Tag Archive: Woody Allen


Best of Movies: 351-400

Man. I’ve reviewed 400 films for this blog now (plus hundreds of reviews for TV shows and short music posts). That blows my mind. For those who are newcomers to my blog, every fifty films, I make a superlative list of the movies that I’ve reviewed with hyperlinks back to the original review so that my readers who don’t have the time to read all of the reviews I write (and I don’t blame anyone for that) have a way to get a quick summation of what I think are the best things I’ve watched in the last three months or so. And, that’s how it worked out. It’s been three and a half months since the last one of these lists (which can be found here), and I’ll probably have the chance to do one more before I we get around to my blog’s three year anniversary next February.

Here are some quick notes about this particular 50 film block. Natalie Portman now joins Edward Norton as the only person to top one of my categories more than once. Ed Norton was my Best Supporting Actor for 201-250 for Primal Fear and my Best Actor in a Dramatic Role for American History X for 251-300. Natalie Portman was my Best Actress in a Dramatic Role for Black Swan for all the way back in 51-100. You’ll see what she wins for this time around later. Also, at first, this particular block was without question the lowest scoring block I had ever done for my blog, but then the last fifteen or so films was heavily loaded with great movies so it evened out towards the end. Hopefully, you guys can find some good stuff to watch here.

 

Best Picture – Drama:

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1. American Psycho

2. Downfall

3. Good Will Hunting

4. Women in Love

5. Rachel, Rachel

 

Best Picture – Comedy:

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1. Annie Hall

2. (500) Days of Summer

3. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

4. Raising Arizona

5. Bad Santa

 

Best Director:

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1. Woody Allen: Annie Hall

2. Oliver Hirschbiegel: Downfall

3. Oliver Stone: Any Given Sunday

4. Ken Russell: Women in Love

5. Marc Webb: (500) Days of Summer

 

Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Bruno Ganz: Downfall

2. Christian Bale: American Psycho

3. Daniel Day-Lewis: The Boxer

4. Matt Damon: Good Will Hunting

5. Al Pacino: Any Given Sunday

 

Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:

Revolutionary Road

1. Kate Winslet: Revolutionary Road

2. Joanne Woodward: Rachel, Rachel

3. Glenda Jackson: Women in Love

4. Alexandra Maria Lara: Downfall

5. Bryce Dallas Howard: The Village

 

Best Actor in a Comedic Role:

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1. Billy Bob Thornton: Bad Santa

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt: (500) Days of Summer

3. Woody Allen: Annie Hall

4. Nicolas Cage: Raising Arizona

5. Matthew Wilkas: Gayby

 

Best Actress in a Comedic Role:

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1. Diane Keaton: Annie Hall

2. Zooey Deschanel: (500) Days of Summer

3. Holly Hunter: Raising Arizona

4. Lauren Graham: Bad Santa

5. Audrey Hepburn: Sabrina

 

Best Supporting Actor:

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1. Dustin Hoffman: Rain Man

2. Robin Williams: Good Will Hunting

3. Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

4. Oliver Reed: Women in Love

5. Samuel L. Jackson: Eve’s Bayou

 

Best Supporting Actress:

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1. Natalie Portman: Léon: The Professional

2. Judi Dench: A Room with a View

3. Jennie Linden: Women in Love

4. Uma Thurman: Tape

5. Corinna Harfouch: Downfall

 

Well people. That’s it. Come back in about three and half months or so for the next fifty movies. And, I actually realized something during this particular review. Diane Keaton has also won twice. She has won twice now in Best Actress in a Comedic Role. The other was for a different Woody Allen film, Love and Death. Now, I’m actually done. Enjoy people. I hope you find a film that looks interesting to you.

