Woody Allen is 78 today.
I don’t think anyone will ever beat him in terms of making SO many movies of such a high caliber over the course of a career. From 1969 to the mid-90s, he made roughly one movie a year— dramas, slapstick comedies, romantic comedies, faux documentaries, period pieces, dark satires and a musical— and even though they were all different, they were all clearly Woody Allen films.
1969: Take the Money and Run
What a debut. Amazing.
1972: Play It Again, Sam
Not directed by Woody, but based on his play, and it sets the template for most of his comedies once he stops doing gag-a-minute movies and moves on to “relationship” comedies.
1972: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask
Hit-and-miss, but Gene Wilder single-handedly makes this film essential viewing.
Sharper and funnier than his first three, amazingly.
1975: Love and Death
The last of what would be thought of as his “early, funny ones” is broad and crazy but the sophistication of this one hints at the more ambitious turn his career is about to take.
1977: Annie Hall
Without Play It Again, Sam, this would have been even more of an astonishing twist. Who would have guessed, prior to this, that Woody had a film like this in him?
HOLY SHIT. Some people hate this one, and it IS a little bit dry, but it’s still really good. A stone cold drama, harsh and painful and not even a note of music in the credits. Easy to make fun of it, but Jesus Christ it is a good movie if you like this sort of thing.
Woody hated this one so much he offered to make another movie for free if the studio would destroy the negatives. They declined his offer, which is great because he still has no idea how great this film is. Features him dating an underage girl, which, YES, is awkward.
1980: Stardust Memories
A great one that people hated at the time. Three films into his “serious” career and he’s already ripping off Fellini and satirizing his early work.
1982: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
I haven’t watched this one much. As trifles go, it’s not bad. It looks great but is maybe less charming than it should be? I can’t remember it that well so I’m not solid in my opinion.
Perfection. Forrest Gump tried to do a lot of the things that this film does, but I like this film better.
1984: Broadway Danny Rose
Another Perfect Film. Black & White Comedy about Woody Allen as a Personal Manager for a womanizing Italian singer, with Mia Farrow in a career-best performance and one of the most devastatingly effective endings to any movie I can think of.
1985: The Purple Rose of Cairo
Jesus Christ, ANOTHER PERFECT MOVIE with another perfect ending. Studio to Allen: “Can’t you give it a happy ending?” Allen to Studio: “This IS the happy ending.”
1986: Hannah and her Sisters
Maybe my favorite Woody Allen film, if I’m forced to choose. So YES, that’s four perfect films in a row, over the course of 4 years, and they’re all wildly different from one another.
1987: Radio Days
I’m inclined to call this one perfect, too. No overall plot, just a bunch of stories about growing up in the Golden Age Of Radio. Charming beyond belief.
His second full-on drama is like a Chekhov play on film. He actually filmed the whole thing twice, and the first version had a substantially different cast. Sam Shepard was in it instead of Sam Waterston. Christopher Walken was in it for about a week before he and Woody agreed he wasn’t working out in the role. Mia Farrow’s mom was replaced with Elaine Stritch. What happened to the fully-edited first version of the film? He threw it out!
This movie is really good. It has one bad line it, but other than that, the performances are outstanding and it all builds to a really effective ending.
1988: Another Woman
I think this is his best full-on drama. Gena Rowland is amazing in it. Seek out this one if you haven’t seen it.
1989: New York Stories
Back to Comedy. Woody’s segment is fun but not great. (Scorsese’s is the best part of this anthology film.)
1989: Crimes and Misdemeanors
A masterpiece. Perfect, and maybe his most successful Comedy/Drama hybrid.
Fantastical and fun.
1991: Shadows and Fog
Oof, I’m not wild about this one. It looks beautiful and is ambitious but I’m not crazy about it.
1992: Husbands and Wives
Great. GREAT. So painful it hurts to watch it.
1993: Manhattan Murder Mystery
One of my all-time favorites. It’s just FUN.
1994: Don’t Drink The Water
Haven’t heard of this one? He made it for ABC, for network television. It was shot in about 2 weeks. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a legit Woody Allen film, based on his early play, and it is like a fun “bonus” movie. If you suffered through his films of the 00s, do yourself a favor and go find this and watch it, it’s fun.
1994: Bullets Over Broadway
Now we enter a streak of “good” movies that have “great” aspects to them. I think this is a good movie but the idea of the Cheech character is GREAT.
1995: Mighty Aphrodite
Likewise, the Mira Sorvino character in this is great but the movie itself is only so-so.
1996: Everyone Says I Love You
Same here. Lots of good moments but also some stuff I’m not crazy about, like the worst digital effect I’ve ever seen in a professional movie (the dancing ashes in the the funeral scene. You know what I’m talking about, it’s awful, right?)
1997: Deconstructing Harry
Dark and far from perfect but jesus christ this is an ambitious film. And it mostly works.
1997: Wild Man Blues
You can almost see me in this documentary. I saw Woody play jazz in London and they film the audience but the camera misses me by inches. Fun to see “actual” Woody Allen in this, the way he is in real life.
Ambitious and gorgeous to look at but I didn’t like it when I saw it and I haven’t even revisited it.
1999: Sweet and Lowdown
Really great. There’s one whole reel I’d edit out entirely— when the movie leave Sean Penn’s character and spends a few minutes just with Uma Thurman and Brad Garrett— but other than that, this is one of his best films since the early 90s.
2000: Small Time Crooks
A trifle but a good one. I feel bad about taking this one for granted when it came out, because it’s smart and fun, and much better than what was to follow.
2001: The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
i don’t wanna talk about it
2002: Hollywood Ending
i don’t wanna talk about it
2003: Anything Else
i don’t wanna talk about it
2004: Melinda and Melinda
i don’t wanna talk about it
2005: Match Point
Okay this one is good. Not as good as most good Woody Allen movies, but it’s a return to filmmaking competence after several years of bewilderingly bad films.
It has its charms. Maybe I was just being lenient after Match Point, but I think this has good and bad things about it, though it’s definitely in the lower rungs of his body of work.
2007: Cassandra’s Dream
As good as Match Point, I think.
2008: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Hey, this one feels like a REAL Woody Allen film to me. I really like it.
2009: Whatever Works
Not wild about it. A few good jokes but also lots that doesn’t work.
2010: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
This one is maybe the weirdest film of Woody Allen’s entire career. VERY ambitious but also so much that either doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense. I could talk about this one for hours. It’s so weird to me. I feel like if he’d made this film in 1988 it would have been a masterpiece.
2011: Midnight in Paris
Everybody loves this one, and I love it, too. It makes me smile. The fantasy parts work better than the present day “real world” parts do, but that’s okay. There is one joke in this that is so well set-up that it’s astonishing to me.
2012: To Rome With Love
A mixed bag. Some good bits.
2013: Blue Jasmine
Hey, not everything in this works but Blanchett is great and I can forgive a lot of the stuff that doesn’t work because of the level of ambition, and because unlike 2001-2004, I think he is hitting the correct target with most of the stuff he’s attempting.
I feel bad that the last half of this list is kind of bitchy and I don’t like to be that way, but I also didn’t want to not count his last decade. I mean, all streaks come to an end, but even once Woody stops firing on all cylinders, he still has some triumphs in there because he keeps trying, and I think that’s as inspiring as the two decades when almost everything he did worked perfectly.
I agree with pretty much 100% of this. Especially that Hannah & Her Sisters is the best.