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The Complete Woody Allen: A Retrospective Pt. 2 (1992-2011)

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 20, 2011 at 7:54AM

Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris," begins its roll-out in theaters today, and with it comes the second part of our complete retrospective on the great writer-director's work. (check out yesterday's Part One here). We pick up in 1992, with "Shadows and Fog."
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“Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1993)
It’s a strange world: in the throes of devastating personal scandal, Allen turned in his funniest, most optimistic and delightful film in years. In fact, two of the changes made as a result of outside pressures probably improved the film immeasurably: casting a spiky Anjelica Huston instead of a much younger actress to give Allen a slightly more age-appropriate flirtation, and more importantly, replacing Mia Farrow with a beguiling Diane Keaton -- against whom a mock-irate Allen subsequently railed for getting more laughs than he does, despite the fact he’d written the material to make him look like the funny one. Actually, they’re both on top form, and the portrait of a long-term marriage that finds much-needed spice when a neighbour dies (finally turning to the murder sub-plot famously excised from "Annie Hall"), is one of the most endearing depictions of an adult relationship that Allen has ever managed. It’s peppered with allusions to classic films, fun until the end when it unashamedly rips one off, but that’s just nitpicking, especially in a movie that sends you giggling into the credits on a final gag worthy of Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond. [B]

“Bullets Over Broadway” (1994)
Just as David Lynch proves his versatility by making something like "The Straight Story" now and again, so, too, can Woody Allen escape from his characteristic grotto of nebbish anxiety when the occasion calls for it. One of the rare occasions in which the director shares a screenwriting credit (a one-off collaboration with Douglas McGrath) "Bullets over Broadway" is Allen at his best (7 Oscar nominations in total to prove it), one of his purest unalloyed joys since the “early, funny ones” and free of any of the wider existential moroseness which often threatens to overwhelm his later work. John Cusack is fantastic (one of his best roles) as the 1920s "Barton Fink"-ish egotistical, conniving playwright with delusions for a career like Eugene O’Neill. But the real strength of the film is to render the rest of his Broadway players a horror show collection of freaks, pedants and oddballs. Jennifer Tilly is particularly fantastic as the screeching, dunderheaded mob doll Olive (misunderstanding the word “fore” during her table reading as a dour psychiatrist, she asks “So you’re telling me it’s like I’m talking about golf?”) and Dianne Wiest, of course, is killer in an Oscar-winning performance as the vainglorious Helen Sinclair, who seduces Cusack by lustily breathing, “Don’t speak!” like Gloria Swanson off her face on prescription drugs. [A]

“Mighty Aphrodite” (1995)
Probably best remembered as being the movie that won Mira Sorvino a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award before she fell into oblivion (maybe her cruise ship took a turn into the Bermuda Triangle?), "Mighty Aphrodite" remains one of the most charming movies from a not-exactly-fertile period for the auteur. While the story is fairly typical Woody -– he is a father looking to identify the biological mother of his adopted son, while stressing out about his marriage (to Helena Bonham Carter) –- the setup is enlivened by another typical Woody flourish. In this case it's a Greek chorus narration (led by F. Murray Abraham), with the characters sometimes interacting directly (or commenting) on the action (Michael Rapaport plays an excellent Brooklyn knucklehead too). It's the Greek chorus bit that stands out the most thinking back on the film, even moreso than the performance by Sorvino, as a squeaky-voiced hooker with a heart of gold. Maybe that's for the best, since some of the story beats are sort of icky (Allen sleeps with Sorvino at one point), and threaten to corrupt an otherwise adorable, wholly enjoyable story. Thankfully it's no Greek tragedy. [B+]

“Everyone Says I Love You” (1996)
Lush with the sensation of romance in exotic places, Allen’s modern-day musical (scored with lip-synched 1930s standards) occupies a curious place in his ouerve, capturing a family of East Side New Yorkers in transition in the midst of Giuliani-era Manhattan. Romance has got them tangled, from young engagements to old flames flickering once again, all the while Allen purposely drains the image in a sea of brownstones and Central Park foliage, at once nostalgic and cynical. Allen’s eye for actors remains lively and generous, leading to a number of standout performances, though the film falters with Allen himself, who plays a single man who absconds to Venice to meet the girl of his dreams. As with many latter-day Allen pictures, the age discrepancy is glaringly unaddressed, compounded by Julia Roberts, who has a face at once too innocent and wounded to portray a dream girl, giving her character intriguing layers that simply have no payoff. At its best, “Everyone Says I Love You” is otherwise sweet and swoony, Allen’s customary cynicism peeking through what is otherwise a joyous, sweetly engaging narrative. [B+]

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


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