Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Ridley Scott Confirms Noomi Rapace Won't Be Returning For 'Alien: Covenant' Ridley Scott Confirms Noomi Rapace Won't Be Returning For 'Alien: Covenant' SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More

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."
20

“Deconstructing Harry” (1997)
One of Allen’s most uncompromised, angriest works, “Deconstructing Harry” is also, with distance, one of his strongest. Allen plays Harry Block, a tortured writer who is undergoing a breakdown in his twilight years, as fantasy and reality begin to merge. While he has used his friends and family for inspiration frequently, his works start to come to life and intermingle with his own, throwing him into a tailspin as he deals with the side affair of another lover and a career honor he feels is undeserved. The film is one of Allen’s most autocritical works, taking to task both his critics and his own artistic/masturbatory tendencies, but it’s also filled with a number of absurdist touches provided by a peculiar all-star cast -- look out for Billy Crystal in a memorable cameo as The Devil. “Deconstructing Harry” has moments of free-form hilarity, but the self-serving pettiness of his characters are also refreshingly on display, painting a portrait of an artist in transit who can never sit still, even as his work begins to cannibalize him. [B+]

“Celebrity” (1998)
Of all the Woody Allen surrogates throughout the years (Owen Wilson being the most recent), none are weirder than Kenneth Branagh as a novelist-turned-tabloid journalist (following, of course, a disastrous divorce) in "Celebrity." The casting of the British thespian is bizarre in and of itself, especially since "Celebrity" was released at the tail end of Branagh's impressive Shakespeare run. But what's even odder is how spot on Branagh is in terms of mimicking Allen's series of jerks, tics and stutters. It's uncanny and spot-on in ways that few of the Allen stand-ins usually are, and it makes "Celebrity," which is basically a series of vignettes with Branagh bumping into various celebrities (usually playing exaggerated versions of themselves), way more compelling. The best cameo goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, upending his badboy image by snarling that Branagh is so sensitive that he "should write fucking greeting cards." [B]

“Sweet and Lowdown” (1999)
Though Woody Allen’s has often missed the mark in his later period, this film is a shining example of everything the writer/director can do right when he's firing on all cylinders. He gets revelatory, surprising, Oscar-nominated performances out of Sean Penn, as narcissistic fictional guitar player Emmet Ray (transparently based on the legendary Django Reinhardt), and Samantha Morton as mute, adorable Hattie, Emmet’s lover. He uses a faux documentary style to augment the grandeur of Ray’s life and artistry, with smart dialogue that is quippy and fun in one of his best scripts he's ever written that balances dramatic moments equally with comedic ones. But moreover, as a lifelong lover and performer of jazz, this is one of Allen's biggest love letters to the music, myths and larger than life personalities that surround it. [A-]

"Small Time Crooks" (2000)
We're so used to seeing Allen as a neurotic intellectual that it's sometimes refreshing to see him playing at the other end of the spectrum, and his performance in "Small Time Crooks" is only first among a cluster of fully-flung idiots. Riffing, at least in part, on Ealing crime comedies like "The Ladykillers" and "The Lavender Hill Mob," Allen plays Ray, a jailbird who plans to rob a bank next to a bakery, only to discover that the cookies that his wife Frenchy (an excellent Tracey Ullman) has been selling as cover for the heist are far more lucrative. It's an oddly structured piece, like two films crammed into one (the middle act, featuring Hugh Grant as a sleazy artist, parodying the class system, is pretty weak), but it's mostly enjoyable, if uneven. And in a now-rare acting appearance by the great Elaine May, it has one of the great supporting performances in the Allen canon. [C]

“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001)
Every year brings us a new Woody Allen picture, bringing with it grousing on the side-lines about how the creator of Alvy Singer is scuttling closer to the grave by tarnishing his cinematic legacy. It’s a fixed pattern critics have slid lazily into; the notices for "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" were often written with the same shit-eating rictus grins on their faces as they were a decade ago for "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion." With the benefit of hindsight, the film’s period setting, slight plot (a magician hypnotises Woody into becoming a jewel thief against his will) and Allen’s subsequent inability to find funding for films produced in America, affirm the now-orthodox decline thesis. So is Allen terrible in the lead role of C.W Briggs, “a shallow, skirt-chasing egomaniac” and “myopic insurance clerk”? Yes. Is there a modicum of sexual tension between he and Helen Hunt, the ‘saucy’ efficiency expert whose feminine wiles are supposedly up the yin-yang? No. Was Allen too old at this stage in his career to be hit on by an earthen, breast-exposing Charlize Theron? Take a guess. [C-]

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


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates