As Allen’s controversial life overshadows his peerless career once more, Rob Garratt picks his top ten Woody moments
Will Woody Allen ever escape the past? Things were looking so good for the misunderstood movie auteur. After the decade of annually ignored (and frequently forgettable) movies that was the naughties, Allen re-found a critical and commercial stride – aged 75 – with 2011’s Midnight in Paris, which broke his own US box office records and picked up an Oscar for best screenplay. The (very public) personal problems which had been blamed for his previously disappointing output seemed to have evaporated; it was okay to like Woody Allen again.
Things were going especially well in 2014: Allen’s latest Blue Jasmine gained three Oscar nods and saw Cate Blanchett pick up a Best Actress Golden Globe, while Allen himself was honoured with the Cecil B DeMille Award at the same ceremony – in absentina, of course collected on behalf of Allen by former partner and muse Diane Keaton. Finally, after everything, Hollywood seemed to have reluctantly re-accepted Woody Allen into its folds.
And then the storm struck. The legal accusations first made more than two decades ago suddenly resurfaced, spoiling the Woody party and raising questions about whether the 78-year-old deserved this recent outpouring of affection.
One thing however is clear: Whatever your opinion of the man, Woody Allen has made some of the most compelling, inventive and simply unique movies of the past four decades. As, oddly, Allen is once more at the centre of a storming froth of both critical praise and tabloid controversy, we look back at some of his best onscreen successes – without which, we wouldn’t be talking about Woody in the first place.
10 Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) This black comedy explores Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment scenario, via an adulterous optician who murders his wife.
9 Melinda and Melinda (2004) Two writers around a dinner table tell the same story – one as comedy, the other as tragedy; a line Allen has spent his whole career strafing.
8 Stardust Memories (1980) This tricky Fellini-inspired autobiography chronicles the breakdown of celebrated director Sandy Bates (Allen), met with legions of fans demanding a return to the ‘early funny ones’ (a cry Allen heard repeatedly throughout his career).
7 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) A later day classic which paints a flippant love triangle between Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. Barcelona has never looked so good, too.
6 Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) This story of two years in the life of three sisters remains rightly celebrated as one of Allen’s best straight-ahead dramas, lightened by Allen’s own humorous side role.
5 Deconstructing Harry (1997) The life and neurosis of novelist Harry Block are told by living through key scenes of his (autobiographic) books. Ingenious, enlightening, and entertaining.
4 Zelig (1983) This groundbreaking mock-umentary chronicles the life of an actual human chameleon Zelig (Allen), brought to life with archive footage and celebrity interviews.
3 Manhattan (1979) The fan’s favourite, beautiful black and white cinematography and a Gershwin soundtrack are the backdrop to this trademark tale of love, life and literature in New York.
2 Husbands and Wives (1992) Shot on shaky handheld cameras, this documentary-style picture explores in gritty detail the breakdown of two marriages. In a scary case of life copying art, scenes between Allen and wife Mia Farrow were filmed both before and after the couple’s real-life, sudden dissolution.
1 Annie Hall (1977) It’s the one he will be remembered for. Encapsulating the whole beating heart and universal arc of a relationship, told through the romance of Allen’s Alvy Singer and muse Diane Keaton’s Annie, this classic’s heart-warming yet humorous approach rewrote the rom-com, and won Allen Oscars for best film, director and screenplay.