Career Achievement Tale of the Tape
It is widely known that film critics tend to espouse lauditory reviews, and thoughtful reverance in discussions surrounding the profound artistic talents, and generational influences of Heywood ‘Woody’ Allen. The evidence to support these laudatory claims are readily accessible, as they span the better part of six (6) decades.
Indeed, Woody Allen’s prolific rise to the rarefied heights of filmmaking legend, is a story woven in a filmography that began with the 1965 theatrical release of the film, ‘What’s New Pussycat‘. In truth, Allen’s filmmaking would grow in-depth as it matured and advanced through time, leaving more than a few films as gifts to his memorial.
Cast of ‘What’s New Pussycat’ (1965)
As the 1970’s dawned, Allen would score notable commercial and critical successes with films such as ‘Bananas’ in 1971, which was perhaps the pinnacle creative example from his early film works. This era can accurately be described as ‘slap-stick’ heavy, clever use of ‘Mise-en-scène’ comedy, in other words, Allen’s Charlie Chaplin- esque era.
By the mid-1970’s Woody Allen had approached the early stages of his prime artistic development, and in 1977 he released what is certainly his most commercially successful and critically revered film, ‘Annie Hall‘. This film arguably stands as his masterwork opus. However the legacy chips may fall, ‘Annie Hall’ is a legendary film with five (5) Academy Awards to its credit, including ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Screenplay’. It’s uniquely quirky, and brilliant. It is in firm possession of the dramatic oddities, and strange complexities, of human romantic entanglements. Woody Allen tackles, with brutal, albeit comedic, honesty the often disjointed journey of modern human relationships. He judiciiusly crafts his unique touch of dramatic melancholy, into an emotional stew dominated by empathetic observations, and comedic understanding. Indeed, thematically speaking, ‘Annie Hall’ remains as poignant and relevant today as it was in the pre-social media era in which it was released.
Following the world-wide success of ‘Annie Hall’, Woody Allen’s film contributions continued in earnest on though the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. Notable among the efforts of this era, is the dazzling, thematically profound cinematography that is the hallmark of the 1979 release of ‘Manhattan’. A remarkable filmmaking effort and achievement that was followed by a string of classic films:‘A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy’ in 1982, ‘Broadway Danny Rose’ in 1984, ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ in 1986, and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanor’s in 1989.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
By the 1990’s the artistic gravity of Woody Allen’s body of work was common knowledge, yet Allen continued the prolific filmmaking pace that he had established through dogged persistence. The last decade of the 20th century saw the thematic trajectory of Allen’s stories continued to break ground, test established boundaries, and dare convention. Indeed, Allen’s ‘maverick’ filmmaking was accomplished with his unique literary script writing style, in seamless union with the best acting talent that Hollywood had available at any given moment throughout the decade.
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Among his more notable films during this era were the likes of the 1992 release of ‘Husbands and Wives’, which was followed by the vastly underrated, undercover outstanding release of the comedy/drama/mystery ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ in 1993, the second film in a succession of a half-dozen commercial hits that rounded out the end of the decade, and the 20th century. Included in this grouping, ‘Bullets over Broadway’ in 1994, ‘Mighty Aphrodite’ in 1995, ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ in 1996, and the star-studded ensemble cast involved in the acerbically witted, cleverly hilarious, ‘Deconstructing Harry’ released in 1997.
Compelling Case for Comedic Genius
It could be argued quite successfully, that in recent years, certain terms in our modern American lexicon have fallen victim to the villainous nature of vocabulary molestation. Among the dynamism of American pop culture exists has a predilection towards the overuse and abject bastardazation of certain popular terms. To wit, the rampant victimization of the term ‘genius’. The misappropriation of this word stands as the archetype example … of the debilitating nature of vocabulary fatigue. That said, true genius is consequential and imbued with a nature of transcendence that has aided in humanities advancement throughout our history. Now that issues of lexicon perversions have been ‘duly noted’, the contextual stage is now set for an American Pop coronation of the true artistic genius. Specifically, and for your consideration, we submit our editor’s select catalog of 10 legendary comedy films that highlight the transcendent talents of filmmaker Heywood ‘Woody’ Allen.
Q: “Have you ever taken a serious political stand on anything?”
A: “Yes, for twenty-four hours I refused to eat grapes.”
