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

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by The Playlist Staff
May 20, 2011 7:54 AM
20 Comments
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“Hollywood Ending” (2002)
When you shoot a movie a year, there’s no level of genius that can keep their inspiration that strong every time out. So yes, you get the occasional “Hollywood Ending,” a remarkably tone-deaf Hollywood satire that is both too inside-baseball and overwhelmingly broad and useless. Allen plays a celebrated director well past his prime (hmm...) who gets back into the industry by teaming with an ex-wife, a high pressure situation that causes him to become psychosomatically blind. Did you guess that the punchline involved him directing the film anyway? “Hollywood Ending” isn’t helped by the fact that Allen is working with one of his least-qualified casts, giving major screen time to the manic Tea Leoni and the bronzed, oblivious George Hamilton, resulting in a film that wants to take advantage of the lower standards of today’s yuckfests while also maintaining that classical Hollywood vibe. [D+]

“Anything Else” (2003)
There are a lot of things wrong with "Anything Else." Jason Biggs halts his speech more than Jerry Stiller after root canal surgery, and often looks blankly off-camera like he’s after a batch of pastries to hump. His girlfriend, Christina Ricci, seemingly cast to type as a pathological neurotic with body dysmorphia and an “offbeat sexual quality,” is largely awful too. Only Stockard Channing‘s Paula -- an outrageously volatile former interior designer desperate for Biggs to write her new “nightclub act” – can inject this leaden affair with any life. A couple of one-liners fly by (“I should have known something was wrong on the wedding night when her family danced around my table chanting, 'We will make him one of us!'”), but Allen casts himself as reckless, apocalyptic grouch who drops in for random acts of opprobrium about rampant anti-Semitism, the meaninglessness of our daily existence, and is prone to increasing acts of violence against suedeheads that give him grief. Far from perfect, the film’s unrelenting and mirthless post-911 anhendonia is nonetheless compelling; one of Allen’s angriest films that uses the futility of romance as a sideshow to flirt with what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk.” Simultaneously flawed and underestimated. [C+]

“Melinda and Melinda” (2005)
Conceptually, “Melinda and Melinda” is a charming doodle – the titular character (played by the perpetually underrated Radha Mitchell) goes through mirrored storylines, both romantic, with one played as a comedy, while the other is a tragedy. So far, so good, right? Well, it’s much more tedious than it sounds, and besides some occasionally sparkly performances (Will Ferrell makes a better Woody Allen surrogate than you’d think, his nervous tics blown to oversized proportions), it’s mostly a drag. Before the second half of the movie concludes, you’ve already grown weary of its conceptual trappings, and the rest is just sort of boring, this despite supporting turns by Amanda Peet, Steve Carell and, in the rare instance of an ethnic actor in a Woody Allen movie, the wonderful Chiwetel Ejiofor. His velvety smooth performance is almost enough to save this movie from banality. We said almost. Fun fact: the Ferrell and Mitchell characters were written for Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder, both of whom were uninsurable at the time. [C+]

“Match Point” (2005)
Woody Allen's first foray into Europe in 2005 marked a decidedly different kind of Woody Allen movie, demonstrating that he could come out of his wheelhouse and deliver a straight up, juicy genre sexual thriller. It's also a relief that Allen's hyperneurotic id has no direct stand-in here -- of course it is present in the themes of sex, infidelity and control, but there's no Allen himself fretting and pondering out loud, just the dangerously sensual Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. As opposed to Allen, who as a performer wears everything on his sleeve, Rhys-Meyers is a placid lake simmering with sex and intrigue right below the surface. The audience never knows what he's going to do, and the actor achieves a performance that leads us to believe he doesn't know what he's going to either, until the moment he does it. Allen creates a world filled with beauty and money and class that never feels comfortable -- there is a constant tension vibrating throughout. Some have muttered about Scarlett Johansson's performance, but she's ideal for the beautiful, fragile vessel on which Rhys-Meyers' Chris projects his visions and fantasies of another life. Emily Mortimer and Matthew Goode are excellent as the foils to the leads, but this is Rhys-Meyers' film; he's rarely been as good. While some may argue it's the poor man's version of "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (and they might not be totally off base) Allen skillfully creates such a taut suspension in "Match Point" that it isn't until the credits roll that you remember to breathe. [B+]