 

 

 

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Every movie lover has that one film that you can put in a million times, and every time you watch it, you get something new out of it. With our favorite films, repeat viewings become not only a type of security blanket where we can bask in the predicted pleasures of a treasured piece of art, but they increasingly become extended sessions of wonder that one team of filmmakers (from the director on down) were able to get things so perfectly right. They are films that infiltrate every aspect of our lives and we learn and evolve with these experiences so that sometimes, if the film is great enough, something about the film grows to define part of you. I am a lifelong film lover, but 1977’s Annie Hall is my favorite film of all time, and not only is it the crowning jewel of Woody Allen’s career, it’s the most important romantic comedy ever made.

Manhattan may be deeper; Midnight in Paris may be more whimsical; and Crimes and Misdemeanors may be more tragic, but no other film in the Woody Allen canon has transformed cinema to the extent of Annie Hall. Taking the most overdone film genre of all time, the romantic comedy, Annie Hall turned every genre convention on its head. From expectations for a happy ending to the classic manic pixie dream girl archetype to the notions of linear storytelling to a respect for the existence of the fourth wall, Annie Hall obliterated the standards of 1970s storytelling and prior with a rapturous disregard for the way movies were meant to be made. Clearly enthralled with Fellini and Bergman, Woody Allen brought foreign art-house sensibilities into the mainstream.

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Like so much of the best cinema, Annie Hall is an especially autobiographical film. In a vein similar to Chasing Amy (or even Allen’s later Husbands and Wives), Annie Hall is a cinematic portrayal of a crumbling relationship played out by the real life partners in the relationship itself. Neé Annie Hall in real life, Diane Keaton (Love and Death) plays the titular object of Allen’s desire. Diane Keaton was Woody’s greatest muse of the 1970ss, and with Annie Hall, Allen fuses a fantastical and romanticized embellishment of his youth thrown into the tragic downfall of one of the great relationships of his life.

Thus, Annie Hall is the decades spanning tale of the life and loves of Alvy Singer, a purposefully transparent stand-in for Woody Allen. A marginally successful stand-up comedian, Alvy lives in New York. With his best friend Rob (Tony Roberts) and two ex-wives, Alvy’s life isn’t exactly a shining example of having your life together. And his world is only complicated when he’s introduced to the ditsy, sensitive, and complex Annie Hall who bounds into Alvy’s life like an electric jolt to the heart. But the gulf in their intellectual ambitions and Alvy’s own cynical, pessimistic outlook on life spell an inevitable doom for their on-again/off-again relationship.

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If you have ever been in a failed relationship, Annie Hall is a sprawling, exquisitely detailed roadmap of everything that could have possibly gone wrong. Even if you’re a 24 year old kid from rural WV who had never even been to NYC until years after watching this film for the first time, Woody’s tale of lost love, regret, and the rush of dawning romance is timeless and universal in its appeal. I remember watching this film for the first time as a sophomore in high school and immediately being overwhelmed by a sympathy with Alvy Singer, and the relatable nature of this story has only gotten more painfully intense as I’ve gotten older and had more experience in the type of tale Woody has crafted.

And, that attention to detail and brutal effectiveness in detailing a relationship on its way up and just as quickly on its way out is what has made Woody Allen one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. It would have been too easy to paint a one-sided portrait of the collapse of his time with Diane Keaton, but instead, Allen showed an honest, subtle look at the dynamics between men and women and the ways that we desire different things in life and how those desires can spell doom for love. Annie has become one of the go to examples of the “manic pixie dream girl” but if you actually watch the film, it’s clear that Annie is meant to deconstruct that typical male fantasy.

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But it isn’t just the effective realism and honest intentions of the film that makes Annie Hall the classic it’s become (though that’s certainly a major part of it). Annie Hall stands head and shoulders above its peer because it was the first major film to successfully incorporate serious themes and an actual emotional message with laugh-out-loud fourth wall shattering humor. Over the course of Annie Hall, Woody Allen doesn’t just lean on the proverbial fourth wall; he takes a chainsaw and demolishes it until you’re not sure if the fourth wall ever existed in the first place.

