Every Woody Allen film reviewed

Woody Allen was born in 1935, and is aiming to make 1935 films before he dies. Here’s a review of every Woody Allen film, starting with What’s New, Pussycat, right up to whatever’s he released last. This page will be updated every year until he dies or I die. Maybe it’ll be at the same time.

woody allen on set annie hall

A ranking of Woody Allen’s films:
1)      Annie Hall (1977)
2)      Manhattan (1979)
3)      The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
4)      Zelig (1983)
5)      Love and Death (1975)
6)      Stardust Memories (1980)
7)      Blue Jasmine (2013)
8)      Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
9)      Shadows and Fog (1992)
10)   Husbands and Wives (1992)
11)   Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
12)   Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
13)   Radio Days (1987)
14)   Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
15)   Sleeper (1973)
16)   Deconstructing Harry (1997)
17)   Everyone Says ‘I Love You’ (1996)
18)   Midnight in Paris (2011)
19)   Whatever Works (2009)
20)   Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
21)   Melinda and Melinda (2004)
22)   Another Woman (1988)
23)   Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
24)   Take the Money and Run (1969)
25)   Play It Again Sam (1972)
26)   The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
27)   Match Point (2005)
28)   Alice (1990)
29)   Scoop (2006)
30)   Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
31)   Bananas (1971)
32)   To Rome With Love (2012)
33)   You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
34)   Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
35)   September (1986)
36)   Small Time Crooks (2000)
37)   Celebrity (1998)
38)   A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
39)   Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
40)   Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
41)   Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
42)   What’s New, Pussycat? (1965)
43)   Hollywood Ending (2002)
44)   Oedipus Wrecks (1989)
45)   Don’t Drink the Water (1994)
46)   Interiors (1978)
47)   Anything Else (2003)
48)   What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

What’s New, Pussycat? (1965) – 4.5/10

Director: Clive Donner
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole, Romy Schneider
“I have terrible emotional problems. Can you help me?”

1965 what's new pussycat woody allen romy schneider

Peter O’Toole portrays a playboy who finds himself irresistible to women, so seeks help from a psychiatrist, played by Peter Sellers. The cluttered escapades offer free rein to the actors, but this looseness turns into a parachuteless skydiving disaster, occasionally rescued by cameos from Allen himself, who was smart enough to tone down his own performance.

With such a talented cast, theoretically, chaos should be more watchable, but that is not how chaos theory works.

RECOMMENDED IF: You have terrible emotional problems that can’t be helped.
DON’T WATCH IF: You have terrible emotional problems that can be helped.

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) – 1/10

Director: Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi
Writers: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Len Maxwell, Julie Bennett, Frank Buxton, Mickey Rose, Bryan Wilson
Starring: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tadao Nakamaru
“I’d call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”

1966 what's up tiger lily woody allen

Allen only recorded 60 minutes, but the studio added an additional 19 minutes, hired an imitator of Allen’s voice, then changed the title to What’s Up, Tiger Lily? to build upon the success of What’s New, Pussycat?

The idea behind the film isn’t too inspired either, as it’s merely a redubbing of spliced up Japanese spy films to form a new plot consisting of finding an egg salad recipe. Egg plus salad is my guess.

As a joke stretched too far, not only is it devoid of wit, but there isn’t an attempt at wit. Witless, even. Allen recalls: “I never thought the film was anything but insipid.” I still think witless is a more adequate description.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are writing a review of every Woody Allen film.
DON’T WATCH IF: You don’t have to.

Take the Money and Run (1969) – 7/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Mickey Rose
Starring: Woody Allen, Janet Margolin, Louise Lasser
“Nobody wears beige to a bank robbery.”

1969 take the money and run woody allen crime gun

Back in 1969, mockumentaries probably seemed more inventive than they do now. I’d guess that we’re not too far away from a mockumentary about mockumentaries, if one hasn’t already been made. It’d be called a mockumockumentary.

However, the format suited Allen in his early filmmaking career – by that point, he was mainly writing short sketches and one-liners for television, and brief stories for his stand-up. Take the Money and Run never becomes more than a series of jokes about an inept criminal, which may sound like a criticism, but only because that’s how you choose to read it, reader.

RECOMMENDED IF: You like slapstick involving soap that has been shaped into a gun.
DON’T WATCH IF: You think soap should be taken more seriously in the world of cinema.

Bananas (1971) – 6.5/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Mickey Rose
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban
“This court case is a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”

1971 bananas woody allen cuban resistance

During the slapstick of Take the Money and Run, Allen breaks into a monologue about how he is falling in love – it’s a jarring sequence that breaks the rhythm, but hints at a more ambitious filmmaker. He delivered a follow-up screenplay called The Jazz Baby, a tragic biopic about the second-greatest jazz musician in the world, which was rejected by the studios. Instead, Bananas was produced.

Bananas is a cut-and-paste collection of surreal gags, loosely connected in a bizarre narrative involving Allen leading a revolution. Sure, there is a joke every few seconds, but the success rate is lower than Take the Money and Run. Much of the humour hasn’t dated particularly well, such as a dream sequence which reveals a harp player hiding inside the closet.

There are still some laughs to be had, as Take the Money and Run will make you laugh and make you cry, but not the latter.

RECOMMENDED IF: You enjoy small cameos from Sylvester Stallone.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are watching purely for the cameo from Sylvester Stallone.

Play it Again, Sam (1972) – 7/10

Director: Herbert Ross
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts
“It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”

1972 play it again sam woody allen diane keaton humphrey bogart play film

An adaptation of Allen’s play, but directed by someone else, leaves an unnatural atmosphere for the dialogue to relay itself. The film’s plot mirrors Godard’s Breathless with a male protagonist inspired by Humphrey Bogart, but is disjointed by the direction. Have I mentioned the direction yet?

It features one of Allen’s funniest and well known scenes, a surreal conversation with a stranger in an art gallery, and these forty seconds overshadow the remaining 4,500 seconds. However, Diana Keaton makes her debut in an Allen film, and they display their comedic chemistry like a metaphorical Bunsen burner.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to see the first collaboration between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
DON’T WATCH IF: You haven’t seen Casablanca.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but were Afraid to Ask) (1972) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, John Carradine, Tony Randall, Gene Wilder
“I’m going to take the brain of a lesbian and put it into the body of a man who works for the telephone company.”

1972 everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask woody allen christ god christianity

Allen loves long titles, but really he should’ve named the film something like Seven Sketches Bunched Together into a Film Because I No Longer Do Television Work. There’s little doubt the funniest segment belongs to Gene Wilder falling in love with a sheep – the sharp scene changes and surprising melancholy of Wilder’s face produce a dramatic effect that prove how talented Allen will become as a director.

This is why, in comparison, the juxtaposed segments about cross-dressing and the parodies of Hamlet and What’s My Line? lie somewhere between mild amusement and passable entertainment.

RECOMMENDED IF: You would enjoy a sketch about a neurotic sperm.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are terrified of Gene Wilder.

Sleeper (1973) – 8/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Marya Small
“I’m always joking. It’s a defence mechanism.”

1973 sleeper woody allen diane keaton future nose

For two minutes, Sleeper is a serious sci-fi film, and then slapstick ensues. Set in the distant future, it feels remarkably 1970s New York. In fact, Allen’s jazz band scores the soundtrack, often an upbeat skittle during over-the-top slapstick sequences, which is as New York as the sitcom Seinfeld. This is, of course, ignoring that Seinfeld wasn’t to come for another twenty years, but I think it’s a factually adequate statement to make given that the film is set in the future. It just isn’t a critically adequate thing to say.

In the arc of Allen’s filmography, we are still firmly in the ‘silly gags’ territory. In other words, if the filmography was a mountain, we’d be at the metaphorical equivalent of the ‘silly gags’ territory, but with more mountain terminology.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to give sci-fi a go, but you hate sci-fi.
DON’T WATCH IF: You love sci-fi. You love sci-fi so much, don’t you. Why?

Love and Death (1975) – 9/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, James Tokan
“If only God would give me some sign. If he would just speak to me once. Anything. One sentence. Two words. If he would just cough.”

1975 love and death woody allen diane keaton russian literature

Love and Death reveals itself to be far cleverer upon repeated viewings. It has a faster joke-rate than any of his previous films, which is quite a feat, but contains a deeper narrative that brings in the themes of the title. When the closing monologue is a conclusion based on religion, you wonder if there has been layers of philosophy running underneath without you realising. That’s assuming you’re an idiot like me.

What may at first seem to be a cheap gag based on slapstick is actually a fond criticism of Russian literature and the absurdities of war. After all, violence is rarely real in the world of Woody Allen – even later in Crimes and Misdemeanours, the murder is off-screen. For every anachronistic observation on T.S. Eliot, Allen riffs on theology and existential issues like Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Malkmus morphed together.

Prior to Love and Death, Allen uses the medium of cinema to show off his skills in humour. In Love and Death, he shows off his wit.

RECOMMENDED IF: You ever had to study Russian literature.
DON’T WATCH IF: You enjoyed studying Russian literature.

Annie Hall (1977) – 10/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane
“I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. Those are the two categories. The horrible are… I don’t know. Terminal cases. Blind people. Crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable. Because that’s very lucky. To be miserable.”

1977 annie hall woody allen diane keaton split screen psychatrist office

Somewhere on the internet, you can find an early draft of Annie Hall. The version doesn’t figure as far back when the film was a three-hour murder mystery, but there are enough sequences to suggest Allen owned notebooks of comedic ideas to choose from – such unused scenes include Alvy Singer meeting Adam and Eve, and a basketball match between famous philosophers and the New York Knicks.

Instead, he treats us to groundbreaking narrative techniques such as subtitled thoughts and successfully evoking a journey into one’s mind, allowing the interspersion of animation to be both unexpected and acceptable. It isn’t so much the collapse of a relationship, but living in a memory and rewriting the small arguments into trophies for the mantelpiece – a teardrop is a witty line away from a mirage.

We also witness elements of Allen’s writing that extend beyond his ‘character’ that he will develop later, sometimes intentionally, sometimes probably out of laziness – fear of driving, anti-LA sentiments, and autobiographical details he will later deny unconvincingly. He also might be to blame for the ‘mumblecore’ movement.

It’s also a film about writing. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than the scene at the end where he rewrites Annie Hall coming back to New York with him, or the montage that follows. It still resonates, especially the opening monologue. This blog will have you as a member. Do you still want to join?

More than anything, the pathos of rewriting history resonates and lingers in my mind. What’s the difference between past tense and present tense? Is it just a few hours? Allen suggests it’s a canyon-size eternity.

RECOMMENDED IF: You only have 93 minutes left to live.
DON’T WATCH IF: You only have 93 minutes left to live, but believe it is more important to say farewell to friends and family, write that final “Goodbye world” blog post, and detag all those awful Facebook photos before it is too late.

Interiors (1978) – 3.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Geraldine Page, Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, Kristin Griffth
“I feel the need to express something, but I don’t know what it is I want to express. Or how to express it.”

1978 interiors woody allen diane keaton bergman

There is a difference between drama and intentionally killing the comedy. Woody Allen’s minimalist approach in Interiors is so forced that the lack of colour serves the opposite purpose by being an overbearing distraction. The irony is that its quest for realism produces a film as unrealistic as Bananas, and without the entertainment.

However, I must pay credit to the final scene – rather unsettlingly, the sound of the sea stops. This moment is like a dream I once had where I was on a boat and the water stopped still, but I never dared to walk upon it. It should be called Inferior(s).

RECOMMENDED IF: You don’t trust my opinion.
DON’T WATCH IF: You trust my opinion.

Manhattan (1979) – 10/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep
“Chapter one: He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion.”

1979 manhattan woody allen diane keaton bed

“What’s so great about New York?” Annie asks in Annie Hall. “I mean, it’s a dying city.” If this a small concern in the shoe cupboard of Allen’s mind, then Manhattan is his attempt to preserve a dying fantasy. He also owns some Oscar-winning footwear.

As a director, Allen really steps it up a gear (despite aphobia of cars) and finally shows his ambitions without resorting to gimmicks. The real shots of New York are breathtaking, causing a similar effect to seeing real gunshots in York. There is a vacuole in the New York apartments that bookshelves can’t fill, and sometimes there are empty shots with just a foot hanging in the corner, so we seeing a dangling toe in front of a hollow, lavish bedroom. He’s literally toeing the line.

Nevertheless, Allen succeeds in romanticising this flawed fantasy, and it’s hard not to want to live in Manhattan after watching the film. I’ve already made a start with the empty life, and I can see my foot dangling in the corner of my eye.
New York was Woody Allen’s town, and it always would be.

RECOMMENDED IF: There is too much dust in your life.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are sleepy, it is late at night, and you have to catch a train in the morning.

Stardust Memories (1980) – 9/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Marie-Christine Barrault
“There’s a doctor here who’s crazy about me.”

1980 stardust memories woody allen Marie-Christine Barrault train fellini

Stardust Memories deals with the fear that you’re sitting on the wrong train. This train is taking you to failure, loneliness and emptiness, and through the window you can see a neighbouring train heading in the reverse direction – its passengers are happy and laughing. Maybe you should’ve snuck onto that train and pretended to be asleep when the ticket inspector comes along.

Just as in real life, Allen’s filmmaking character objects to his fans’ pleas to recreate ‘the early funny ones’, but proves he can still be funny without following these requests. Given the opportunity, Allen can produce evocative scenes that  eclipse comedy in a unique manner, yet still deliver witty dialogue that makes you laugh out loud in front of of other passengers who wish they were on the other train.