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Marya Small, Susan Miller
Production Budget: $2 Million Box Office Gross: $18.4 Million
The 1973 release of ‘Sleeper’ marked Woody Allen’s 5th written and directed film in seven years and the 7th film in that time in which he was credited as a screenwriter and/or actor. Indeed the early 1970’s saw Allen set the tone for the consistency of work that has been a hallmark of his career. In addition, ‘Sleeper’ marked the very first director/actor collaboration between Allen and the wonderfully engaging talents of Diane Keaton. The comedic impact of this film is classic Woody Allen of the era, which is to say zany, irreverent and laced with deftly clever, just south of ‘on the nose’ gags. That being stated, this film also demonstrates a move towards increased thematic maturity. Frankly speaking however, only as much ‘maturity’ that a plot about a health food store proprietor who becomes cryogenically frozen after falling into a barrel of liquid nitrogen, who then regains consciousness 200 years in the future … can be realistically assumed, or expected. In ‘Sleeper’ audiences found familiar romantic themes, albeit laced with Allen’s trademark quirky delivery, accompanied by a dedication to melancholy. Allen’s gift for telling stories of romantic jeopardy typically come factory equipped with the square dancing partner of melancholy perspective.
‘Sleeper’ was produced in 1972 for the modest sum of $2 million. The Woody Allen directed and Marshall Brickman co-written, science fiction comedy, enjoyed critical success, in particular, Allen’s ‘robot butler’ character bringing a silent film throwback quality to the screen, a performance which demanded consideration as legendarily hilarious. In addition, critics remarked on the deft coherence of Allen’s progressive plot discipline, which duly impressed overall. These artistic bona fides however, were of ancillary concern for the film’s distributor United Artists. Their primary concern for ‘Sleeper‘ could be found in the film’s bottom line accounting. On that score, the results were serendipitous for the studio as well as for Allen, as ‘Sleeper’ was a bona fide commercial success by any reasonable metric, turning in box office gross receipts that exceeded $18 million. Hollywood movie studios have been known to throw joyous parties when ‘small films’ make ‘big money’.
In 1973 ‘Sleeper‘ was honored with a Hugo Award for ‘Best Dramatic Presentation’ at the 32nd World Science Fiction Convention, in Washington, D.C. In the year 2000, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked ‘Sleeper’ as #80 on its ‘100 Years…100 Laughs’ comedy films list
Divorce Court Judge: “The defendant did commit an adulterous act with a sheep … most distasteful in view of the fact that the sheep was under 18 years old…”
Cast: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, John Carradine, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Lynn Redgrave, Regis Philbin
Production Budget: $2 Million Box Office Gross: $18.1 Million
This 1972 comedy is Woody Allen’s 4th directorial effort. It boasts of an unusual for feature films, a plot layout that consists of seven ‘vignettes’, otherwise known as a series of short film segments and/or sequences. This film was inspired by the best-selling novel by Dr. David Reuben, which shares the same (obnoxiously long) title. Indeed, ‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex’ stands as Woody Allen’s first commercial hit. With a production budget of $2 million, it went on to earn a box-office gross that exceeded $18 million in the United States alone. For the year 1972, ‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex’ earned the 13th highest film gross.
‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex’ is a compilation of seven raunchy themed sketches. This film has enjoyed cult status longevity that has catapulted it to legendary popularity. It was a ‘Top 10’ grossing film in 1972, the year of its release. Several of the vignettes are forever engrained in the history of film comedy. A. Italian cinema spoof. B. Science-fiction scene where Woody Allen portrays a sperm … on date night. C. Perhaps the most memorable is Gene Wilder’s illicit love affair … with a sheep.
‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex’ is at the same time Woody Allen’s most comically absurd film in his career, and also one of the funniest. Who knew?
Nancy: “You’re immature, Fielding.”
Fielding: “How am I immature?”
Nancy: “Well, emotionally, sexually, and intellectually…”
Fielding: “Yeah … but what other ways?”
Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban, Howard Cosell
Production Budget: $2 Million Box Office: $11.8 Million
1971’s ‘Bananas’ is Woody Allen’s 3rd directorial effort, and stands as his first notable commercial success. From the opening sequence which featured the legendary Howard Cossell attempting to interview the President of a fictional ‘Banana Republic’, called San Marcos. Cossell gets to the fallen President by fighting his way through the crowd by screaming ‘Please, make way, this is American television’ immediately following his being shot, and seconds before he expires, becoming a victim assassination. This scene is pure hilarity. This relentlessly quirky, humor laden screenplay was co-written by Mickey Rose, and Allen. It serves as an early example of Woody Allen’s clever use of situational absurdity to garner laughs. A method that works well in ‘Bananas’, and will become a hallmark of Allen’s early film efforts. This film is laden with physical gag comedy that fans the ‘Three Stooges’ and/or the ‘Marx Brothers‘, will not only recognize, but greatly appreciate.
