Play it Again Sam’ at the Grosvenor cinema, Glasgow in January 1991 was my first exposure to this Woody gem. My good lady and I puffed away on ciggies and swigged from a hip flask of whisky as Michael Curtiz's wartime classic morphed into Allen's gloriously upbeat pastiche (the Woodster's character gets to have his hero Humphrey Bogart as his alter ego and matchmaker). We laughed hard. Usually overlooked for the more famed comedy triptych of ‘Sleeper’, ‘Bananas’ and ‘Love and Death’ – maybe because Allen didn't direct – ‘Play it Again Sam’ is actually, in my book, his funniest movie by miles. His dating mishaps – whether demonstrating the shovelling motion required to eat rice quickly, being beaten up by bikers or chatting up morbidly inclined girls in front of Jackson Pollock paintings (see above), are joyously silly. Almost as good is Tony Roberts, who plays Allen's pal Dick – a beautifully buffed and super-vain workaholic ('I'll be at 648-0024 for about 15 minutes, then i'll be at 752-0420; and then i'll be at home on 621-4598…' ) who's too busy checking in with the office to notice his pal checking out with his wife. ‘Sleeper’ is comatose compared to this.
Sarah Cohen (Listings editor): 'Annie Hall' (1977)
‘I was thrown out of NYU for cheating on my metaphysics final. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.’An obvious choice, for sure, but there are some films that genuinely deserve their classic status. Along with Robert Altman's 'Nashville', 'Annie Hall' pioneered the art of conversation as cinema. This film is the same age as I am, yet its influence is still apparent in movies made for and by my generation. Without 'Annie Hall' there would be no 'Before Sunrise', no John Cusack in 'High Fidelity', no 'Sideways'. We can probably blame Woody for the whole 'mumblecore' scene too, but the flimsiness of those films only highlights how effortlessly funny yet true, idiosyncratic yet universal the dialogue in 'Annie Hall' is. Diane Keaton is adorable, of course, but special mention must go to the young Christopher Walken, whose one-scene turn as her kamikaze brother deliciously foreshadowed his career as psychopath-for-hire. Not only is 'Annie Hall' Woody Allen's best film, it's also one of the twentieth century's.
Nina Caplan (Arts editor): 'Manhattan' (1979)
‘He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat…’Apparently, this is one of Woody's least favourite films, which probably says even more about his judgement than his relationships with 17-year-olds (in the film) and his wife's adopted daughter (out in the real world). It's the quintessential New York filmmaker's most New York film, from the Gershwin soundtrack to the sublime views of the city, but there's no space for 'home sweet home' sappiness among the glittering one-liners. Woody goes out with beautiful Mariel Hemingway but tortures himself about her age; his married friend tries to palm him his bit on the side (when your chum sets you up with Diane Keaton, you know you're well off for friends) and of course, this new beauty in his life only causes Woody to descend further into entertaining gloom. It looks good, it sounds good and at 30 it's old enough to date without self-recrimination. Really, what's not to like?
Dave Calhoun (Film editor): 'Stardust Memories' (1980)
‘You can't control life. It doesn't wind up perfectly. Only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert.’I remember leaving the world's first screening of 'Cassandra's Dream' at the Venice Film Festival in 2007 feeling decidedly shocked. Yes, 'Match Point' wasn’t very good and 'Scoop' didn't even find a UK distributor, but this, Woody's third film in a row set in London, was just awful, with lead actors Colin Farrell and Ewan Macgregor flapping around as if they had no director, which, if reports of Woody's laissez-faire approach to working with actors is to be believed, maybe wasn't so far from the truth. Thankfully, his latest 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' is a teasing, sometimes very funny slice of froth, yet it's still not a patch on his best work. Personally, I'm a fan of 'Stardust Memories', the film that Woody made in 1980 as a follow-up to the very successful 'Manhattan'. As ever, the line between Woody and his character, Sandy Bates, is hard to decipher, but this is more close to the bone than ever. He may have made the film after 'Manhattan', but Woody was surely pondering the lukewarm critical and box-office reaction to 1978's 'Interiors' – his first 'serious' film – when he wrote of Sandy, a disillusioned filmmaker who attends a weekend festival dedicated to his work and slips into a crisis that is reflected in the film's fragmented structure. The kvetches are many and manifest. Why does no one like my serious work? Why does everyone carp on about the early, funny ones? Why do stupid women fall at his feet and the clever, beautiful ones ignore him? Why? Oh why? Oh why? Self-obsessed? Yes. Bitter? Yes. Funny? Very.