It may be possible to recreate a caricature of the “Woody Allen” persona, but you can’t reproduce scenes like when Charlotte Rampling makes eye contact with the camera for a minute to the sounds of Louis Armstrong – that simple, little moment of contact moved me in a very, very profound way.

RECOMMENDED IF: The nightmares won’t stop.
DON’T WATCH IF: The scene with the dead rabbit in the Roman Polanski film Repulsion gives you nightmares.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, José Ferrerm Julie Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen
“Sex alleviates tension, and love causes it.”

1982 a midsummer night's sex comedy woody allen mia farrow

In A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, existential anguish is never analysed, but rather presented at the side as a quirky character tic for José Ferrer. In fact, existential anguish is used as an excuse for making the film, which actually raises even more existential questions, if not just how many times I can use the word in this sentence and blog post without ever providing my own definition.

The screenplay was written in under two weeks, and feels like it. The film is a rather lazy effort from an artist at the creative peak of his career. Well, near the peak, as that would otherwise make A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy the topographic zenith.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to see the first collaboration with Mia Farrow.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are only watching because of the title.

Zelig (1983) – 9/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
“He told me he was the brother of Duke Ellington.”

1983 zelig woody allen mia farrow stock footage

Woody Allen loves making mockumentaries. If I was a psychologist, I’d guess that it’s something to do with wanting to change his past. But I’m not a psychologist, which is something I’d like to change about my past.

Anyway, Zelig is a mockumentary about a man who changes shape to emulate his surroundings. In fact, the film manages to change shape itself – first, a whacky series of quick-fire gags of high quality that slowly delve into melancholy, followed by a dive into social satire, a walk towards the changing room for romance, before returning to quick-fire gags.

Zelig is unfortunately short, but has moments of pure brilliance, such as The Changing Man, the film within the film. It is these small moments that keep adding up, and it is a marvel how well executed the whole project is. As Zelig himself says: “I love baseball. You know, it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s just very beautiful to watch.”

RECOMMENDED IF: You think mockumentaries don’t get better than The Office.
DON’T WATCH IF: You think mockumentaries don’t get better than Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte
“If you take my advice, you’ll become one of the great balloon-folding acts of all time.”

1984 broadway danny rose woody allen

In many ways, Broadway Danny Rose is a companion piece to Manhattan – the black-and-white cinematography, the classic “Woody Allen” character (still being played by Woody Allen), a consistent musical theme, and a final chase after a girl through the streets of Manhattan. What sets it apart is the introduction of crime and showbiz, but it’s still a “standard Allen” – when a gunshot is fired, the viewer know that it will miss because this a Woody Allen comedy, and that kind of thing just doesn’t happen in his world.

I assume the black-and-white cinematography is to increase the sense of nostalgia, and it works. Like the screwball comedies of the 1940’s that feel timeless, Broadway Danny Rose has aged marvellously. Like a bottle of neurotic wine.

RECOMMENDED IF: You own one of those “I [heart] NY” t-shirts.
DON’T WATCH IF: You own one of those “FCUK” t-shirts, and think it’s funny.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) – 9.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello
“You must really love this picture.”

1985 the purple rose of cairo woody allen jeff daniels deborah rush brothel hooker prostitute

In the opening scene of Play It Again Sam, Allen’s character watches Casablancas in the cinema and cries. We, the audience, feel peculiar – are we supposed to empathise with Allen as he watches a film, or do we still separate ourselves from the over-emotional protagonist? This is a question we must ask ourselves about The Purple Rose of Cairo, for if we don’t, then there’s nothing else to fill that awkward silence that is the loneliness of your existence.

Another question to ask ourselves is that old adage of fiction versus reality, and The Purple Rose of Cairo provides a frequently hilarious and surprisingly through-provoking analysis – Mia Farrow’s character must choose between a fictional character or the actor who plays him. When Allen casts his films, I suspect he envisages a similar blur, which is why he never casts himself in his tragedies, like Interiors, Cassandra’s Dream, September and Another Woman – this fallible theory would make The Purple Rose of Cairo a tragedy, thus proving Allen’s fear of marriage, economic depression, lying actors and escaping too far into a dream world. Or people stepping out of cinema screens.

RECOMMENDED IF: You think films are better than real life.
DON’T WATCH IF: You think real life is better than films. Why watch a film if you can be living your real life. Go away.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher
“I know maybe is a very slim reed to hang your life on, but that’s the best we have.”

1986 hannah and her sisters woody allen dianne wiest record shop store

Hannah and Her Sisters is such a clear attempt at an accessible crowd-pleaser that Allen would later make fun of it eight years later in Bullets Over Broadway. And judging by the box office and Oscar wins, he was successful.

At one point, a Tolstoy quotation is used: The only absolute knowledge attained by man is that life is meaningless. In the climactic scene, Allen’s character answers this question by remembering an anecdote about a failed suicide attempt. It’s not a method everyone can use, but several positive messages are sent out from a screenplay that provides warmth despite being about secrecy, betrayal and depression.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to know more about Hannah. And her sisters.
DON’T WATCH IF: You want to know more about Gustav. And his brothers.

Radio Days (1987) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Michael Tucker, Julie Kavner, Dianne Wiest
“How many people argue over oceans?”

1987 radio days woody allen

Allen delivers a voiceover narrative for Radio Days, a deeply nostalgic film centred around the radio. It certainly hawks back to a time that won’t exist anymore because of technology, as well as the innocence lost with growing old, so there are many fond memories. Even a burglar scene is non-menacing and provides the most humorous moment.

This coming-of-age story is rather like the second scene of Annie Hall, but extended into an entire film, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s made up of many small tales involving children growing up with urban legends of radio stars, and it all has a whimsical New York charm to sustain interest where any storyline tension goes amiss. After all, there is a fear that this kind of film can falter into insignificance without any conflict or particular direction, but any haziness is diluted by how well you are brought into a world where the radio is all that matters.

RECOMMENDED IF: You grew up listening to the radio.
DON’T WATCH IF: You grew up downloading podcasts.

September (1987) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Sam Waterstone, Dianne Wiest
“I don’t know what I want. A child. I’d love to have a child.”

1987 september woody allen mia farrow

Allen didn’t keep it a secret that September is a play that has been shot for cinema. You might ask why. So did I. He didn’t answer. It’s possible that someone else did, seeing as September was completely refilmed with a different cast when first completed.

The problem with September is its predictability. The acting is superb, but every scene drags because you know how it’s going to end – when a scene begins with two characters, you know it will last for ten minutes because this is a ‘play, but for cinema’, and can probably guess why one of them will leave the room in ten minutes time.