Passing audiences and fans alike will undoubtedly never forget the hopelessly neurotic, step stumbling, conversation bumbling, and slightly pathetic stylings of ‘Fielding Mellish’ (played by Allen). Nor, are they likely to forget the absurdity of the comical gags throughout ‘Bananas’. Woody Allen filmed this movie on location in his beloved New York City, as well as the jungles of Lima, Peru, along with some shooting in Puerto Rico. The plot is simplistic, yet effective. We follow the life and times of ‘Fielding Mellish’ as he tries to woo a remarkably naive political activist, ‘Nancy’ (played brilliantly by Louise Lasser). After being rejected, a lovelorn Mellish travels to the fictional Central American country of San Marcos, where he inadvertently becomes involved with insurgent rebels and their revolutionary quest in San Marcos.
‘Bananas’ received critical acclaim and stands at the #78 position on Bravo Entertainment’s “100 Funniest Movies”. It is also ranked at #69 on American Film Institute’ (AFI) ‘100 Years…100 Laughs’.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “There’s nothing wrong with science … Ya know? Between air-conditioning and the Pope – I’ll take air-conditioning.” – Harry Block
Ensemble Cast: Woody Allen, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Hazelle Goodman, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Julie Kavner, Eric Lloyd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams
Production Budget: $20 Million Box Office Gross: $10.6 Million
‘Deconstructing Harry’ stands as Woody Allen’s largest and most ambitious ensemble cast. Including Allen, this film can boast the appearance of over a dozen Hollywood stars, including but not limited to the likes of, Billy Crytal, Robin Williams, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Shue, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci. There is no shortage of humor in this film which employs the use of flashback sequences as a tool for exposition, and Allen’s clever use of imaginative, humorously surreal story elements such as Robin William’s character suffering from a presumably stress induced affliction which renders him quite literally ‘out of focus’, is nothing if not classic Woody Allen.
Robin Williams Afflicted by strange medical condition known as ‘out of focus’
‘Deconstructing Harry’ involves a plot in which the protagonist novelist ‘Harry Block’, played by Allen, and his road trip to receive an honorary degree from a university, from which he was expelled decades earlier. At issue is the fact that he has effectively kidnapped his son to accompany him. The film’s thematic plot is jump started with ‘Harry Block’, being confronted by an infuriated ‘Lucy’, played by Judy Davis. ‘Lucy’ has taken significant issue with Block’s thinly disguised reference to their illicit affair. As the film progresses, her emotional instability builds to a violent crescendo, in which Judy changes her intentions from suicide to murder.
Billy Crystal and Elizabeth Shue chopping it up with Woody Allen
Harry Block’s flashbacks to scenes from his life and those of his fictional characters which help explain his predilection for alienating the people in his life, are expressed with comedy sketch sensibilities, and on occasion, are uproariously hilarious. Although ‘Deconstructing Harry’ was met with lukewarm critical reviews, and was technically a box-office disappointment, American Pop feels that this film is honest, clever, and at times delivers moments of pure hilarity. Overall, it’s perhaps the most severely underrated ensemble cast comedy in recent memory.
Demi Moore as serial promiscuous therapist. Stanley Tucci as her next conquest.
Woody Allen dealing with Judy Davis’s escalating volatility.
Writer/Director Woody Allen earned an Academy Award Nomination for ‘Best Screenplay – Comedy’, and ‘Deconstructing Harry’, was acknowledged with a nomination for ‘Best Motion Picture – Comedy’ at the ‘Satellite Awards’.
