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The Complete Woody Allen: A Retrospective Pt. 1 (1966-1990)

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 19, 2011 at 8:17AM

Making a film once a decade, like the Terrence Malicks of the world, is all well and good, but what's truly impressive is making a film virtually every year for 40 years, and, generally speaking, consistently making pretty good ones. And that's what Woody Allen's managed to rack up since his debut as credited co-director on "What's Up, Tiger Lily?"
20

“Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask)” (1972)
One of the more underrated entries in the auteur's oeuvre, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask)," based loosely on the self help book by Dr. David Reuben, is an anthology film, made up of seven segments, each posing a different question. They vary wildly in terms of tone, and allowed for Allen to experiment freely – alongside the goofy "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?" section (which features the immortal image of Allen as a court jester) are artier entries like "Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?," where Allen got to explore his love of European filmmaking. While some criticize the film for being a collection of sketches instead of a cohesive whole, it's still a jaunty, often hilarious and truthful film, too easily overlooked when thinking about his catalog. Maybe it's just the victim of structural prejudice. [A-]

“Sleeper” (1973)
Of all the people to be unfrozen 200 years in the future by a rebel underground, somehow scientists unearthed the ice cube containing neurotic jazz-musician/health-store owner Miles Monroe (Allen). Set in a time when the country is ruled by an impossible dictator, Miles remains their only hope due to his lack of identity in their dystopia. On his way to infiltrate the government's uber-secret "Ares Project," the hero enlists the help of reluctant hippie poet Luna (Diane Keaton), who eventually turns to the underground cause and helps the goofball on his quest for the good of man. Parodying every popular sci-fi piece at the time and pulling heavily from the works of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, "Sleeper" is boatloads of charming fun; filled with such momentous joy that it's hard to watch without a smile. While critiquing the impermanence of scientific fact (a dialogue between two people reveals that fatty, greasy foods and cigarettes are extremely healthy, despite early reports that they weren't), Allen also admires the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy, with both Miles and Luna being at their happiest when the former's mind is wiped and when the latter's hosting her extravagant dinner parties, unaware of oppressive politics. However, judging by their perfect chemistry together (and the cute ending), the director suggests that even though knowledge may bring us down, at least we'll have each other to complain to. We believe you, Woody. [A-]

Peter Mullan on his favorite Woody Allen film: "'Annie Hall'’s okay, 'Manhattan'’s okay, but my favorites… I love 'Sleeper,' that one kills me. 'Love and Death,' 'Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex,' 'Take the Money and Run'… I love his silly stuff. I love the stuff that Woody hates. And 'The Purple Rose of Cairo.' He’s infinitesimally more profound in comedy than he is in tragedy. He’d hate me for saying it because he hates anyone that loves his funny stuff, but I think it’s far more moving and a far more profound cinema in that assembly of slapstick. Within the heart of the slapstick were comments on human nature that are far, far more powerful than the more decorative musings in his later work. I would always go for the early Woody Allen."


“Love and Death” (1975)
Allen’s career thus far, movies strung together by a series of gags interspersed with the stray literacy of a well-read mind, had to be building up to this. “Love and Death” is an unsung classic because it works multiple avenues. One of which is the classical comedic structure Allen had perfected, the shaggy-dog story of a loner who screws up so badly he can’t even die right. He plays a Russian named Boris in “Love and Death,” a character that registers as a bleeding-heart pacifist and a confused coward. He tries to pry his lady love Sonja (Diane Keaton) from the clutches of an invasion by Napoleon, but “Love And Death” does not ignore the difficulties of the former element, as it becomes difficult to reconcile his feelings for Sonja as the two of them quarrel over the economic and political realities of two lovers coming together. However, “Love and Death” is also one of Allen’s more conceptual pictures, dense in allusions to tragic epic romance and existentialist novels from the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, with straight-up lifts of specific dialogue enough that “Love and Death” should probably include credits for half a dozen giants of literature. [A]

"Annie Hall" (1977)
The film that bridges the so-called early funny ones with the more serious later work that would come, "Annie Hall" is also easily Allen's most autobiographical film up to that point. Also, it landed him two Oscars, plus Best Picture for the film. But you know all this -- it's perhaps his most beloved film, named constantly by optimistic filmmakers as the Platonic form of the romantic comedy that all others aspire to. And that's because it's terrific; insightful, playful, moving and beautifully acted, particularly by Diane Keaton, who essentially creates the manic pixie dream girl archetype here. But we have to say, this writer would be lying if he said that a recent rewatch, for the first time in years, didn't remind us of some real issues, found across Allen's work, but particularly prevalent here, with women: some of the characters, particularly Shelley Duvall and Carol Kane as Alvy's ex-wives, are painted in a faintly misogynistic manner. It's not exactly uncommon, particularly for contemporary romantic comedies, but it did sour the film a little for us. But there's still so much to love here, not least in the film's formal construction, that we'll always think fondly of it. [A-]

Steve Coogan on his favorite Woody Allen film: "'Annie Hall' is his 'Revolver,' to me – it’s a marriage of both the joyfulness of accessible comedy and depth.. it’s just a perfect storm. It was 35, 36 years ago, but I saw it a year ago again and it’s so contemporary. Amazing. 'Husbands and Wives' – I really like that. Perfect balance between being tragic and comic."

This article is related to: Feature, Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen


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