In short, the dialogue is rather ordinary, and the direction is reserved (because it’s a play, remember). On a sidenote, Lane’s mother briefly mentions that in a bad movie, a couple will meet by accidentally gailing the same taxi and then fall in love. It may not be a taxi, but reminds me of the chance meeting in the art gallery in Match Point.

RECOMMENDED IF: You love autumn leaves.
DON’T WATCH IF: You can’t wait for autumn to leave.

Another Woman (1988) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Gena Rowlands, Ian Holm, Mia Farrow
“I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost.”

1988 another woman woody allen gena rowlands

The protagonist of Another Woman finds herself turning 50. She decides that 50 isn’t so old, but you suddenly look up and see where you are. She faces another problem: learning that everybody hates her. And when I say everybody, I really mean her best friend, her ex-husband, her brother, her sister-in-law and her step-daughter, so it may as well be everybody. Her reaction is of crushed disappointment, especially when she finds out that ‘the one that got away’ wrote a novel about being in love with her.

Meanwhile, in her apartment, she spends times eavesdropping on a neighbouring psychiatrist, taking interest in Mia Farrow’s sobs – even when these sobs can’t be silenced by a cushion over the vent. With this set-up, Allen creates a fascinating character study of re-evaluation and self-discovery.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are scared of old age.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are scared of old aged people.

Oedipus Wrecks (1989) – 3.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner, Mae Questel
“You’ve got a nice place here – what time does the cobra come out?”

1989 new york stories oedipus wrecks woody allen larry david

Allen contributed Oedipus Wrecks to New York Stories, a collection of three films. The other two contributors were Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese, so presumably it was up to Allen to provide the light relief. Well, even in the snow, anyone knows: Oedipus Wrecks is lazy and resorts to the comedic clichés Allen left behind in his stand-up days of the 1960s.

RECOMMENDED IF: You will watch a film purely because of a pun.
DON’T WATCH IF: You have seen it before and didn’t like it. Don’t watch it again.

Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) – 6.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston
“Without the law, it’s all darkness.”

1989 crimes and misdemeanours woody allen

Many people claim their favourite Allen film is Crimes and Misdemeanours. I suspect they haven’t seen many, or they’re deliberately naming a non-comedy to sound different. There is a third possibility that they’ve previously committed murder, so enjoy the existential debates within the film.

They might, of course, just really like the film. The acting is superb, and has symbolism that is stressed a few times in case you missed it the first time (he’s an eye-doctor). However, I see a flawed film (and I don’t think I need an eye doctor). The films’s layout foreshadows Melinda and Melinda by having two parallel stories – one dramatic, one comedic – that don’t work together as well as one would hope. Instead of making a film that focuses on the murder, a comedic side-story is used to bring in the musings of an old philosopher, but really to bring in a frivolous romantic-comedy angle.

Instead of a complete film, we have two incomplete strands. And you can’t say two wrongs make a right, because that phrase isn’t applicable.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to see the most critically overrated Woody Allen film.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are shocked that anyone would ever die in Woody Allen’s universe.

Alice (1990) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Joe Mantegna, William Hurt, Blythe Danner, Keye Luke
“Freedom is a frightening thought.”

1990 alice woody allen mia farrow joe mantegna

Allen has always loved magic. The characters of his film reflect his childhood hobby of practising tricks, and he has often injected supernatural behaviour into otherwise realistic films, such in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and The Purple Rose of Cairo. He takes this even further in Alice, a strange, alluring film.

Alice visits a Chinese herb doctor who gives her medicine of various magical qualities. There is the traditional film concoction, a love potion, but there are many laughs to come from a herb that causes invisibility. The humour doesn’t come from the idea, which isn’t that original, but seeing characters in an Allen film behaving so casually and playfully with invisibility.

However, unlike the manner in which magic fuses with Allen’s New York in The Purple Rose of Cairo, it can feel jarring in Alice. There’s a slight fear that he ran out of ideas, so is relying on the supernatural elements. It does seem best when it avoids this lack of confidence by following the route it feels more comfortable in – towards comedy. Some of the tension feels forced, as if a last-minute attempt to instil a purpose for the supernatural plot drivers. But the comedic areas are enough.

RECOMMENDED IF: You wondered what Alec Baldwin did before 30 Rock.
DON’T WATCH IF: You didn’t realise Alec Baldwin did anything before 30 Rock. He’s really famous.

Shadows and Fog (1991) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Kathy Bates, John Cusack
“If I thought there was nothing except this, I’d kill myself. I mean, there’s no point to anything. But, somehow, my blood always says, “Live! Live!” I always listen to my blood.”

1991 shadows and fog woody allen john cusack

I don’t understand why Shadows and Fog received so many negative reactions from critics. It’s a black, black-and-white comedy with an extravagant set which is mostly hidden by mist. The various storylines are underneath, and they’re both darkly humorous and enthralling. There’s a killer on the loose, a Kafkaesque subplot, adultery at the circus, and countless characters facing their own existential crisis. What is there not to like?

RECOMMENDED IF: The idea of two “Woody Allen” characters excite you – one played by Woody Allen, the other by John Cusack.
DON’T WATCH IF: The quality of your laptop/television isn’t clear. It gets quite misty.

Husbands and Wives (1992) – 8.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Sydney Pollack, Julie Davis, Juliette Lewis
“The idea was not to expect too much out of life.”

1992 husbands and wives woody allen mia farrow divorce marriage married

Way back in 1977, Woody Allen told us in Annie Hall that sharks have to keep moving or else they die. In Husbands and Wives, the consensus has evolved into: ‘change is death’. Allen, possibly a subscriber to Masochists Monthly, uses the shakiest camera techniques to unsettle the viewer, trying to make you feel ill – I think he wants you to empathise with how he feels, as 1992 was when his problems with Mia Farrow became public. If you want to delve into conspiracy theories, you could assert that the casting of actors called Sam Waterson and Dianne Wiest is meant to evoke Sam and Diane, the on-off couple from the sitcom Cheers.

There is a piece of dialogue that involves the word ‘apucious’, a word invented by Juliette Lewis to describe the perfect husband. Nobody is perfect in life, as Tony Curtis remembers from Some Like it Hot, but the point is exacerbated in Husbands and Wives. It’s almost enough to make you not want to be a fictional character in a Woody Allen film. The breakups of the film may not be autobiographical, even though it’s hard to see otherwise, but there’s certainly some pain that they feel – the final lines come from Allen’s inapucious character who turns to the camera to ask: “Can I go? Is this over?”

RECOMMENDED IF: You love the suffering of human beings.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are watching with your partner.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) – 7.5/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston, Alan Alda
“I’ll never say that life doesn’t imitate art again.”

1993 manahattan murder mystery woody allen diane keaton dead body elevator

Woody Allen reteams with Marshall Brickman and Diane Keaton for Manhattan Murder Mystery, a rewatchable, middle-aged murder mystery yarn. The lightness of the tale is surprising after the previous decade, but this makes the one-liners even more welcome. You could be living next door to a murderer, but it’s okay because New York is a melting pot.