Harry Block (Woody Allen) ponders his soul’s estimated proximity to hell.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: (1) “My life is passing before my eyes. The worst part about it is that I’m driving a used car.” (2) “I think it’s reasonable to assume that if you’re dead you don’t suddenly turn up in the New York City Transit System.” – Larry Lipton
Cast: Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Diane Keaton
Production Budget: $13.5 Million Box Office Gross: $11.3 Million
Who doesn’t love a great murder mystery? Exactly. 1993’s ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ is Woody Allen’s proverbial hat in the ring, comedic laced foray into the murder mystery film game. It stands as a very good effort, and a strong achievement.’Manhattan Mystery’ has a delightfully strong cast, which as is Allen’s modus operandi has no weak link or uneven performances. Then again with a cast which consists of the ‘set your watch’ by her excellence, Diane Keaton, the always engaging presence of Anjelica Huston, and the rock star stylings of Alan Alda, how can you miss? That was of course a rhetorical question. Besides Woody Allen, who is well, Woody Allen, in ‘Manhattan Murder’, the other ubiquitous cast member is the city of New York itself. Perhaps no other director has been as meticulous and consistent, in making New York City more than a setting, but a perfectly [positioned featured extra
Thematically ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery‘ is a ‘We think there’s been a murder, but we’re not sure” … mystery. In terms of plot. it revolves around the jeopardy that can manifest when a married couple of with a knowsy habit, find themselves in a Jimmy Stewart with Grace Kelly in ‘Rear Window-esque” scenario. Indeed, Allen’s wife played by Diane Keaton decides to try her hand at gum-shoe detective investigative, while Allen’s character is initially reluctant, he finds motivation in not losing his wife to Alan Alda’s character, who naturally, is more than happy to humor Keaton’s whims. But are they really whims? Keaton begins to investigates the death of their neighbor’s wife that she finds to be very suspicious, then things get weird-er.
Released in August of 1993, ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery‘ marks Woody Allen’s first film following the highly publicized, controversial, definitely acrimonious dissolution of his relationship with long time girlfriend and mother of his children, Mia Farrow. In fact, Woody Allen gathered this cast of old friends and collaborators as much for their individual talents, as the fact that he needed to be around friends who he trusted and could serve as a support system. Clearly, this confluence of human circumstance made manifest a wonderful example of comedic filmmaking.
‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ was widely praised and was honored with a nomination for ‘Best Foreign Film’ at the 1994 Saturn Awards.
Diane Keaton’s performance was praised by critics and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy’. Anjelica Huston’s performance was also acknowledged with a nomination for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’ at the 48th annual British Academy of Film Awards.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “I need a Valium the size of a hockey puck.” – Danny Rose
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte, Jack Rollins, Milton Berle, Howard Cosell, Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle
Production Budget: $8 Million Box Office Gross: $10.7 Million
Full disclosure, American Pop has a fondness for black and white films, and when those films are Woody Allen black and whites, such as his 1984 dark comedy ‘Broadway Danny Rose‘, it’s all for the better. Indeed, ‘Danny Rose’ fits the romantic comedy bill nicely, as it sits in the middle of our countdown at #5. Woody Allen’s scribed and helmed film, is a clever yarn about a clumsy, 3rd rate theatrical agent, who fumbles his way into a love triangle severely complicated with mob ties. ‘Danny Rose’ has Allen sharing screen time across from his real life ex-girlfriend about 8 years before that relationship disintegrated in controversial and very public fashion.
Admittedly Allen’s Danny Rose character has the fashion sense of a deceased armadillo, but there is always humor to be found with it. However, one need not look far for hilarity in this film. Indeed, Woody Allen puts forth one of his funniest individual performances as Danny Rose, who espouses just the right amount of clever snark, melancholy, and self-deprecating humor to endear the character to the heart-strings of the audience, filed under ‘poor guy’. The bottom line is that Allen is great in this film. Similar can be observed of Mia Farrow’s character, but for different reasons, her’s is the beautifully played emotionally conflicted ‘normal ‘ woman and/or ‘moll’, who uses her quick-witted mouth and snarky delivery as a defense mechanism.
Broadway Danny Rose was screened at the 1984 iteration of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Both Woody Allen and Mia Farrow received positive notices for their respective performances. Indeed, Broadway Danny Rose is a well-balanced comedy with remarkable instances of humor. There is comedy is deftly woven into scenes, and many will take you by surprise.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “And so I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Actually, make that “I run through the valley of the shadow of death” … in order to get OUT of the valley of the shadow of death more quickly, you see.” – Boris
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, James Tolkan, Harold Gould
Production Budget: $3 MillionBox Office Gross: $20 Million
The tremendous commercial success of 1975’s ‘Love and Death’ was a legitimate surprise. It out performed Woody Allen’s 1972 hit ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex’ by several million. This film plays as a satirical comedy thematically placed in the relative obscurity of turn of the century Russian countryside under Napoleonic rule. This film is as unconventional as it is funny. Allen dresses a series of tongue in cheek absurdities into an assumed realm of philosophy that begs more questions than it answers. ‘Love and Death’ marked Allen’s 6th directorial effort and second notable commercial success in a row.