Having his characters directly address the camera, incorporating not only flashbacks but flashbacks where the present day characters can interact with the people in the past, using animated interludes, devolving into downright fantasy, and using sardonic thought bubbles to explain the actual thoughts of characters during dialogue, Annie Hall isn’t afraid to remind you that you’re watching a movie, and it’s better off for it. Some great films have aped this style since ( (500) Days of Summer an obvious example), but no movie has so successfully married the heartwrenching, the hilarious, and the surreal as well as Annie Hall.

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Diane Keaton won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar at the 1977 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Annie, and the only performance by a woman in a comedy that I can think that is better than her turn in this film was Jennifer Lawrence last year in Silver Linings Playbook. Diane Keaton may have essentially been playing herself, but it was a fierce and now iconic portrayal. What makes Woody such a great writer is that he writes such complex roles for his female leads, and Annie is possibly the best role he’s ever written. Diane Keaton sees Annie through virtually the complete human emotional experience, and she never falters along the  way.

Woody lost that year for Best Actor to Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl, and I actually agree with that decision from the Academy. Woody’s turn as Alvy is probably one of the top three performances of his career, but there’s simply no denying that Woody is better behind the camera than in front of it. There are moments here and there where Woody stops acting (even if he’s supposedly conversing with a friend in the film) and just starts performing one of his stand-up routines and the difference in his cadence is too apparent. Still, when the scene calls for it, Woody Allen too hits all the right emotional and dramatic points required for the film.

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I could go on an on about how Annie Hall is a perfect snapshot of life in the 1970s or how brilliant the “It Had to Be You” interludes are or how Allen’s neurotic, nebbish Alvy Singer became the basis of a million rom-com heroes to come, but I think I have probably bored all of you enough with my adoration bordering on worship of this masterful film. I’ve written three unpublished screenplays, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Annie Hall is (with Chasing Amy and Pulp Fiction) the reason I want to be a film-maker. If, in my life, I can write a film that is one-fifth as good as Woody’s opus, I will consider my career a success. I’ll leave you with a quote.

Alvy Singer: [narrating] After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I… I realized what a terrific person she was, and… and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I… I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.

Final Score: A+

 

Love and Death

(Quick aside before my actual review. I told you all that I was on a hot streak. This movie was simply amazing and I’ve basically been bouncing around between “A”s and “B+”s for two or three weeks now. The selection of films that I currently have at home say this trend could possibly continue. Got to love it.)

Like many great artists, Woody Allen’s film career can be divided not-so-neatly into periods. His career started out with his screwball, slapstick comedies such as Take the Money and Run or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Then, there was the transitional period between his more comedic films and his later, more serious work such as his magnum opus Annie Hall and Manhattan. Of course, there’s the serious period of Interiors, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Hannah and Her Sisters. And finally, you have Woody’s wonderful current renaissance where he’s back to bridging the gap between the comedic and the serious (i.e. Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, or Midnight in Paris). 1975’s Love and Death is often considered the last of Woody’s slapstick films, but it seems instead to be a great merger of his raunchy sensibilities of his early days with the more philosophical bent of his later films.

This is the Woody Allen film for the person in your life who knows his way around the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky better than the average American knows reality TV. With allusions abound to War and Peace, Crime and Punishment (whose title would later be the source of the pun of the title of Crimes and Misdemeanors) and The Brothers Karamazov (as well as weirdly enough, the films of Ingmar Bergman, particularly Persona ), Love and Death is simultaneously a spoof of classic Russian literature (and silly philosophical/ethical debates) while celebrating some of the elements that make those particular novels so beloved in the first place. That Woody Allen manages to tell an epic tale of love, war, silliness, and morality in only an hour and a half is astounding.

At the onset of the Napoleonic wars between Russia and France, Woody Allen plays Boris, a nebbish Woody Allen stand-in living as a peasant in rural Russia. He yearns for the heart of his cousin Sonia (Diane Keaton), but she is in love with Boris’ brother, Ivan. Boris is a lover and an intellectual (or at least he thinks so), and when war breaks out between Russia and France, he wants no part of the battle. Yet, he’s branded a coward by his family and sent off to fight anyways. I don’t want to ruin much more of the plot because in typical early Allen fashion, it snowballs in brilliant slapstick fashion but let’s just say there are plots against Napoleon, classic pistol duels, and bawdy sexual hijinks.