RECOMMENDED IF: You love saying that title. It’s really fun to say.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are Mia Farrow.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – 8.5/10

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Douglas McGrath
Starring: John Cusack, Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly, Dianne Wiest
“For me, love is very deep, but sex only has to go a few inches.”

1994 bullets over broadway woody allen john cusack diane wiest

Bullets Over Broadway is yet another comedic examination of life imitating art, while having a title that’s very similar to an Outkast song. After a slow start, the viewer becomes immersed in a surreal meshing of two different world: New York theatres and the mafia. John Cusack is excellent as an even more pathetic version of “Woody Allen”, a playwright who struggles to hide his jealousy of a body guard’s natural gift for writing dialogue.

Each scene in Bullets Over Broadway moves with a precision often absent in latter-day Allen films. The smart script twists and pokes, and even makes a fairly direct criticism of Hannah and Her Sisters in one character’s dying words.

RECOMMENDED IF: You fear sleeping with the fishes.
DON’T WATCH IF: High voices annoy you.

Don’t Drink the Water (1994) – 3.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox, Mayim Bialik, Don DeLuise, Julie Kavner
“You’re not with child?”

1994 don't drink the water woody allen michael j fox julie kavner film

Well, it’s a made-for-television remake of a poorly received 1966 play about the Cold War, so Don’t Drink the Water doesn’t have too much going for it. The dialogue is fairly haphazard and mundane, but that might be the similarly careless plot or indifferent direction. The production is clearly rushed, with little care about the final product, as most scenes feel like a rehearsal.

As for the casting, Michael J. Fox does his best in the “Woody Allen” role, especially considering that Woody Allen plays a separate, older character. Similarly, Julie Kavner helps to drive through a plodding script, whilst trying to distract from Mayim Bialik – yes, she’s the person who played Blossom in that very special episode of Blossom.

RECOMMENDED IF: You enjoy Blossom.
DON’T WATCH IF: You enjoy Clarissa Explains It All. It was so much better than Sabrina the Teenaged Witch.

Mighty Aphrodite (1995) – 5.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mira Sorvino, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Rapaport, F. Murray Abraham
“You didn’t want a blowjob, so the least I could have got you was a tie.”

1995 mighty aphrodite mira sorvino woody allen prostitute

The story is unconvincing. In short, it follows Allen tracking down the biological mother of his adopted son. When he finds out that the mother is an uneducated prostitute, his New York brain explodes.

There’s a theory often thrown about how Allen always wants to convert women to follow his philosophy. I’m not sure to what extent I agree, but it’s certainly prevalent in Mighty Aphrodite – the failed jokes and feeble set-pieces are joined together very poorly by a Greek chorus that works as a single joke, hammered repeatedly until you don’t know what a hammer is.

Luckily, the film picks up at the end with bittersweet irony, but it’s too late – the hammer has struck a nail into a coffin, or something.

RECOMMENDED IF: You question the true identity of your parents.
DON’T WATCH IF: You genuinely question the true identity of your parents.

Everyone Says ‘I Love You’ (1996) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Alan Alda, Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton
“Please, no humiliating schemes.”

1996 everyone says i love you woody allen julia roberts musical grouch marx costume

The fantastical element of a romantic-comedy musical allows Allen to be much looser with his dialogue – the young narrator gleefully glosses over her family’s middle-class wealth in a wry act of self-awareness, and Allen’s ‘perfection’ in bed with Julia Roberts is a reminder to the audience of who writes and casts the scripts.

One problem arises from the question of how committed Allen is to the musical format – Alan Alda is interrupted and asked why he is singing, and at one point there is even a voiceover that speaks over one of the songs. However, there is never a feeling that the musical numbers are jarring. They simply compliment Allen’s abilities to insert wit into the simplest of plots that become his own. The film even finishes with a tribute to the Marx Brothers, suggesting Allen hasn’t forgotten his roots after all.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to hear Woody Allen sing.
DON’T WATCH IF: You have tickets to see Dan Bejar in concert. I love that man.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Bob Balaban, Hazelle Goodman, Caroline Aaron, Eric Bogosian
“With you, it’s all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm and orgasm.”

1997 deconstructing harry woody allen hell devil

There’s an unsettling atmosphere in Deconstructing Harry – an unnerving anger lurks in unexpected un-moments. The film is structured by short stories written by Allen’s character, and each involves painful truths that hint at self-hatred and exasperating frustration.

In a previous decade, the same plots  formed a whimsical comedy – an unanticipated kidnapping of someone’s own son to a carnival, a hilarious visit to hell where they only play riotous jazz music – but instead the kidnapping involves drugs, a gun and going to prison. The repeated theme of escaping in art becomes a last resort, rather than the luxury of Allen’s earlier films.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are angry with the world.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are angry with Woody Allen.

Celebrity (1998) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Winona Ryder, Leonardo DiCaprio
“I’m polymorphously perverse. It’s not a flaw – it’s just a weakness.”

1998 celebrity woody allen leonardo dicaprio kenneth branagh

The worst aspect of Celebrity is the wasted potential. The film is beautifully shot in black-and-white with the cinematography capturing cityscapes and rapid dialogue, much in the way of Manhattan. However, whereas the jokes in Manhattan felt naturally integrated into conversation, they feel jagged in Celebrity. Woody Allen finds a topic that he’s clearly passionate about, but feels the need to be funny at moments that ruin everything a scene has built. Other scenes are just a competition for who can do the worst Woody Allen impression.

In Celebrity, we are a world away from the romanticism of show business as displayed in Broadway Danny Rose and Radio Days. Even Stardust Memories, a famously cynical film that angered critics and fans with its negativity, still had hints of magic and passion. Instead, Celebrity is a really long complaint without much substance to explain itself.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are a fan of Winona Ryder.
DON’T WATCH IF: You are one of those people who still bring up the shoplifting incident. Let it go.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Anthony LaPaglia, Uma Thurman
“This is my one day off. I want a talking girl.”

1999 sweet and lowdown sean penn samantha morton

Sweet and Lowdown is full of subtle pleasures. Many of these come from Samantha Morton who plays a mute character, relying on facial expressions to shape her character. She’s the foil of Emmett Ray, the world’s second best guitarist, as played by Sean Penn, who spends most of his time worrying about his guitar-playing hand. There is one memorable moment when Penn appears to be aghast at seeing the word ‘love’ written down, and Morton realises that she happens to be holding a knife – this lasts for a few seconds, but is deeply embedded in my memory.

Penn’s character has many bizarre hobbies, other than playing guitar, such as watching trains in the middle of the night and looking for rats to shoot. However, it’s his musical performances that stand out – despite being dubbed, they hypnotise the audience, both in and out of the film.