‘Love and Death’s’ plot is focused around the films’ protagonist Boris Grushenko, a cowardly man with pacifist leanings, played by Allen. Boris enlists in the Napoleonic Wars due to his forlorn love of his 2nd cousin, Sonja, played by the always wonderful Diane Keaton, who for her part doesn’t actually want to be with Boris, but since Boris somehow managed to become a war hero, he feels he is back in the running, especially after learning that Sonja is recently widowed. Sonja humors him but is buying time until Boris’s scheduled duel, which she assumes he will lose, thus letting her off the proverbial hook. So it goes with ‘Love and Death’. It’s delightfully funny.
Film production for ‘Love and Death’ at times bordered on disaster. It was filmed on location in the European countries of France and Hungary, Director Allen was cursed with a litany of small problems and a few that were bigger. To wit, Woody Allen found himself was stymied by poor weather and communications, injuries, camera problems, and even bouts with food poisoning. Nevertheless, out of the ashes sprung a film that grossed $20 million in the United States on a production budget of $3 million. To wit, ‘Love and Death’ was the 18th highest grossing film of 1975. Additionally, ‘Love an Death’ was honored with the ‘Silver Bear Award’ (Outstanding Artistic Contribution)
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “After fifteen minutes I wanted to marry her, and after half an hour I completely gave up the idea of stealing her purse.” – Virgil Starkwell
Cast: Woody Allen, Janet Margolin, Louise Lasser
Production Budget: $1.5 Million Box Office Gross: $3 Million (DVD, Rentals)
‘Take the Money and Run’ was released in the United States in 1969 amidst a backdrop of tumultuous social unrest. Indeed, while the air inside American movie theaters was air-conditioned cool, the air outside was heavy. Many urban American streets were pregnant with sociopolitical turmoil and latent unrest. So, it is reasonable to assume that American film audiences probably weren’t averse to the notion of a brief distraction in an effort to get a good laugh. Without reasonable question ‘Take the Money and Run’ was more than up to fulfilling that need and/or unspoken request. Using comedic dialogue such as this now famous quote: “This is a bank robbery … not a movie”, and a plot that draws audience into the scatter-brained bowels of a hair brained, get rich quick scheme, which is the latest in a series of ill-advised capers instigated by the film’s ne’er-do-well protagonist, Virgil Starkwell. Who for his part is a low rent serial crook. This quirky character is deftly played by Woody Allen himself. This film is widely considered to be an early Woody Allen classic. It was bursting at the seams with physical comedy, absurd gags, and flirtations with comedic neo realism. ‘Take the Money’ was Woody Allen’s 2nd directorial effort, a fact which becomes evident as Allen’s plot cohesiveness plays slightly disjointed, and its overall maturity, although quite good, is clearly raw, especially in comparison to his later efforts.
Upon viewing ‘Take the Money’ it is clear that although Woody Allen’s comedic genius was still in its infancy, his promise was palpable and fed into anticipation for his future efforts. This is a film armed to the teeth with a profoundly comedic array of physical situational gags, clever double entendre, and witty one-liners as it meanders through the mechanisms of an ill-advised bank robbery caper. Thematically, ‘Take the Money and Run’ combines bio-pic elements with the use of comic absurdly, specifically, outlandish slap-stick comedy. It serves as a good example of Allen’s penchant for finding the clever parts of silliness.