This is one of those classic comedies that is operating on just a million different levels and modes of humor. You have direct spoofs of classic Russian works such as a dialogue that name drops most of the major characters of Russian fiction (especially the works of Dostoyevsky). You have some sight gags, whether they’re direct film shout-outs such as the famous perpendicular faces from Persona or Cries and Whisper. You’ve got endless classic Woody monologues and dialogues having characters butcher formal logic (intentionally) or Woody just riffing on the ostentatious verbiage of classic Russian literature. There’s great awkward situational humor such as Boris’ attempts to seduce a beautiful (and busty) Countess. And then of course, there’s absolutely silly (but rhythmically perfect) slapstick abound. The jokes never stop in Love and Death.

Woody is never going to be the world’s greatest actor (although he does have some great performances, Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors spring immediately to mind), and he’s essentially playing himself in this film. Except instead of a nebbish, Jewish Manhattanite, he’s a nebbish, Russian orthodox Moscovian (is that the proper term). As great of a writer and director Woody is, it’s easy to forget how great he was at physical humor in these early films. He would have made Chaplin and Keaton proud. Diane Keaton was the real scene-stealer (as she was in Annie Hall). She is simply one of the most talented comedic actresses of all time. She manages to be a deliciously sexual concoction as Sonia as well as (at specific points in the film) a great doppleganger for Bergman regulars like Liv Ullmann.

The film may not carry the emotional weight of Annie Hall or Manhattan, but it’s certainly more laugh-out-loud funny than the latter (not so much the former which is why Annie Hall is so perfect). That doesn’t necessarily make it any less consistently thought-provoking as you can see in this film all of the bits and pieces that would ultimately go into making Annie Hall. Everyone loves to call Annie Hall Woody’s ultimate transition film, but Love and Death is just as deserving of that title. It’s a gut-busting triumph of smart and witty humor, and if you can handle your Woody Allen in almost total comedy mode, this film’s a home-run.

Final Score: A

(A quick aside before the review. Weirdly enough, even though I’ve reviewed nearly 300 films for this blog in the last year and a half, this will be the first movie I’ve reviewed from the year that I was born, 1989. I’ve done three Song of the Days from then but not a single film. It’s crazy.  How fitting [and this was purely by chance] that it was a Woody Allen movie. He’s my favorite director of all time. And I’ve reviewed, by far, more of his films than any other director. To wit, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Manhattan, Radio Days, Match Point, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris. And now Crimes and Misdemeanors. He’s made like 40 films so it’s not shocking that he’s showing up a lot.)

There’s always an inherent danger when writers try to split their films into two or more mostly separate stories. While ensemble pieces usually give the audience a chance to pick one section of a film to passionately support and love (ala the Dylan Baker scenes stealing all of Happiness or John Locke and Ben Linus regularly upstaging their cast-mates on Lost), they also run the risk of having a crucial segment that is simply far less engaging than the best elements of the film. These elements may not even be bad. They can be very good. But if a writer/director hits the sweet spot with one segment of a film, everything else will seem like a drag in comparison. Much like his earlier film Radio Days, Woody Allen’s 1989 dramedy Crimes and Misdemeanors is split in half. One section is a serviceable, typically “Allen” romance while the other is a stunning, Ingmar Bergman-esque examination of morality and responsibility. It should have been the entire film.

In the lighter romantic dramedy portion of the film, Woody Allen plays Cliff Stern, a struggling documentarian whose wife convinces her brother Lester, a successful but boorish television comedian (Alan Alda), to allow Cliff to shoot a documentary for the network about the day-to-day aspects of Lester’s life. Although Lester would rather shoot a more personal documentary about a college philosophy professor with profound insights into the universe, he takes the job while hoping that he can use it to kickstart his static career. Stuck in a loveless marriage, Cliff falls for the documentary’s producer, the intelligent and warm Halley (Rosemary Baby‘s Mia Farrow). Determined to leave his wife for his new love, Cliff is tripped up by his own neuroses and the pressing question of whether Halley shares the same feelings that he does.

