For all of us who love movies, the film work of the great Woody Allen is something to savor. The acclaim for his latest release, Blue Jasmine, caps a career filled with marvelous movie memories. This week, the Reel Dad remembers what makes his films so special.
With his brilliant work in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen reminds us why he is such a significant film creator. Perhaps because he makes so many movies — about one every year since the early 1970s — and never relies on sequels or overdone computer graphics — he may be easy to take for granted. Still we know how good it feels each time one of his film opens with the familiar black-and-white credits that read, “directed by Woody Allen.” This week, celebrate the magic of Blue Jasmine by putting together your own Allen film festival from the online movie archives. Here are a few choices.
Annie Hall. Of course. Woody’s valentine to Diane Keaton won the Best Picture Academy Award of 1977 over Star Wars while Diane was named Best Actress and Woody won for directing and writing. The film pays tribute to a marvelous decade of self-indulgence and personal expression among people who spend every possible moment pampering themselves. Best of all, savor this collection of classic sequences, especially when Woody and Diane try to tame a live lobster in a kitchen. Like its stars, this movie refuses to age.
Manhattan. A couple of years later, Allen returns to Annie Hall’s neighborhood to examine the personal frailties of the New York state of mind. If the earlier film celebrates personal freedom, its bookend salutes the art of self-indulgence among a most entertaining collection of absorbed individuals. Keaton soars as a snobbish intellectual, Meryl Streep charms in one of her first films and New York City never looks so good in glorious black and white.
Everyone Says I Love You. So, you ask, a Woody Allen musical? Yes! He even sings (along with surprising vocalists Julia Roberts and a better-than-expected Edward Norton) and delivers the usual one-liners. Allen places his well-staged musical numbers in the least likely moments in this entertaining tale of a wealthy Manhattan family, as he uses song and dance to accentuate his focus on how amusing people can be when they confront truth. The finale, when Woody dances with Goldie Hawn in Paris, is stunning.
Hannah and Her Sisters. Woody’s delightful celebration of the highs and lows of family relationships celebrates the unpredictable experiences that parents and siblings share. With piercing honesty, and an exaggerated sense of humor, Allen puts us in the middle of the dysfunction that any family can create when people expect the Thanksgiving table to be perfectly set. In addition to Michael Caine’s Oscar-winning turn, enjoy this early glimpse of the wondrous Dianne Wiest who won her first Oscar as Hannah’s neurotic sister.
Husbands and Wives. When Allen gets serious, as he first did with the stunning Interiors and, later, with Alice and September, the results reveal a darker side to his talent. When the trusts his instincts, as he does in this brilliant dissection of modern marriage, he achieves a sense of screen truth that rivals any contemporary director. As he does with Blue Jasmine, Allen uses his camera to perform emotional exploratory surgery as he freely considers if marriage can ever work in a society defined by personal freedom.
Bullets Over Broadway. Allen’s lovely explorations into the past — including Midnight in Paris and Radio Days — show a different dimension to his point of view, as he looks at today through the lens of experience to offer a fresh conclusion. This time around, Dianne Wiest again walks away with the film (and her second Oscar) with her varied interpretations of two words, “don’t speak,” perhaps the most celebrated movie dialogue since Garbo’s “I want to be alone.” At least I like to think that’s what Woody has in mind. Enjoy.