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The ten best women in Woody Allen films

You never know who'll you meet in a Woody Allen film – a kook or a diva, a gangster's moll or a Russian maid with murder on her mind

Annie Hall
What film is she in?‘Annie Hall’ (1977) Who is she?La-di-da. Of all the characters in all Woody Allen’s films, kooky insecure scatterbrain singer Annie might be the perfect Woody Allen woman. So why does her relationship with his nervy comedian Alvy Singer end? That’s what Singer spends the entire film trying to figure out. Who plays her?Diane Keaton, two years after her real-life split from Woody Allen. He says the film’s not autobiographical; she says Annie is an ‘affable version’ of herself. Keaton won an Oscar for her performance, and inspired a whole fashion trend with Annie Hall’s mannish wardrobe – all men’s shirts and chap’s tailoring. She says...‘You’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years. You should smoke some of this. You’d be off the couch in no time.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Annie Hall’
Helen Sinclair
What film is she in?‘Bullets Over Broadway’ (1994) Who is she?Don’t speak! No, don’t speak! Helen Sinclair is a star, darling, one of the living legends of the New York stage. She may be a little frayed around the edges, and her name may not be the calling card it once was, but she’s starring in a new production now, and even the Mafia can’t keep her down… Who plays her?Dianne Wiest in a flapper hat and feathers, looking for all the world like she’s just wandered out of Noël Coward’s boudoir. This is one of the great no-holds-barred comic performances in all of Allen’s work. And, in a rare example of good taste, the Academy rewarded Wiest with a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She says...‘You stand on the brink of greatness. The world will open to you… like a magnificent vagina!’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’
What film is she in?‘Sweet and Lowdown’ (1999) Who is she?Hattie might so easily have been a blank canvas: the mute, adoring, taken-for-granted girlfriend of Sean Penn’s skyrocketing jazz guitarist. But in Samantha Morton’s hands she becomes the beating heart of Allen’s last genuine masterpiece – a film as sad, solitary and searching as its central couple. Who plays her?Samantha Morton, all of 21. Her performance is flawless: a masterclass in minimalist underacting, without a hint of sentiment or self-pity. No wonder Morton was nominated for a raft of awards, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Read the Time Out review of ‘Sweet and Lowdown’
Tina Vitale
What film is she in?‘Broadway Danny Rose’ (1984) Who is she?A moll – the ex-wife of a powerful gangster who is dumped on lovable talent agent Danny Rose (Allen) by the lounge singer she’s currently shacking up with. But Tina has dreams (don’t they all?). She longs to be an interior decorator, and Danny thinks he can steer her in the right direction, if he doesn’t get his eyes shot out first… Who plays her?Mia Farrow, almost unrecognisable behind a huge pair of Bono shades and a Noo Yoik drawl. This is one of those times when Woody’s writing of a female character sails perilously close to cliché – she’s brassy, flirty and a bit dumb. But Farrow plays it beautifully straight, delivering one of her most memorable leading roles. She says...‘Hey, wait a minute! I know where we are. These are the flatlands. My husband’s friends used to dump bodies here.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Broadway Danny Rose’
What film is she in?‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ (1985) Who is she?Woody’s most heartbreaking heroine, a housewife in 1930s New Jersey hitched to a bullying slob (Danny Aiello). Cecilia’s life acquires a certain sparkle when the hero of her favourite movie steps down from the screen and whisks her away on a magical romantic adventure… sort of. Who plays her?Mia Farrow, in possibly her finest ever screen performance. Cecilia isn’t exactly a feminist dynamo, but she’s a fully rounded human being: sweet, a little gullible, but filled with hope and wide-eyed wonder. She says...‘I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’
Maria Elena
What film is she in?‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ (2008) Who is she?A passionate artist and the ex-lover (and later not so ex-lover) of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) – a Spanish lothario who’s now in the paler arms of Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), an American spending the summer in Barcelona. Who plays her?Penélope Cruz, having the time of her life indulging every cliche in the book about tempestuous Mediterranean temperaments and artistic crazies. She makes Scarlett Johansson look about as sexy as a wet fish. Which takes some doing. She says...‘Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’
Dolores Paley
What film is she in?‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ (1989) Who is she?A vindictive neurotic. That’s according to the distinguished eye doctor she has been having a two-year affair with. But the truth is that chain-smoking Delores is just hopelessly in love. She’s threatening to tell the doc’s wife, but he’s not about to let her ruin his life… Who plays her?Anjelica Huston, in the first of two films she made with Allen. Delores is the most tragic woman on this list. Blame his previous film ‘Husbands and Wives’: Allen believed he’d been too ‘nice’ to his characters – and wrote this as a response. She says...‘Just because you’ve decided I’m through, doesn’t mean I’m going to roll over and die.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’
Marion Post
What film is she in?‘Another Woman’ (1988) Who is she?A New York university professor in her fifties. She rents a quiet room to finish writing a philosophy book and overhears therapy sessions with a damaged woman (Farrow) next door. The experience sparks a realisation that her own life is not the picture of order and contentment she imagined. Who plays her?Gena Rowlands, as one of Allen’s richest (and lesser known) female characters to date. The film ranks with ‘Interiors’ as one of Allen’s most serious films – and it contains one of his most sensitive portraits of a woman. Rowlands plays Marion with a deep sadness lingering not far below her calm, expressionless exterior. She says...‘If someone had asked me when I reached my fifties to assess my life, I would have said that I had achieved a decent measure of fulfillment, both personally and professionally. Beyond that, I would say I don’t choose to delve.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Another Woman’
What film is she in?‘Love and Death’ (1975) Who is she?A maid in early 1800s Russia – the cousin twice-removed to Allen’s cowardly pacifist soldier Boris. Sonja is cruelly betrothed to a herring merchant, but when he dies unexpectedly she decides, for reasons which are too convoluted to address here, to embark on a mission to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte. As you do. Who plays her?Diane Keaton, in her third collaboration with Woody, and the first in which she really gets the hang of this comedy lark. In fact, this might be first time our Allen gets comprehensively blown off the screen by his leading lady, a situation Allen would tend to avoid thereafter: is it a coincidence that, with a few exceptions, the Woody films that feature the strongest female characters are also the ones he doesn’t star in? She says...‘To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Love and Death’
Jasmine Francis
What film is she in?‘Blue Jasmine’ (2013) Who is she?Depends when you meet her. One minute Jasmine is the fabulously wealthy queen of the Upper East side’s ladies who luncheon in Chanel and diamonds as big as the Ritz. Next, the FBI is investigating her billionaire financier husband (think Bernie Madoff), and Jasmine is flat broke at her sister’s flat in San Francisco – living on her delusions, valium and vodka. Who plays her?Cate Blanchett, channeling Blanche DuBois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ – a role she played on stage in New York in 2009 (Woody Allen says he never saw the production). It might be the most electrifying and compelling performance on this list. She says...‘I don’t know how anyone can breathe with low ceilings.’ Read the Time Out review of ‘Blue Jasmine’
By Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke and Tom Huddleston |

Say what you like about Woody Allen, he knows how to write complex female characters. As Cate Blanchett gives a potentially Oscar-winningly brilliant performance in ‘Blue Jasmine’, we look back at ten iconic women in his movies.

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