“Scoop” (2006)
Coming after what many considered a late-career triumph in “Match Point,” most with short memories were disheartened to see Allen return to madcap slapstick. And while the story -- involving a junior reporter tailing a handsome potential serial killer thanks to clues from a ghost -- seems pretty slinky, “Scoop” is actually surprisingly winning. Among Allen’s films, there haven’t been a more attractive pairing than Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman, and Johansson’s beleaguered, somewhat dimwitted turn is matched in comic anarchy from a spirited supporting turn by Allen as a likely-doomed magician. “Scoop” never feels like there’s a clean balance between the chaotic supernatural elements of the story and the main serial killer narrative, but the whodunnit structure is carried by the comic work from the strong cast and Allen’s light, typically-bouncy direction. [B-]

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20 Comments

  • surendra bhana | November 22, 2011 5:46 PMReply

    Why are there no black people in his movies. Is he a racist?

  • Eric | May 25, 2011 11:48 AMReply

    Match Point needs to be a straight A.

    VCB is definitely A-, and is not an overrated film by any means. Great script full of twists, and spectacular performances by Cruz and Hall. One of his best latter-day films.

  • Ivan | May 21, 2011 10:44 AMReply

    @Leah Zak: I was being sarcastic, Judy Davis never won an Oscar, though she was nominated twice.

    Best Actress in a Supporting Role (for 1992)
    WINNER
    Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny)
    NOMINEES
    Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives)
    Joan Plowright (Enchanted April)
    Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End)
    Miranda Richardson (Damage)

  • Billyboy | May 21, 2011 5:03 AMReply

    This (excellent) retrospective should remind us how underrated Allen is as an american artist. In 50 years (hopefully less) people will look back and be amazed by how a man produced a film a year for almost 40 years with complete artistic freedom and a highly decent output.

    In my book, Allen has only made one truly bad film. And that's Scoop. Awful film. He even described it as a "kleenex of a film."

  • Stuart Ian Burns | May 21, 2011 3:10 AMReply

    Here's the thing about Melinda and Melinda.

    When I was reviewing Hitchcock’s career, and reached his final film, Family Plot, I registered disappointment that it wasn't a “summation” that it didn’t gather together his old motifs, underscore what he was trying to do with film. What I’d failed to notice was that he already had with North By Northwest with its wrong man plot, insignificant mcguffins and Cary Grant; everything after that was atypical.

    Rewatching Melinda and Melinda, his final New York film before visiting Europe, I had the same vibe; at the end of a five picture deal with Dreamworks, it’s almost as though he’d assumed he might not be making another film in New York and so he’d decided to underline everything he’d done before, like a story arc reaching its emotional crescendo.

    Which is why everything seems so familiar – it’s deliberately so. I thought that tragic Melinda –- hereafter known as Melinda-T -- reminded me of Judy Davis (on reflection eerily so) – she’s being written that way. In that story, Chloe Sevigny is playing the Mia role with Johnny Lee Miller filling in for the likes of Gene Hackman or Sam Waterson. Comedy Melinda – hereafter known as Melinda-C -- is playing the Mia role in that story, with Will Ferrell as Woody, Amanda Peet as Diane Keaton and the role of the dentist would clearly have been picked up by Tony Roberts. Woody’s conjuring the ghosts of his past, but he’s a good enough scriptwriter to be able to evoke this without having to give too much direction.

    But there are also structural and visual repetitions. The comedy/tragedy two-story aspect appears in countless of his films, some I realise now more subtly than others. It’s in both Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives, though the levels are far closer and more subtle than in Crimes and Misdemeanours. Melinda and Melinda is the first to name and make them specific. Melinda-T even talks about the kind of premeditated murder perpetrated in Crimes. Melinda-C is lured out to the Hampton’s as happens in Annie Hall. Woody has also had specific geographic locations in mind when doing comedy and drama as though it depends on which side of his little speck of New York you live on as to how you’re life is likely to unfold.

    He also makes plain his tendency to use jazz for comedy, classical for drama even to the point up including the switcheroo over the opening and closing titles. And almost all of the music either on track or at least composer level has appeared in one of his previous films, with Duke Ellington as his signature composer. He even seems to homage When Harry Met Sally by employing Ellington’s version of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore which featured so prominently in Reiner’s film (with an added note that when that scene on the side walk happened I had a lump in my throat). Now it’s easy to suggest that this is simply Woody running out of ideas, going over old ground. But they’re too pronounced for them to be simple recycling or coincidence; even after the fumbling Hollywood Ending he’s clearly too engaged with the process for all of these decision not to be deliberate signs.