Woody Allen’s screenplay captivates the viewer because of its protagonist’s callous honesty – Penn is obnoxious and incapable of affection, let alone love – he leaves his loyal girlfriend in the middle of the night, and cannot truly explain why, even though she’s the one person who cares for him as a human being, not just a musician. Penn’s arrogance develops into a fascinating illness that becomes even more infected by praise from crying strangers. It takes some time, but you gradually view a man who doesn’t know what he wants from life apart from playing guitar, watching trains and having an audience.

RECOMMENDED IF: The wind cries your name during your loneliest moments.
DON’T WATCH IF: The wind blows leaves into your face, every morning, every evening, then again, week after week.

Small Time Crooks (2000) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Elaine May, Hugh Grant, Jon Lovitz
“Your cousin Mary is dumb like a horse or a dog, or something.”

2000 small time crooks woody allen hugh grant tracey ullman

It must be said – the first act of Small Time Crooks is farcical genius. It involves a scam to break into a bank, and everything goes wrong – a pipe is broken that causes the only funny flood I can think of, and their undercover cookie shop becomes an overnight success that attracts unwanted television coverage. After that, everything goes downhill.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are thinking of leaving your job.
DON’T WATCH IF: You left your job. Don’t watch films. Find another job.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) – 6.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Markinson, Wallace Shawn
“I wasn’t searching – I was rummaging.”

2001 the curse of the jade scorpion woody allen helen hunt

Allen has called The Curse of the Jade Scorpion his worse film. It was released to disastrous reviews. However, I consider it to be a moderately successful take on 1940s screwball comedy. Of course, imitations have limitations and can never compete with that golden era. The greatest have tried and failed – the Coen brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty and Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is nothing ingenious, but it doesn’t try to be anything other than entertaining. The main problem comes from the miscasting. Hunt and Allen are both competent in the lead roles, but they don’t share the same comedic wavelength that is taken for granted in the best black-and-white screwball films. Maybe Keaton secretly changed her phone number in 2000.

RECOMMENDED IF: You enjoy 1940s screwball comedies, but wished that they were of a lower standard.
DON’T WATCH IF: You hate 1940 screwball comedies.

Hollywood Ending (2002) – 3.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Téa Leoni, Debra Messing, Mark Rydell
“I would kill for this job. It’s just that the people I would kill are the ones offering me the job.”

2002 hollywood ending woody allen tiffani thissen kelly kapowski saved by the bell blind underwear

Hollywood Ending often feels like work by a man who doesn’t care. Allen just doesn’t seem to care. The plot involves a director who goes blind, but doesn’t tell the studio. Any sane person would confess the truth, but instead we get a two-hour film. The conciseness of shorter films like Broadway Danny Rose has gone, so every scene is too long and kills any humour.

Not only are the scenes too long, they’re repetitive, with characters walking in and out without any consequence, but for the convenience of plot – Debra Messing disappears for half the film for no reason, and Tea Leoni’s pendulumic feelings are dictated by how much time is left in the film. Meanwhile, the narrator is so intermittent that I often wonder who is speaking.

After several repetitive scenes that are twice as long as they should be, the ending is surprisingly rushed, as if Allen ran out of ideas and couldn’t be bothered to wait for inspiration.

It’s not all bad. There is some amusing product placement – yes, a cold can of 7up does seem appropriate for Tea Leoni to drink during this highly dramatic moment.

RECOMMENDED IF: You wondered what the actress who played Kelly Kapowski is up to.
DON’T WATCH IF: You wondered what the actor who played Screech is up to.

Anything Else (2003) – 2.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Stockard Channing
“I’m not dumping – I’m moving.”

2003 anything else woody allen jason biggs

It’s disheartening to witness Allen ramble through his ‘there is a joke…’ introduction, akin to Annie Hall. Anything Else is such an unsuccessful retread of Annie Hall that I often had to look away from the screen. There are other repetitions, such as experiments with cocaine, accusations of spying after school, paranoia from overhearing anti-Semitic conversations, and the manner in which the fourth wall is broken.

Anything Else is a comedy without any jokes – it coasts on being a “Woody Allen film”, with the trademarks returning after so many years of trying to prove these clichés never existed. Characters sit around the table discussing philosophy, followed by long takes of New York pavement conversations, but without a morsel of wit.

The only reaction Anything Else could force out of me was when I audibly said out loud: “Is that… Jimmy Fallon? In a dramatic role?”

RECOMMENDED IF: You like Jason Biggs.
DON’T WATCH IF: Jason Biggs is the worst actor I can think of.

Melinda and Melinda (2004) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chloë Sevigny, Jonny Lee Miller, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet
“Melinda has a reputation for being postmodern in bed.”

2004 melinda and melinda woody allen radha mitchell will ferrell

After the bloated (lack of) editing in Hollywood Ending and Anything Else, it’s unexpected that Melinda and Melinda suffers from being too short. It is really two films that are both too brief in their running time. The structure: two separate tales about someone called Melinda, played by Radha Mitchell in both stories, where one is comedy and the other is tragedy. Unlike Crimes and Misdemeanours, which attempts a similar trick, there is no connection between the two parts, other than sharing the same lead actress.

The downside comes by default – having two films inside ninety minutes means neither is fully developed. Thus, the brief comedy is more successful than the brief tragedy – it’s harder to ruin the mood of comedy, whereas it’s impossible to fully empathise with the characters of the tragedy due to the shorter time span.

RECOMMENDED IF: You have a short attention span.
DON’T WATCH IF: You hate the idea of two unconnected films interrupting each other.

Match Point (2005) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode
“You have to learn to push the guilt under the rug and move on. Otherwise, it overwhelms you.”

2005 match point woody allen scarlett johansson scarjo tennis

In 50 years’ time, period dramas about this current decade will be like Match Point.

It was wrong for Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson to have an affair in the film. Not because he’s married, but because they have the same face – they look like brother and sister. Anyway, Allen responds to his critics who say he’s not funny anymore by producing a completely serious drama that is interesting for most of its time. It’s definitely the best film about tennis I’ve seen, although that’s me just paraphrasing that it was better than Wimbledon.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are a fan of “Scarjo”.
DON’T WATCH IF: You prefer the “early funny ones”.

Scoop (2006) – 6.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane
“My anxiety acts as aerobics.”

2006 scoop woody allen scarlett johansson scarjo

Scarlett Johansson isn’t Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow, and it’s beginning to show. It doesn’t help that she co-leads with Woody Allen, who is no longer the Woody Allen who acted alongside Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. Luckily, the roles of Scoop aren’t too demanding as it’s a light and frivolous murder mystery based on a message from a ghost – the only connection with Hamlet – whilst displaying a few shots of London, seemingly for the sake of it.

The highlight of Scoop? The joy of watching Allen in a London laundrette, searching for spare change in his pocket.

