Woody Allen


“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” — Hugo

This year saw films by arguably the greatest directors America has ever produced — Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. Those guys are the reasons many people have become filmmakers at all. Whole schools of filmmakers, generations flooding film schools everywhere, cut their teeth on their films. And they happen to be my own personal favorites. You might say my whole life has been shaped and decided by what I saw in films by these men over the past three decades. It is a strange turn of events that they will be in the race the same year. Though all three of their films are so good — even with their weaknesses they are still better than almost everything else we’ve seen this year. But of the three, only one has directed a masterpiece. And this because he’s telling the story from his heart, telling the story for his daughter, and at the same time, delving into the evolving technology of 3-D. In other words, Martin Scorsese is still growing, not resting on his laurels.

These three directors, though, have led three different schools of thought where filmmaking and storytelling are concerned. They all three started in the 1970s — was there ever a better decade for filmmaking? The 1970s was a time for open minds, when Fellini and Bergman were the flavors that changed how people thought about movies. The 1960s loosened the knot but the future of American film had its biggest quake in the ’70s because it signaled the beginning of Allen, Scorsese and Spielberg.

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Ryan already posted about this American Masters series American Masters.  But here is a trailer for it. It’s the year to once again circle back and celebrate the great Woody Allen for his highest grossing film to date, Midnight in Paris, which is maybe a perfect movie.  Owen Wilson’s part on this is my favorite.

(Top: Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma, Lucas, and Coppola, 1994. Bottom: Hooper, Russel, Aronofsy, Nolan, and Fincher, 2010)

Last year’s slate of Best Directors was one of the most impressive lineups ever. Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Joel and Ethan Coen, David O. Russell and of course, the winner, Tom Hooper. I’m not going to go over this each and every time I write about the Oscars this year, but you have to know that in the 13 years I’ve been doing this I’ve never seen a less experienced, out of nowhere winner like Tom Hooper beat someone like Fincher, who not only has built an esteemed career, who not only won every critics award he came up for (more than any director in awards history, recent or not), but was a homegrown director our film industry here in America should celebrate up one side and down the other.  Some films have tremendous power to move us and The King’s Speech was one of those. It was like Slumdog Millionaire (minus Danny Boyle’s brilliant career behind it), or Million Dollar Baby (minus Clint Eastwood’s brilliant career behind it). And so, we are forgetting (as we pause to remember!) and moving forward with the notion that the Academy — and we can throw in the DGA now — will never vote for a movie that pundits and critics are telling them they SHOULD vote for if they didn’t “like” that movie as much as they liked the one that moved them.

Give Oscar voters a choice, most of the time they will go with the admirable character over the darker one. That was why, believe it or not, when No Country for Old Men came out, there was doubt it would even get nominated, doubt it could even win – why, because it was too dark and it had an ambiguous (albeit brilliant) ending. Back then, no one ever thought the Academy could take their swinging balls and make a brave choice like that. Now, of course, it seems silly that anyone ever imagined any other film winning that year. The same sort of scenario played out with The Departed. When The Hurt Locker came around, there was some similar discussion, but since we’d already seen films with darker themes winning, the question revolved around box-office clout, of which the Hurt Locker had little.

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Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have increased MIDNIGHT IN PARIS’ theater count to 1, 038 screens, which marks the widest release of  any  Woody Allen film. The film has earned over $16 million dollars to date, so went today’s press release for the film.

Midnight in Paris is successful, I think, not just because it has big stars in it but because, for the first time in many years, a Woody Allen movie has good word of mouth.  Why is it so good?  It isn’t particularly great.  But somehow whatever it has just works really well.  The seemingly accidental casting of Owen Wilson does wonders to kickstart Woody’s character template recasting him not as a neurotic intellectual who needs to be pulled out of his shell to become a living, breathing human (usually at the behest of a underage girl) but as a dreamer – someone who takes the dialogue and dances with rather than wrestles it to the ground.  And he never tries to sound like Woody Allen either.  He sounds like Owen Wilson and somehow that works.

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From an interview with Allen in the NY Times when asked about trends in his later work compared to the past:

No, it’s too hit or miss. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything that I do. It’s whatever seems right at the time. I’ve never once in my life seen any film of mine after I put it out. Ever. I haven’t seen “Take the Money and Run” since 1968. I haven’t seen “Annie Hall” or “Manhattan” or any film I’ve made afterward. If I’m on the treadmill and I’m scooting through the channels, and I come across one of them, I go right past it instantly, because I feel it could only depress me. I would only feel, “Oh God, this is so awful, if I could only do that again.”

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