  • The Playlist | May 21, 2011 2:43 AMReply

    BTW, lots of this is subjective. To ME?

    The only films here of much value are
    - Shadows and Fog
    - Husbands and Wives (which i would grade as an A)
    - Bullets Over Broadway
    - Mighty Aphrodite (slight, but still enjoyable)
    - Sweet and Lowdown (A)
    - Everyone Says I Love You

    and for less, hey, this ain't so bad for late Woody, Match Point and Vicky Cristina.

    Many of these, i personally find awful or completely forgettable like Whatever Works.

    But again, subjective.

  • Erik | May 21, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    Guess I'll be the odd one out to defend Cassandra's Dream. It's true that the last scene is anticlimactic and that it came out a little too soon after Match Point, which was similar in quite a few ways, but I think that in itself it's a very decent, underrated flick. Colin Farrell's role is great, Tom Wilkinson is brilliant in it, and Sally Hawkins very charming in her minor part. It's also more clever than people give it credit for. It's definitely no top tier Woody or anything, but for me, it's not deserving of any scorn.

  • Leah Zak | May 21, 2011 2:28 AMReply

    @Ivan - She won for "My Cousin Vinny" which was released in 1992, but she won at the 93 Oscars

  • The Playlist | May 21, 2011 2:25 AMReply

    My bad on Davis. I had like three windows open of Woody films and their awards and i goofed. Apologies.

  • Ivan | May 21, 2011 1:13 AMReply

    I always thought Marisa Tomei won an oscar for best supporting actress in 1992, Was I wrong?

  • Cory Everett | May 20, 2011 12:42 PMReply

    Didn't hate "Cassandra's Dream" but think that "Anything Else" is by far the worst film in Allen's career, followed closely by "Whatever Works" (and "Small Time Crooks").

  • Howie A. | May 20, 2011 12:30 PMReply

    Looking through this list of Allen's later works, I was surprised how many of there films were strong films. One of the more comical assertions is that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is overrated when this is a sublime entertainment - a film winning in every conceivable way and a heck of a lot smarter than many give it credit for. I cannot think of a more beguiling romantic comedy over the last decade yet one with a slightly and just right bitter edge. Allen's film output in the 90's only has two losers - Shadows and Fog; Celebrity.

    It is the 2000's that hurt his rep a bit. Match Point is superb as is the aforementioned Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Scoop is utterly enjoyable and I am still perplexed on the reception by critics to that one. Whatever Works does contain one of the most underrated comic performances of the last decade by Evan Rachel Wood while You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger has several good performances. Small Time Crooks is funny. The rest, having not seen Midnight In Paris, is very weak. Still I look forward to this guy's films. Because coming out of the winners, such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, just makes one feel they are seeing a genius at work.

  • James | May 20, 2011 11:45 AMReply

    I figured if this is a "complete" retrospective, "Don't Drink The Water" definitely needs to be there:)

  • James | May 20, 2011 11:44 AMReply

    You left out one of my favorites. "Don't Drink the Water" - 1994

    It's true it was made for TV, but it's a proper Woody Allen feature film in every respect. He wrote, directed and stars in it. It has the signature white-on-black titles, everything.

    Great cast, and some of my favorite Allen one-liners.

  • Christopher Bell | May 20, 2011 11:33 AMReply

    Glad that whoever wrote up "Vicky Christina" kept it real - that was way overrated when it was first released. Definitely solid but by no means as good as many made it out to be.

  • Drew | May 20, 2011 10:42 AMReply

    "Cassandra's Dream" was fucking miserable, no matter who they were trying to kill. Nothing will ever top that final scene for pure awfulness.

  • rotch | May 20, 2011 10:05 AMReply

    I couldn't agree more with Cassandra's Dream being the worst movie on Allen's filmography. That movie blows.

  • I liked Melinda and Melinda | May 20, 2011 9:26 AMReply

    I wish I could read something about Woody Allen without having to hear about "a movie a year" and "his past decade not being as good" or whatever. It's like a legal obligation that every single review of his movies or article on him has to have a statement like this. We know.

  • James D. | May 20, 2011 9:23 AMReply

    They weren't killing their uncle in Cassandra's Dream. They were killing someone who threatened to expose him, and were being paid by that uncle.

  • Rudy | May 20, 2011 8:58 AMReply

    The Playlist should do more retrospectives :D I enjoyed this

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