In the more serious, existential dramatic portions of the film, Martin Landau is Judah Rosenthal (Ed Wood), a wealthy ophthalmologist and philanthropist, sees his whole world crashing down around him when his neurotic and obsessive mistress (The Grifters‘ Anjelica Huston) threatens to tell his wife about their affair as well as inform the police about some fiscal improprieties that Judah has committed. When he refuses the advice of his rabbi (Sam Waterston) to simply admit to his wife what he’s done, Judah eventually decides to accept the help of his criminal brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) and have his mistress killed. As the reality of what he’s done sets in, Judah finds himself overwhelmed with guilt and begins to question the moral and ethical constructs that were the basic building blocks of his life, such as guilt, responsibility, and the nature of God.

Martin Landau’s Academy Award nomination was well-deserved. Judah’s story was by far the most compelling, and Martin Landau navigated the morally turbulent waters of Judah’s life like the seasoned pro he is. Judah lives in a self-created universe which refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for his actions, even before he begins to contemplate the murder of his mistress. He can’t admit that he led Dolores on, that he made promises to her about a future relationship he was never going to  keep. He can’t comprehend that what he did with his charitable foundation’s money was morally bankrupt. He calls his mobster brother up to discuss the problem with Dolores and when Jack suggests the ugly options (which are the only options Judah ever wants from Jack), Judah acts offended. And as Judah finds himself continually overwhelmed by more and more guilt, he fabricates more ways to rationalize his behavior.

Perhaps because Woody was at the tail end of middle age when he shot this film (and Martin Laundau was himself in his early 60s), both the film and Landau’s performance take on rueful and remorseful overtones. The specter of the past always hangs over the film. Whether it’s the words of Judah’s rabbi father or the literal shades of Judah’s past which return to haunt him at his most vulnerable moments, Martin Landau makes Judah a man whose rational (and rationalized) existence is being torn apart by the metaphysical philosophies of his childhood. In one of the film’s best scenes, Judah visits his childhood home only to be confronted by visions of his childhood where an atheist aunt debates his father over the nature of morality and whether men or inherently good creatures, and Martin Landau shows Judah’s dawning realization that he’s twisted his aunt’s philosophy to rationalize murdering an innocent woman.

Earlier, I called the section of the film starring Woody himself as lighter but perhaps that is inaccurate. It begins as a typically Allen romance exploring commitment, lust, neuroses, and yet a love of life, but it quickly takes a darker turn. Many of the philosophical underpinnings of the film are directly stated through the footage Cliff has acquired of the philosophy professor he would rather shoot than Alan Alda’s Lester. It’s supposed to carry an uplifting affirmation of life, but when future events soil that dream, Woody’s tale takes increasingly darker turns until Cliff’s tale ultimately leaves you more devastated than that of Judah. And for the first time in any Mia Farrow role that I can think of, she actually enhanced a film. Her chemistry with her real-life husband was palpable, and she was the type of great female role that seemingly only Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman can write.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that this was one of Woody’s darkest and most pessimistic films. Much like the earlier Interiors and the later Husbands & Wives, there’s not a lot of light in the film (despite what Woody tricks you into thinking during the first half). Bad people do bad things and get away with it. Good men get crushed under the wheels of men with less talent. Love is unrequited. Wives don’t learn of their husband’s infidelities, and a cold, uncaring universe lets it all happen. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the film is that a rabbi (the film’s most reasonable character) is slowly going blind in a universe where Judah’s biggest fear as a child was his father telling him that God’s eyes saw all. In this film’s world (and by proxy, Woody’s interpretation of the real world), god and therefore morality are dying and the only meaning we can get from life is that which we choose to take from it.

