There is much to appreciate about Woody Allen, but his frank confessions coming out now really do reveal much about the artist, art in general and his outlook on life, which, I find, far preferable to anyone else’s. ¬†Says Woody about his career in this Times UK article:
Out of 40 films I should have 30 masterpieces, eight noble failures and two embarrassments, but it hasn‚Äôt worked out that way. Many of the films are enjoyable by the mean standards of movies, but look at what has been accomplished by people who have done beautiful things ‚Äî Kurosawa, Bergman, Fellini, Bu√±uel, Truffaut ‚Äî and then look at my films. I have squandered my opportunities and I have nobody to blame but myself.
Quite a lot of people like his movies, I point out. ‚ÄúThere are a few better than others, half a dozen, but it‚Äôs a surprising paucity of worthwhile celluloid.‚Äù (The six he prizes:¬†Purple Rose of Cairo, Match Point, Bullets Over Broadway, Zelig, Husbands and Wivesand¬†Vicky Cristina Barcelona.) ‚ÄúYou reach a certain age and you come to the conclusion that greatness is not in you,‚Äù Allen says. ‚ÄúYou aspired to greatness when you were younger. but either through lack of industry or lack of discipline or simply lack of genius you didn‚Äôt achieve greatness. The years go by and you realise: ‚ÄòI‚Äôm this mid-level guy.‚Äô I did the best I could.‚Äù
Woody doesn’t realize, apparently, that greatness IS in him. ¬†It’s just not in the movies he mentions above. ¬†Husbands and Wives, yes. ¬†Zelig, yes. Purple Rose of Cairo, yes.
But the greatness in Woody Allen’s films are in the ones he is probably very sick of hearing about or talking about and what could be worse than having one’s best work in the past?
Woody Allen is a great thinker. ¬†But he was right when he made the beautiful, underrated Stardust Memories. ¬†The space aliens come down to earth and tell him that the way to end suffering is to “tell funnier jokes.” ¬†As hard as he is on himself, he overlooks the value of his own humor. ¬†It was funnier, I think, back before it became repetitive but even now, his worst films are still better than most of the comedies that have come out in the past two decades. ¬†His worst jokes are better than the best jokes many of those hailed as comic giants now. ¬†If he is judged harshly by fans it’s only because he has so much to live down.
Here is a fan’s list of the best films by Woody Allen.
1) Annie Hall – easily one of the best films ever made, Annie Hall doesn’t just showcase Diane Keaton in all of her ditsy glory, but it reveals so much about life. ¬†As a filmmaker, Woody was free then to do what he stopped doing later: zipping in and out of styles and genres. ¬†He’s also experimenting with some of the shot set-ups he would rely on throughout his career – characters talking off screen and then moving into the frame. ¬†Annie Hall is known still for its iconic jokes — they are embedded in my brain for all time. ¬†”Look, there’s God coming out of the men’s room.” ¬†”As Balzac said, ‘there goes another novel.'”
2) Manhattan – Annie Hall and Manhattan are probably the two films most often pulled out as Woody’s greatest. ¬†Manhattan is slightly deeper and darker than Annie Hall, filmed in black and white – a strange love story with an 18 year-old. Both of these films built the template for the romantic comedy genre to follow but they did them so much better.
3) Stardust memories – an homage (“no, we stole it outright”) to Fellini but also a revealing look at Woody Allen’s own inner workings.
4) Crimes and Misdemeanors
5) Husbands and Wives (underrated, brilliant)
6) Hannah and Her Sisters
7) Another Woman (one of my favorites, ignored by critics)
8 ) Zelig
10) Radio Days
Although Woody Allen says that he didn’t care what anyone thought about the whole Soon-Yi debacle, it impacted his work greatly. ¬†One can see how it turned right around Husbands and Wives and Manhattan Murder Mystery. ¬†It is possible that part of what made his early work great was our belief in the cultivated personality of “Woody Allen.” And once that image was shattered, it was more difficult for him to tell stories in the same way to an audience that was enamored of everything he did.
On the other hand, there is no question that Woody Allen has achieved genius and that he is wrong when he says he hasn’t. ¬†No, he isn’t Ingmar Bergman or Fellini or Orson Welles, but who he is and what he’s done is in a class by itself. He changed the world.