David Jenkins (Film critic): 'Zelig' (1983)
‘And to the gentleman who's appendix I took out, I don't know what to say. If it's any consolation I may still have it somewhere around the house.’When push comes to shove, my favourite Woody is ‘Zelig’, a hilarious one-of-a-kind from 1983. It’s another thinly-veiled auto-portrait centring on a chameleon-like pariah who is able to meld his body to fit in with those surrounding him. His story is delivered by way of a bogus documentary mixing footage filmed on antique cameras, recontextualised newsreel and shrewd use of blue screen technology. Granted it’s an odd little film, often dismissed as a over-egged joke or love-it-or-loathe-it after-dinner frivolity, but the way in which it conjoins the droll comedy of self-hatred from ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’ with the pet Allen interests of jazz, psychotherapy and, of course, old movies, makes this one of his most trenchant and enjoyable personal statements to date. My sentiments echo those of one of the film’s many crackpot interviewees: ‘Leonard Zelig is one of the finest gentlemen in the United States of America. He is the cat’s pyjamas!’ Hear, hear.
Adam Lee Davies (Film writer): 'Broadway Danny Rose' (1984)
‘Don't forget to do "My Funny Valentine" with the special lyrics about the moon landing.’Bergman meets Jack Benny as Woody weaves a free-form essay on commitment, guilt and amour fou through a whimsical tribute to the lesser lights of the Great White Way. His Danny Rose is a cut-rate theatrical agent for such dire, outdated acts as a one-legged tap dancer and ‘the greatest balloon-folding act of all time’ until his one working client, gone-to-seed lounge singer Lou Canova, catches the tailcoats of a nostalgia boom. A combination of Lou’s rapidly inflating ego and unresolved mafia dealings swiftly complicate matters. Before long, Danny’s on the run and trading zingers with Lou’s rudder-faced harridan of a girlfriend (Mia Farrow) through the existential wastes of the New Jersey flatlands. Warmer or wittier it does not get.
Tom Huddleston (Film critic): 'Crimes and Misdemeanors' (1989)
‘Last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.’Trying pick a favourite Woody Allen movie is like trying to pick a favourite Beatles album or sandwich filling: it all comes down to mood. Feeling literate? ‘Love and Death’. Theatrical? ‘Bullets Over Broadway’. Familial? ‘Husbands and Wives’. Economy got you down? ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’. Just need a reason to keep living? ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Hannah and her Sisters’. But the one I return to more than any other, the film that combines the verbal dexterity of ‘Sleeper’ with the nostalgic intimacy of ‘Annie Hall’, the cynical savagery of ‘Deconstructing Harry’ with the poignancy of ‘Sweet and Lowdown’, is ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’. Bleak, bitter and brilliant, the film effortlessly encapsulates a number of Woody's key themes – love and indiscretion, creative integrity, God and guilt, the meaning of human morality and how (if?) it relates to happiness – but never becomes overbearing, thanks to a sparkling script and note-perfect performances from a typically eclectic and reliable cast: Martin Landau, Mia Farrow, Angelica Huston, Alan Alda. It’s the closest we've got to Woody's Greatest Hits.
Tim Arthur (Comedy editor): 'Sweet and Lowdown' (1999)‘Wanna go to the dump and shoot some rats?’With lines like that it’s hard not to love Emmet Ray, the central character of Woody’s 1999 fictional ’30s biopic, flawlessly played by Sean Penn. Ray is a womanising, drunken, kleptomaniac jazz guitarist with a penchant for watching trains and killing rats, tortured by his obsession and rivalry with legendary gypsy musician Django Reinhardt. The mockumentary style helps to create a rich depth to this homage to the golden age of jazz, which has so influenced Woody both personally and professionally, and establishes Ray as one of the greatest unsung American folk heroes never to have existed. Samantha Morton’s breakthrough performance as Ray’s mute girlfriend Hattie is played with real tenderness and strength and not only established her as one of the leading lights in a new generation of actresses, it also garnered her a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. It’s an absolutely joyful piece of entertainment packed with wonderful music and consummate quirky performances. A small, but perfectly formed, classic.Use the comments box below to tell us about your favourite Woody Allen movie.
Author: Derek Adams, Tim Arthur, Dave Calhoun, Nina Caplan, Sarah Cohen, Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins, Gordon Thomson, Pete Watts
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