The Best of Woody Allen sans Woody Allen

Of the “couple of thousand movies”: that I have watched in my life, 30 of them were directed by Woody Allen. This is, without a doubt, the most movies I have watched by any single writer or director.

While Allen usually chooses to cast himself as a version of Alvy Singer- the “nebbish”:, once in a while he makes a movie without himself. Here are the greats from among them:

  • Match Point: Last year’s brilliant and chilling Match Point comes first to mind, partly because it is the most recent and partly because it is brilliant and chilling. In the tradition of my favorite Allen film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, but devoid of the Woody Allen character that provided that movie with the comic relief. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is fantastic and Emily Mortimer is pitch-perfect in a movie that has no place for Woody Allen. With him, it would have been a different film- a Woody Allen film.
  • Sweet and Lowdown: Woody Allen is great at the fake documentary (mockumentary) genre- there’s the incomparable Zelig and then there is this. Sweet and Lowdown stars Sean Penn as an unsuccessful early 1900s jazz musician who has a Djangophobia (watch the movie and you’ll understand). Directed in documentary style- with experts of jazz popping in to provide their insight on Penn’s character’s influences and life- this film is a gem. Again, the true here, though, is Samantha Morton who- like in Minority Report- steals the show by saying nothing.
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo: Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow star in what could have been a forgettable comedy about a movie character that comes to real life in lesser hands, turns in to a powerful satire on the culture of films and film fans. Shot in black-and-white by Allen’s long time collaborator Gordon Willis, this is one film that truly understands that lonely soul that sits in the dark movie theater night after night. I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything, says Farrow.
  • Bullets Over Broadway:There are three premises in this film, each of which could have been a great film on its own. There is the story of the struggling writer (John Cusack) who makes a bargain with the devil- in this case, the mafia- to get his play financed. Then there is the story of the bungling cast who grow shriller and, in the case of Jim Broadbent, more obese as the play’s opening approaches. And finally, there is the masterstroke- the mob bodyguard Cheech (Chaz Palminteri) who turns out to be a better playwrite than Cusack and will do anything to make the play perfect.
  • Also rans Melinda and Melinda and What’s Up, Tiger Lily?: Woody Allen casting Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda makes for a good movie, but it should have been great. The film is still a very Woody Allen style- Deconstructing Harry style- good film, with Woody teaching us the dilemma’s of the screenwriter. With every twist in the story, he demonstrates how he could make it play as a drama, a comedy, a tragedy. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? doesn’t really count- Woody Allen does show up at the beginning and the end- but the movie does deserve a mention, as it was Alllen’s first foray into film. An Asian film dubbed with Woody Allen-esque dialogue is a thing of beauty- a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off kind of beauty- but beauty all the same.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s