RECOMMENDED IF: You like Jonathan Creek.
DON’T WATCH IF: You think Woody Allen’s world doesn’t correlate with London life.

Cassandra’s Dream (2007) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Tom Wilkinson
“Blood is blood.”

2007 cassandra's dream woody allen ewan macgregor colin farrell

My imaginary sock puppet friend asked me: “I’ve seen 40 Woody Allen films – do they get any better?”

I replied to me left hand: “You might as well continue, considering the time you’ve already invested.”

Basically, for any Woody Allen fan, Cassandra’s Dream is a necessity, despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews. It wasn’t even released here in the UK despite being filmed here, and the plot resembles a humourless morality tale in a lesser vein of Crimes and Misdemeanours and Match Point. It’s about as exciting as it sounds.

RECOMMENDED IF: You are planning a murder.
DON’T WATCH IF: You committed a murder, and want to forget it about before the police question you about it, so you can at least semi-convincingly feign ignorance.

Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz
“If you don’t start undressing me soon, this is going to turn into a panel discussion.”

2008 vicky christina barcelona woody allen scarlett johansson scarjo rebecca hall

I’m fairly indifferent towards this, and I guess Allen felt the same way. The shots of Barcelona are glorious, and Penelope Cruz is excellent as Javier Bardem’s fiery ex-wife, but that’s not enough. Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson are lifeless with a tedious script that is hurried along by a narrator who fills in the gaps Allen didn’t have time for. This is not what Barcelona is meant to be.

RECOMMENDED IF: You wondered why Javier Mascherano left Argentina.
DON’T WATCH IF: You understood that above reference.

Whatever Works (2009) – 7/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr.
“It’s uncanny – she’s exactly the kind of moron you described to me.”

2009 whatever works woody allen evan rachel wood

Whatever Works is certainly the most enjoyable Woody Allen film from the last decade. Fittingly, it is a discarded script that was written in the 1970s. Larry David takes the traditional “Woody Allen” role and its feels like a gloriously surreal episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that involves Evan Rachel Wood as a runaway Southern girl who appears out of nowhere without any depth to her character. In fact, none of the supporting characters have much depth, which makes it all feel underwritten and inconsequential – this isn’t helped by any of the scenes that don’t involve Larry David, or the blasé happy ending.

Despite these flaws, Whatever Works is very funny, particularly the opening thirty minutes and seeing a grumpy old man take chess too seriously. Basically, Whatever Works works.

RECOMMENDED IF: You enjoy Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
DON’T WATCH IF: You hate seeing the fourth wall being broken.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) – 5.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Anna Friel
“Yes, I know what migraines are. And I need to change my life.”

2010 you will meet a tall dark stranger naomi watts woody allen rollerskating

It’s Woody Allen’s fourth film set in London, but I still get excited seeing shots of places where I’ve been. Look, it’s Baker Street – I pass by it every day on my way to work.

The cast of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is stellar and evidence of the pulling power of Allen’s reputation – Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Anna Friel and Josh Brolin. Sadly, Lucy Punch ruins every scene she appears in – her character is an unsuccessful and annoying recreation of Mira Sirvino’s role in Mighty Aphrodite.

As with most Allen films, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger contains a world where infidelity is the next logical step. The story is the usual – several couples fall apart as the man falls in love with someone he meets in the street  and the woman falls in love with someone at work. The script is charming enough to maintain my interest, but the multiple strands move in predictable directions – nothing is particularly inventive, and Allen has done it all so many times before.

RECOMMENDED IF: You want to argue with people about the latest Woody Allen film.
DON’T WATCH IF: You have no friends to talk to.

Midnight in Paris (2011) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen
“I’m jealous and I’m trusting. It’s cognitive dissonance. Scott Fitzgerald talked about it. You can fool me, but you cannot fool Hemmingway.”

2011 midnight in paris woody allen owen wilson marion cotillard

You can’t take New York out of the New Yorker, even if you stick him in Paris and introduce elements of time travel. Owen Wilson takes the main role in the style of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, finding a Parisian time tunnel that transports back to the 1920s, away from modern anxieties like global warming and Rachel McAdams.

Owen Wilson speaks like a Beat poet, so it doesn’t seem so contrived when he gets lost and drinks wine with Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and the Fitzgeralds. The film’s concept may be a little irksome, but where else can you see a fanboy tell TS Eliot, “Prufrock’s like my mantra!” or Ernest Hemmingway as a great comic character: “If you’re a writer, you must declare yourself the best!”

Crucially, Midnight in Paris benefits from its European setting, whereas Allen’s other attempts have noticeably missed a New York spark. In fact, the peaceful tempo suits the whimsical conceit – unlike other ciphers, Owen Wilson channels Allen’s personality without over-reliance on a stammer or fake anxiety.

To Rome With Love (2012) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page
“There’s something attractive about a man who is plagued by the perils of existence.”

2012 to rome with love woody allen jesse eisenberg greta gerwig ellen page

Woody Allen has been criticised for making Europe look like a postcard. His 46th film is no different, although I don’t see a problem – many of the characters of To Rome With Love are tourists, and the setting isn’t particularly relevant to the story (apart from when Roberto Benigni goes out to eat a pizza). This slapdash approach extends to the picture’s structure: four stories that aren’t connected and don’t share much thematically apart from Allen coming up with the ideas within the same short time period.

The vignettes are a mixed bunch, with the best strand featuring Jesse Eisenberg as a younger version of Allen, contemplating leaving Greta Gerwig for Ellen Page. It turns out that Eisenberg and Page are naturals for Allen’s anxious dialogue, and at no point does she quote a line from Juno after mistaking him for Michael Cera. The ingenious casting continues with Alec Baldwin as an invisible romantic advisor, reminiscent of the central gimmick in the first Allen/Keaton collaboration, Play It Again, Sam – to be fair, it’s been 40 years and maybe he’s just forgotten. Maybe Eisenberg and Page will reconnect in future films because their comic chemistry is as charming as the Colosseum awkwardly hovering in the background.

The other storylines are less fruitful. Two are fairly one-joke threads (Roberto Benigni wakes up as an unexpected celebrity, and an opera singer finds he can only perform in the shower) which barely develop, yet have entirely predictable trajectories.

The last is an implausible comedy of errors involving a man being caught by a prostitute (Penélope Cruz) by his parents; instead of explaining the situation, he pretends that she’s his wife and you watch in bewilderment as the farce unfolds.

Fortunately Allen’s late period instils a lot of charm and goodwill, partly from a professional cast who’ve seen Annie Hall and Broadway Danny Rose enough times to deliver their lines with a mutual understanding. It may be mindless and derivative, but it still delivers regular laughs. I saw it in the cinema and there were only three other people at the screening; at no point did any two people laugh at the same joke, which suggests everyone might find different aspects to appreciate.

Blue Jasmine (2013) – 9/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K.
“I want the past, past.”

