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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“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

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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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