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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

“Another Woman” (1988)
Woody Allen's late-late '80s (post “Radio Days”)-early 90s period is like his golden brown period, insofar as it seems to be a detour into a different period of work (all of it done with DPs Sven Nykvist and Carlo DiPalmi), more dramatic and generally focusing on female protagonists' distresses, and recurring themes of infidelity (ironic given the fact Mia Farrow is the lead of all of them and he would leave her for Soon-Yi Previn very shortly after this period would end). Starring Gena Rowlands, Farrow, Ian Holm, an underused Gene Hackman and Blythe Danner, the rather uninvolving "Another Woman" falls squarely into this camp. The Bergman-esque (of course), small-scale picture (tellingly shot by Sven Nykvist) indebted to “Wild Strawberries,” centers on a woman (Rowlands) who begins to overhear the problems of a despondent woman (Farrow) during her neighbor's psychiatric sessions. Fascinated with this woman, these conversations precipitate Rowlands to reflect on her past through her own dreamlike flashback and realizes she has sheltered herself from her true emotions her entire life, while having cluelessly alienated many of who she now realizes are former friends. While the two women’s stories come full circle in a rather brilliantly written way, there's no denying "Another Woman" isn't exactly Woody’s best Bergman-esque homage. Still like many of Allen's average films of this era, some strong performances do give it some value. [C+]

“New York Stories” (1989) (Segment: “Oedipus Wrecks”)
A short film in the omnibus picture “New York Stories,” which featured fellow shorts by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Allen scores the distinction of being the “just OK” short sandwiched between one great one (Marty’s) and one largely mediocre one (Coppola’s) Allen's love note to his mom and being a mama's boy was front and center in "Oedipus Rex," a lighthearted comedy about a mother disembodied and transported into the ether above New York City after a magic trick goes awry (check the pre-'Curb' Larry David-with-hair cameo). She proceeds to visibly appear as a gigantic apparition over Manhattan’s skyline announcing embarrassing facts about her son's personal life that New Yorkers soon become accustomed to; tolerating and then even ignoring her awkward motherly gushing about her son (how cute he was he was as a child and generally airing his dirty laundry, and typical indifferent New Yorkers quickly brush it off). A little bit more high-concept and surreal from Woody than we're used to, but essentially, it was much the same old gag we were used to about neurosis and self-deprecation without as much funnybone tickling. [C+]

“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)
"I remember my father telling me, 'The eyes of God are on us always.' The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence I made my specialty ophthalmology.” So speaks Judah Rosenthal (for Martin Landau, a career best?) in Allen’s bleakly funny rumination on the nature of justice, divine and otherwise. For Judah, an affair with Dolores (Anjelica Huston) has spoiled and turned poisonous to his actual marriage and reputation in an upstanding largely Jewish community. The means by which he plans to remove Dolores will force Judah to face personal responsibility that has the potential to eat away at him from the inside out. Allen fills in for a lighter subplot as Cliff, a failed filmmaker tasked with covering the every-day exploits of pompous producer Lester (Alan Alda). While the film features some choice zingers (most notably Lester’s proud observation “If it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it isn't.”), Judah’s plotline is at the forefront and features some of the best character writing Allen’s ever done. Shot by Bergman-collab and cinematography giant Sven Nykvist, 'Crimes' features scenes of startling beauty and great sorrow. It’s an elegant film about the most inelegant people, and one of Allen’s’ finest. [A]

Rob Brydon on his favorite Woody Allen film: "So you want my favorite? Here you go, you ready? 'Crimes and Misdemeanors' – fantastic. I love 'Manhattan Murder Mystery,' too."

“Alice” (1990)
A dissatisfied and spoiled middle-aged Manhattanite who gave up her career to raise a family (Mia Farrow) has her mundane, yet hyper-privileged world turned upside down when she meets, what she believes is the man of her dreams (Joe Mantegna) at her children's school. Feeling guilty about the adultery she hasn't even committed, Alice seeks out a Chinese herbalist and this is where the picture gets incredibly whimsical and romantic. One herb gives her sexual confidence, another grants her powers of invisibility which she abuses to spy on the object of her affection, and another brings back a ghost of her past (Alec Baldwin, playing a reckless old boyfriend as an apparition) which allows her to relive old memories. Co-starring William Hurt, Blythe Danner and Judy Davis, while mildly cute with its magical tangents reminiscent of “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” the forgettable picture -- a loose rework of Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” -- is one of the first major (but still at this juncture, harmless), misfires in the Allen oeuvre. [C-]

Coming Up Tomorrow: 1990-2011

Gabe Toro, Sam Price, Kevin Jagernauth, Mark Zhuravsky, Cat Scott, Sam Chater, Christopher Bell, RP, Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Cat Scott

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


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