When people complain about the period of Woody’s career where all he made were his more “serious” works, Crimes and Misdemeanors is certainly a prime example. Richly symbolic (with a heavy emphasis on eyes as a metaphor for responsibility as well as a running meta-commentary with classic film footage) and utterly cynical, Crimes and Misdemeanors arose from a dark place in Woody’s life (his divorce from Mia Farrow is only a few years away) that colors the whole film. Still, the story centered around Judah’s existential crisis is among the most insightful and mature of Allen’s career. And if the romance couldn’t hold a candle to the deeper philosophical meditation, that’s a small price to pay for another great film from the man who has cemented his legacy as the greatest writer in the history of American cinema.

Final Score: A-

Despite my occasional jaded cynicism, I am a pure romantic at heart. My relationship history is virtually non-existent, but you show me a great love story and my heart instantly melts. Most of the romances we see in the movies and read about in books are pretty awful, but when a genuine love story makes its way on to the screen, I almost invariably connect with those films in a deeper emotional way than I do with movies that are more “serious” and that I may score higher in terms of their grade. Two of my three favorite films are romances (Annie Hall and Chasing Amy), and the flirtation between Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction is still an unforgettable part of number three. Woody Allen just made his 42nd movie (I’m going to go ahead and let that sink in for a second), the wonderful and whimsical Midnight in Paris, which is the second film in my series of Best Picture Nominee reviews, and without wanting to jump the gun, it may be safe to say that this is Woody’s best movie since Hannah and Her Sisters or even Manhattan. The man may be 76 years old, but he’s still got it and there still aren’t any American filmmakers with a career as consistent and prolific as Woody Allen.

When engaged couple Gil Pender, successful Hollywood writer and aspiring novelis, (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil’s young and bourgeois fiance, visit Paris with Ines’s parents, their relationship is put to the test when Gil’s desire to adopt a bohemian lifestyle as a writer in Paris clashes with Ines’s wishes for Gil to return to Hollywood and continue working in movies even though it’s killing him artistically. Their relationship only becomes even more strained when a midnight walk along the Parisian streets takes an oddly surreal turn when Gil finds himself transported to 1920’s Paris and rubbing elbows with literary and artistic luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and more. While Ines is pushing him to live a more conventional lifestyle by day, Gil is living his nostalgic, romanticized fantasy by night. When Gil meets the alluring Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and begins to fall in love, his loyalty to his fiance and the world she wants him to inhabit is put to the test.

Maybe it’s because I’m a huge classic literature nerd and I have the same romanticized visions of 1920’s France full of expatriated Americans that Woody Allen shares, but I adored this film. The writing is the most inciseful and directly hilarious that Woody Allen has been in years. His recent films have had this simmering darkness and even though I thoroughly enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona, there was something in it that seemed to lack that joyous and melancholic spark that defined his earlier pictures. Midnight in Paris doesn’t suffer from this problem. It’s opening shots of Paris set to gorgeous jazz instantly recall the iconic opening of Manhattan (and this time the opening monologue rolls during the credits crawler), and the characters engage in the artistic-intellectual conversations that were a hallmark of earlier Allen pictures; although now Allen has looked back on his occasional pretentiousness and pokes some fun at the more pedantic nature of some of his film’s conversations.To top that all off, you get a wonderful look at a man struggling between safe and secure love, finances, and societal approval against a desire to be true to his self artistically. If the film has any one major flaw, it is that Ines doesn’t seem as well developed as some of Allen’s other female heroines. Allen normally writes the best female characters (which is why so many of them win Oscars), and Ines simply doesn’t live up to those high expectations.

