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

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by The Playlist Staff
May 19, 2011 8:17 AM
20 Comments
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“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."

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20 Comments

  • Kitty C. | December 1, 2012 8:22 PMReply

    In Hannah and Her Sisters, Holly and her catering partner, played by Carrie Fisher, were competing for the attention of Sam Waterston's character, NOT Holly and Lee.

  • Emmett Booth | May 21, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    Imagine what the Woodman who made Sleeper would've done with Anchorman had it been his.

  • goldfarb | May 20, 2011 4:47 AMReply

    like many Allen has a special place in my heart/mind that most other filmamkers never will...and when I see each new film year after year my views are never confined to that film alone (for good or bad)...I always see each film as an additional piece of the larger Woddy Allen World...so they tend to average out, the outright classics bringning up the lesser efforts...

  • Catherine Scott | May 20, 2011 1:47 AMReply

    About Jeff Daniels what we meant was not that he is no longer a good actor, but that, as you've pointed out, his good roles today are few and far between (even though he often does a good job in his films).

    What we probably should have said was that he was worthy as a leading man on top of being a good actor, since we don't see him taking many lead roles today; it's easy to forget that he was once leading man material.

  • In Defense of Jeff Daniels | May 19, 2011 9:57 AMReply

    "and it’s easy to forget that Daniels was quite a good actor back in his day."

    This statement truly offended me. Jeff Daniels has made many bad movies over the years, but is still a great actor. In the last decade he's had some really strong performances -"The Squid and the Whale" "The Lookout" "Goodnight and Good luck" come to mind, and show that he is still at the top of his game in the last 10 years, how dare you insinuate he was only good "back in his day."

    Not to mention he owned the 90's with his performances in "Dumb and Dumber" and "Gettysburg."

    Carry on.

  • The Playlist | May 19, 2011 9:57 AMReply

    The urge to grade them in relation is understandable and frankly, it's how we *generally* do them, but in this case we didn't for whatever reason.

    But it's kinda the way one should review films. Like if "Sucker Punch" gets a C-, but like "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" gets an F, one might say, "how do you give POTC4 an F* and Sucker Punch a C-???" and then answer is well 1) like all reviews, it's subjective and 2) we're not grading them in relation to the film, we're grading them on the film itself and how good, bad, successful or failing they are.

    *i made those grades up, i cannot recall what they were graded other than they're both ass. :)

  • Ryan | May 19, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    That's a good point, I wasn't thinking about how different critics were reviewing different movies. And someone who reviews Take the Money and Run shouldn't check with the person who reviews Manhattan to make sure their grades match up.

  • Christopher Bell | May 19, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    I'll have to agree with the grade for "Another Woman." Interesting premise but painfully dull and quite a slog. I like "September" better, but I really do feel like those straight up dramas (which includes "Interiors") feel rather hollow at times.

  • RE | May 19, 2011 9:41 AMReply

    Reducing Annie Hall's grade for any whiff of "misogyny" seen in 2011?

  • The Playlist | May 19, 2011 9:27 AMReply

    The grades are worth fighting over, yes, but remember, they're subjective. Yes, there's no way those early Woodies are A's over the aforementioned classics, but that's MY opinion. Also the person who graded say, Take the Money and run, didn't grade say, Annie Hall and if they were being done in relation to each other (as they sometimes/usually are) it would have been different.

  • Billyboy | May 19, 2011 9:27 AMReply

    Both Zelig and Another Woman are completely underrated.

    Zelig is not only one of the greatest parodies of all time, but a groundbreaking film in FX development and brilliant cinematography by Gordon Willis. People talk about the "brilliant FX work" in Forrest Gump when Hanks meets Kennedy. Guess what? Allen did that almost 15 years earlier and much more brilliantly than Forrest Dud.

    Another Woman might be his greatest straight drama. Gena Rowlands gives a superb performance completely ignored back then. Allen describes this film as one of his most personal.

    Except those two, good restrospective ,guys.

  • RE | May 19, 2011 9:21 AMReply

    I recall missing the earlier pictures, started in '77 with Annie Hall. After that I was so hooked on Allen I went to Interiors like my GF made me buy an artsy lamp, meanwhile holding out hope for the next year's Woody, looking forward to a comedy. It turned out to be Manhattan. To me Manhattan was in the same league as that year's Apocalypse Now. As a devout worshipper of the Woodman, in 1980 I sped to his next, Stardust Memories, expecting it to be Manhattan 2, instead hit it like going face-first into a brick wall at 80 mph. That movie was where the '70s ended.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 19, 2011 9:19 AMReply

    Correction: That Manhattan write-up is an English rose.

  • Erik | May 19, 2011 9:18 AMReply

    You know, it's funny - I'm one of the most devoted Woody fans out there, but I wouldn't rate anything he did before Love and Death higher than a C, and I think Interiors and especially Another Woman are great flicks. I would even put Another Woman in my top five of all Woody movies.

    Guess I'm the opposite of the fans depicted in Stardust Memories!

  • rotch | May 19, 2011 9:18 AMReply

    sorry, that Manhattan write up was really weak.

  • rotch | May 19, 2011 9:18 AMReply

    Great work, but that write up was really weak.

  • Ryan | May 19, 2011 9:04 AMReply

    There's no way Love and Death and Take the Money and Run are As if Manhattan and Annie Hall are A-. Annie Hall maybe, but Manhattan?! Crazy.

  • Hayden Maxwell | May 19, 2011 8:53 AMReply

    And let me champion Alice a little. The Alec Baldwin scene is beautiful.

  • Edward Davis | May 19, 2011 8:46 AMReply

    Whoa, generous grades, guys. Count me in for the "Interiors" dust-up. That's A-grade all the way.

  • Yer | May 19, 2011 8:42 AMReply

    Allen may make a film every year, but in many of those years the output has been mediocre. I'd rather have Malick's once a decade, but high quality output then Allen shoot until it sticks approach. That being said I saw "Midnight in Paris" two nights ago and it is fantastic, his best in years.

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