2013 blue jasmine woody allen cate blanchett crazy

It’s been a while since Woody Allen’s last great drama, Sweet and Lowdown. The output during the intermittent 14 years, ignoring the comedies, retrospectively feels like a number of casting experiments where talented actors attempt to adapt to Allen’s language. With Blue Jasmine, Allen finally finds an ensemble who form their own distinctive voices through his loose direction.

In decades from now, the film will undoubtedly be remembered for Blanchett’s captivating flexibility and crumbling mental state. I don’t mean any disrespect to Scarlett Johansson or Radha Mitchell, but neither coped with the impossible shadow of Allen’s past muses (Mia Farrow as the female personification of his anxiety, Diane Keaton as the complementary antithesis). Blanchett, however, sets the new mark with a lead performance that displays both sides of Jasmine’s fragility: a one-time dependent socialite, reduced to the gibberish mess hidden by Louis Vuitton handbags.

The back-and-forth time structure of Blue Jasmine juxtaposes the extreme nature of Jasmine’s financial situations, while uncovering hidden similarities that would otherwise not be spotted. She initially lives a life of luxury in New York, funded by her wealthy husband Hal (Alex Baldwin); their swimming pool’s clear water typifies her ideal lifestyle.

When the fortune inevitable disappears, she’s stuck in San Francisco with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins); as Allen’s films have always shown, life outside is New York is far less romantic and a somewhat unpleasant awakening.

Jasmine is always on the verge of self-destruction, with her actual nervous breakdown (between the shifting present tense and flashback) held off-screen. Subsequently, Blanchett has to subtly display her descent through an astounding range of mannerisms. In New York, she’s uncomfortably oblivious to her husband’s infidelity, which is expressed through class-related snobbery towards Ginger. When alternate scenes shift forward to San Francisco, she can barely sit still, expressing her sadness through unspoken behaviour and twitches – a unique skill that places Blanchett ahead of her peers.

In fact, Blanchett already proved her versatility in Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, playing two sisters sharing a passive-aggressive cappuccino. Blue Jasmine taps into that double-side introspection, almost to the extent that Jasmine should overshadow the rest of the cast.

She doesn’t, mainly because everyone similarly benefits from Allen’s “do what you want” style of film-making. The unusual inclusion of foul-mouthed comic Andrew Dice Clay was at first surprising, but he and Bobby Cannavale bring a violent energy usually absent from Allen’s oeuvre. Similarly, known megalomaniac Louis CK is surprisingly effective as an outsider not too far from his character in Louie.

Hanging together the threads is Sally Hawkins, who is the grounded influence forever ignored by Jasmine. If Blue Jasmine really is Allen’s version of A Streetcar Named Desire, then Hawkins is Stella, the sensitive neutral who’s gradually broken through her sister’s unstable behaviour.

Even if it’s not a straight reworking, Allen has the wit and emotional power of Tennessee Williams. It’s definitely his best for years, all without retreading past glories. Blue Jasmine is both funny and devastating, forming the culmination of the dramatic style he’s been trying to achieve this century.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014) – 5.5/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater
“There’s only one superpower guaranteed to turn up, and it wears a black robe.”

2014 magic in the moonlight woody allen emma stone colin firth

The emergence of a new Woody Allen film is a reminder of mortality: a whole year has already passed, and chances are you’ve accomplished less than Allen himself. It’s also a call for the same criticisms to reappear, namely that the 78-year-old’s output is increasingly the same but set in a new European city. For better or worse, Magic in the Moonlight won’t be dispelling those complaints as it possesses a title and plot that could only be more Woody Allen-y if it was called Magic in Manhattan. It’s even set in 1928, for little reason other than to include one of his trademark jazz soundtracks.

Allen’s lifelong obsession with magic – and particularly the craft’s showmanship– has featured in at least 10 of his films. However, Magic in the Moonlight is his first with two immersed in the occupation, enabling them to develop a competitive (and romantic) edge. At first we see Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese illusionist who steps into an upright coffin and emerges from a chair on the other side of the stage. Although the crowd applaud enthusiastically, they miss his greater trick backstage: he removes his makeup and is revealed to be a boisterous Englishman called Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). It would perhaps be offensive if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

Stanley is unlike Allen’s typical leads – or, let’s face it, Allen ciphers – in that he exhumes confidence, as if his loquacious mannerisms are born more from tranquility than nervous energy. Basically, Colin Firth is doing Mr. Darcy, if Jane Austen was obsessed with debunking rivals in the spiritual business. Next on Stanley’s list is Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a clairvoyant who he assumes is a fraud because, well, she claims to be a clairvoyant. (And also because her name rhymes with “faker”, which gives you a sense of the film’s gentle humour.) When Sophie accurately reads into Stanley’s background and delivers a somewhat convincing séance, he starts to wonder if she is in fact gifted. Could he also be wrong about religion and, dare he say it, love?

Strangely, Stanley doesn’t take much convincing to fall under Sophie’s spell, even though he’s supposedly a lifelong atheist. This is as the script rushes into a more conventional – and less engaging – middle act whereby Stanley and Sophie form a tight bond. Their pleasant, aimless conversations aren’t just Allen on autopilot, but romcom on autopilot. Luckily, Firth and Stone possess a knack for Allen’s snappy dialogue and screwball tone. The lush setting of the French Riviera certainly adds to the warmth, with Darius Khondji’s cinematography conjuring up its own hex: an intimate surrounding full of greenery, like the magical forest in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

Magic in the Moonlight is the kind of small story that would usually fit into one of Allen’s short stories or subplots – perhaps one of the segments in From Rome with Love. It’s down to Firth and Stone to carry the film, and I’m sure they were delighted to be working with Allen. Actually, it isn’t so much that the characters fall in love with each other, but they discover a mutual passion for Allen’s universe. It’s the kind of cinematic magic that’s too easy to debunk, but worth playing along with for 96 minutes.

Irrational Man (2015) – ?/10

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley

2015 irrational man woody allen emma stone joaquin phoenix

Review to follow.

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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3 Responses to Every Woody Allen film reviewed

  1. I every time spent my half an hour to read this website’s posts every day along with a cup of coffee.

  2. Dolores_Hayes says:

    Fascinating reviews! I admit that I stumbled upon this while searching for great summer film stills from “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy”. After “Anne Hall”, “Love and Death” and “Sleeper”, I would rank AMNSC one of Allen’s best. It helps that I adore summer and sex, but there’s more. The lazy musings on how love creates tension and the casual dismissal of Leopold’s pompous intellectualism are worth the ticket. None of these actresses was ever lovelier and New York’s countryside never as beautiful on a summer afternoon…or evening. “What’s wrong with him?” “Nothing. Just an arrow in his heart.” Brilliant!

  3. Pingback: #281 What’s Up, Tiger Lily? – 1000 Films Blog

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