As always, Woody Allen assembled a stellar cast to bring his script to life. If it weren’t for Owen Wilson’s career-defining drawl (as opposed to Allen’s thick New York accent), this could have easily been a young Woody Allen role. Owen Wilson must have watched a ton of Woody’s older films before shooting this film because he successfully evokes that neurotic, intellectual energy that Allen brought to these types of parts and Owen Wilson also brings a sensitivity that had been lacking in some of his earlier roles. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard was a delight (as always) as the bewitching Adriana. She’s a French talent that’s been getting plenty of exposure since winning her Oscar for La Vie en Rose, and she deserves it. I can’t blame Gil for falling in love with Adriana when she’s as gorgeous and intriguing as Marion Cotillard. Rachel McAdams made due with the material she was given, but as stated before, it was a light role. Corey Stoll was a fantastic Hemingway whose uber-masculine intensity often became the film’s deadpan comic relief. Adrien Brody also made a small part as a boisterous Salvador Dali when Gil had dinner with Dali, Man Ray, and Luis Bunuel. Katherine Bates also made a fine Gertrude Stein.

Woody Allen’s films have often been as much a visual tribute to the cities where they take place as they have been sharply scripted stories, and Midnight in Paris is no exception. Much like Vicky Cristina Barcelona captured the stunning beauty of Spain and Manhattan was Allen’s loveletter to his hometown, Midnight in Paris is a stunning ode to the city of lights. Not since David Lean captured Venice in all its glory for Summertime has a director so fully captured the magic of a city. This is easily Allen’s most visually distinct film since the black and white magic of Manhattan. Whether it’s night-time strolls along the Champs-Elysses, the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower, the elegance of the arc d’Triomphe, or the modernism of the Louvre, Woody simply captures the romanticized feel of the city. It also doesn’t hurt that the period costume work is simply fabulous and makes me want to start dating a flapper and wear 1920’s suits. It’s another gorgeous film from one of the best screenwriters and directors of all time.

I’ve long since stopped debating in my mind about whether or not Woody is the greatest American director of all time. His only real competition at this point is David Lynch, but David makes his films far too rarely and with too much intentional obscurity for me to ever derive the same kind of simple pleasure that I get from watching a Woody Allen picture. Woody’s films make you think but also hit you on an emotional level and for every burgeoning intellectual or simple movie lover out there, Woody will always hold a special place in your heart. He may be sort of despicable on a personal level, but that doens’t dilute his genius one iota. This is Woody’s best film in ages, and if you haven’t taken a stroll through Midnight in Paris, do yourself a favor and watch it. It is the romance of the year (if not the last several years).

Final Score: A

 Annie Hall is one of my three favorite films of all time. Not only is it one of my favorite films from a biased fan’s perspective but it is also what I consider to be one of the greatest films ever made from a critical perspective. I think it is the greatest romantic comedy ever made, both in its originality when first written and in comparison to all of the pretenders that came after it. There are generally two schools of thought as to what is Woody Allen’s best film after Annie Hall. People normally say its either Hannah and Her Sisters (which I haven’t seen) or 1979’s Manhattan, the film I just watched and the one that has my vote. While it isn’t quite the perfect bit of meta-textual, fourth-wall breaking genius that is Annie Hall, it is still a fantastically crafted understated masterpiece.

Manhattan is a dramedy focusing on the complicated relationships among a diverse group of New York intellectuals. The film is focused around Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), a divorced man in his 40’s who is a comedy writer and one of the most neurotic people you’ll ever meet. He is dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) who is 17 years old and still in high school. Isaac’s best friend is the married Yale, an author of middling success who is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), a woman wracked with guilt for being in an affair with a married man. Isaac’s ex wife is named Jill (Meryl Streep) who left him for another woman and is writing a book about her marriage with Isaac. Things become complicated as Isaac begins to date Mary who is his age and into the same intellectual pretensions as him. What follows is an incredibly realistic portrait of modern relationships and the anxiety and stress that love and dating put us through.

This was the film that, to me, marks the departure from Allen’s more satircal and comedic earlier films to his more dramatic and serious pieces. While there are many moments in this film that are legitimately funny, this is a fairly serious and grown-up film. I’m not saying Annie Hall wasn’t grown-up (because it was devestatingly tragic and real). This film just goes even further into dramatic territory for Allen. The last movie that I watched that portrayed relationships this effectively and sincerely was Conversations With Other Women. There aren’t really happy endings in this movie. You don’t get easy answers. You just get one man’s analysis of life and love and the notion that we should take the happiness we find and not question it too deeply.