In a litany of observable ways, ‘Take the Money and Run’ served to put Hollywood on notice that Woody Allen was a burgeoning comedic filmmaking force. It also laid initial claim to cult classic status that it continues to enjoy today. As a whole, ‘Take the Money and Run’ plays with ‘Three Stooges’ style ridiculousness, and is laced with ‘Marx Brothers’ brilliance. The mantle of its laudatory achievements includes a Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award Nomination for ‘Best Screen Written Comedy’ (Woody Allen and Mickey Rose). Placed right beside that recognition is its placement on multiple American Film Institute (AFI) ‘All-Time Best’ lists, including: the 66th position on AFI’s ‘100 Years…100 Laughs’ in the year 2000, followed by a 2005 listing on AFI’s ‘100 Years…100 Movie Quotes‘, a bestowed honor which comes as little surprise.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “Oh really … he was a genius? Helen’s a genius. Dennis is a genius. You know a lot of geniuses, ya’ know? … You should meet some stupid people once in a while … you could learn something.” – Issac Davis
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, Anne Byrne / Music: George Gershwin
Production Budget: $9 Million Box Office Gross: $40 Million
Opening night was the Springtime evening of April 25th, 1979. The air in the city was heavy with anticipation, as the souls discerning New York City film audiences were ravenous with anticipation. It was a hunger that was serendipitously nourished, almost immediately after the theatre curtains lifted and the film reel began to roll. It was at this point that the truly sublime combination of the sensational efforts of cinematographer Gordon Willis and his flawless, 2.35:1 (ratio) black and white widescreen photography, and the sublime blending of George Gershwin’s musical symphony, and Woody Allen’s vision of cinematic brilliance, coalesced into an amorous ode to the ‘city that never sleeps’. Indeed, audiences in 1979 and in the decades since, have marveled at the now legendary opening sequence of Woody Allen’s 10th directorial effort ‘Manhattan’. Aesthetically, cinematic lighting, shading, and powerful thematic music of the film’s opening scene serves as a wistful reminder of the city’s ubiquitous beauty through the lens of halcyon days past. The depth of field in each successive photograph is ubiquitously enamored with the Big Apple’s idiosyncratic detail. The textured black and white photography continues to leave many fans breathless. Snapshots of the eternally dynamic cityscape manifests feelings of nostalgic rendition. Woody Allen’s cinematic vision frolics in league with George Gershwin’s transcendent musical arrangement in ways that insists the world at-large be swept off its rotational axis, as a symptom of New York City love. The exquisite accompaniment of George Gershwin’s eternal ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, critically serves dual purposes, the first as immaculate cinematic accomplice, the other the ethereal mystical. To wit, the perfection of this particular union between film and music begs possibilities of either Gershwin’s prescience in originally composing ‘Rhapsody’ in 1924, some 55 years prior, or Woody Allen’s endless adoration of both New York City and of George Gershwin.
‘Manhattan’ is another fine example of the outstanding creatively transactional collaboration between Woody Allen and Producer Charles H. Joffe. The screenplay was the third of a wonderful of four, in which screenwriter Marshall Brickman collaborated with Allen throughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The Brickman/Allen screenwriting tandem historically has had the proverbial ‘midas touch’. The most notable example was their critically acclaimed, transcendent work on 1977’s surprise hit film ‘Annie Hall‘, for which they captured an Oscar at the Academy Awards for ‘Best Original Screenplay’. Woody Allen’s film catalog is nothing if not imbued with romantically themed stories that address the complexities, and absurdities, of the human condition, using Allen’s anxiously colored, melancholy tinted brand of humor. Thematically, ‘Manhattan’ is no different, yet stands alone, firmly on its exceptional creativity.
As with virtually all of Woody Allen’s films the acting performances are predictably exceptional, even though the casting is often just as predictable. The talent can boast of an Academy Award Nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ earned by a remarkably young Mariel Hemingway,who plays the naively lovelorn 17-year-old girlfriend to Allen’s 42-year-old, twice divorced comedy writer, Isaac Davis character. For his part, Issac Davis inconveniently falls in love with his best friend’s (Michael Murphy) convenient, albeit emotionally conflicted mistress, played by Diane Keaton, who for her part, delivers another talent defining, emotionally textured, compelling performance. In addition, and not surprising, It should come as no surprise that Meryl Streep returned another top of her game performance, despite the relatively limited exposure of her supporting role as Issac Davis’s vindictive ex-wife, Jill Davis.
True to the gravity of its namesake,‘Manhattan’is both a wonderful location and film. Was Woody Allen serenading the consequential mystique of the city he loves? Or was his intention to tell a multi-layered love story using the backdrop of New York City on a cinematic post card? The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter. ‘Manhattan’ dares you not to love its grit, as much you adore it’s glamour. The good news is that while Woody Allen always gives his audiences the best odds.