The cast for the film is great. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are so believable as a couple that you never doubt the sincerity of their scenes together (makes sense since Annie Hall is an autobiographical tale of their relationship). When Diane Keaton was younger, she was just one of the finest comedic actresses on the planet. She was the thinking man’s sex symbol. She might not have been classically beautiful, but she was smart and funny, and I love Diane Keaton. Woody Allen is as hilarious as he always is. Mariel Hemingway is appropriately precocious yet vulnerable as Isaac’s under-age lover (the relationship is creepier in retrospect considering Allen’s personal life). You also get a great jazz score for the whole film, and the movie’s opening monologue, set against George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is classic Allen.

If you like grown up dramas and grown up love stories (or lack therof), then you need to see this film. It’s mature and adult, and I guess if you aren’t of the intellectual vein, it won’t be for you. I see so much of myself in Manhattan‘s Isaac and Annie Hall‘s Alvy. I’m the neurotic, bookish, nebbish Jew so I guess that makes sense. Perhaps that’s why I love his films so much. Yet, I think it comes down to his ability to paint portraits that are both humorous and human, tragic yet full of life. I stand behind my assertion that I made a while back that I think Woody is the greatest comedic director of all time, and this film is just another piece of evidence to prove it.

 Final Score: A

If you were to ask me what director I believe to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), that might be the single most difficult question you could ask me. A lot of names would pop in my head. Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Elia Kazan, etc. And while I am not going so far as to call him the greatest director of all time, Woody Allen (all personal flaws aside) is probably the greatest comedic director to ever step behind a camera. His masterpiece, Annie Hall, is in my mind tied for being the best romantic comedy ever made (alongside Chasing Amy). What makes Woody so great is that he is such a versatile director. His career can basically be divided into three parts. His farcical, absurdist early pictures, like Sleepers or Bananas, Annie Hall (which would bridge the gap between the two phases of his career), and his more mature dramedies like Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters. Well, the film I just watched Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex is definitely one of the earlier farcical pieces and boy, was it absolutely hilarious.

Back in the day, the title of this film was also the title of a fairly serious book about the different sexual questions people were facing in the dawn of the sexual revolution. Woody Allen being Woody Allen decided to take some of the questions from the book and turn them into 7 self contained short films that are all (one exception) rather funny, and some are absolutely uproarious. Some of the stories include Woody Allen playing a sperm who is about to be ejaculated, along with various other people controlling the human body (Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds to name the big stars). One involves Gene Wilder being involved in an amorous relationship with a sheep that was probably the funniest story in the entire set (and it in all likelihood ruined Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for me for the rest of my life). Another casts a Dr. Kinsey type sexual researcher as a new Dr. Frankenstein who unwittingly releases a killer breast on the populace the size of a house.

Even before Woody Allen is a film maker, he is first and foremost a cinema lover, especially the foreign films of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. His love of this medium is very obvious throughout this film in how well he juggles the many different genres and styles that he uses to individualize each segment. One segment is an homage to Italian cinema. One is an homage to B-Horror films. There’s science fiction. Hell, there’s even a game-show with an incredibly young Regis Philbin called “Guess My Perversion” which is exactly what it sounds like. The only bit that wasn’t very funny was the one that involved a man who liked to dress in woman’s clothing. It was just very boring compared to the rest of the film, and I felt like Woody was a little lazy with that scene.

I know a lot of people who can’t watch Woody Allen films because of a certain aspect of his personal life (which I guess is understandable), but if you are able to separate the man from his art, you need to give this film a whirl. I can even recommend it to those who don’t really enjoy his normal dry, sardonic humor because this film is much raunchier and more broad, yet it still contains that classic Allen wit. The only people that I can’t recommend this film to are those that are easily offended. This is a hilarious look at sex in the 70’s and it doesn’t feel dated one bit.

Final Score: A