This is a romantic comedy for the ages. ‘Manhattan’ is Woody Allen’s 2nd biggest commercial hit film. In 2001, ‘Manhattan’ was tapped by the United States Library of Congress as being “culturally significant” and selected for National Film Registry preservation. In addition, ‘Manhattan‘ currently ranks 46th on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) “100 Years…100 Laughs” listing, and ranks as the 63rd film on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies” listing.
NOTABLE QUOTABLES: “Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York (City) like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.” – Alvy Singer
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Janet Margolin, Colleen Dewhurst
Production Budget: $4 Million Box Office Gross: $38.5 Million
As is often the case in the weeks and days prior to any given feature film’s theatrical release, the emotional precursors which indicate nervousness become universally familiar to the members responsible for the film’s production. Indeed, studio executives, a veritable cavalcade of producers, the cast, the crew, and all other interested parties, all understand that on the other side of hopeful anticipation, nobody can ever really be sure how well the film in question will do. Moreover, the last thing anyone ever considers is that the film in question will go on to be considered one of the greatest of all-time. At the very least, until the moment it actually happens. All films are not created equal, however, each era contributes profound examples of film excellence. In those instances, the art form is elevated, and our culture is blessed with added artistic richness. History instructs us that in the late 1970’s Woody Allen’s contribution, his modestly budgeted ($2 million), seventh directorial effort, ‘Annie Hall’ … rose to the level of transcendent, all-time great films.
There is virtual consensus among critical observers, that the 1977 theatrical release of Woody Allen’s romantic comedy/drama, the eponymous titled, ‘Annie Hall‘, marked the example of transcendent comedy symphony for the era. The film’s runaway critical and commercial success also identified the point of demarkation for Allen’s filmmaking career. The moment when the world of entertainment stood at attention, in admiration of the largess of Woody Allen’s talent. ‘Annie Hall’ is a romantic comedy that the world hadn’t seen before and we conjecture, ever since.
Indeed, the ‘Annie Hall’legacy is firmly enshrined in the ethereal universe reserved for timeless classics. At its core this film exists as a detailed exposition of a love story, while concurrently serving as an insightful allegory armed with a universal familiarity that speaks to the mechanisms of the often confounding nature of the human condition. Woody Allen’s masterful use of thoughtful expression, situational wit and observational humor, arguably transcends assumed notions of the sublime.
Of particular note, his vision of melancholy humor thematically guides the audience towards an accessible, almost symphonic perspective, into the various emotions that dictate the character’s amorous yearnings. In plainer english, the film is funny expressly because it highlights the often irrational pathos of the human condition vis-a-vis relationships and love. In doing so, the audience is given permission to laugh at the irrationality of the characters, and by extension, at our own.
Woody Allen’s ‘Alvy Singer’ character narration really ties this film together. The introspective self-reflection that moves across this films theme, deftly highlights the unpredictably random, heart-warming, and desperately quixotic expanse commonly referred to as romantic relationships vis-a-vis … love. In terms of its legacy, ‘Annie Hall’ is widely admired and stands as a highly influential comedic film of legend. Indeed, it’s a sublime creative effort that exists as one of the finest examples of the comedy film genre as well as the art form overall.
‘Annie Hall’ is the most awarded of Woody Allen’s career, taking home four (4) Oscars at the 50th Academy Awards, among the five (5) nominations it received in total. It was awarded ‘Best Picture’. Woody Allen took home a statue for ‘Best Director‘ and writer Marshall Brickman received a statue for ‘Best Original Screenplay’. In addition, Diane Keaton got her own statue for ‘Best Actress’. ‘Annie Hall’ also did quite well at the BAFTA Awards, with four (4) nods including ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Actress’ (Diane Keaton), ‘Best Director’ (Woody Allen), and ‘Best Screenplay’ (Marshall Brickman). The aforementioned are but the most notable awards, but certainly does not represent the totality. Indeed, that’s how great a film ‘Annie Hall’ was and continues to be.
Currently 82 years young, with his position in the pantheon of American pop culture all but encased in granite, it would appear that Woody Allen is enjoying the fruits of life’s good fortune. His career longevity has been as remarkable as his maverick body of work has been unique. Indeed Allen’s illustrious career in entertainment has demonstrated influential filmmaking and artistic contributions that have spanned the better part of the last six decades. In 2018, Woody Allen finds himself in the enviable position of being a personally gratified witness to the proceeds of his lifetime of achievement and artistic legacy. Indeed, the cultural proceeds of over a half century of Woody Allen’s comedic contributions and influential brilliance cannot be overstated.