Woody Allen may be one of the few directors in cinema history whose career has become a genre of its own. Now into his eighth decade, Allen remains very productive. After a relatively latent period in the late nineties, early 2000s, he has experienced a late career renaissance. His latest, Cafe Society is another welcome addition to the Woody Allen legacy.
1. Annie Hall (1977)
The only Woody Allen film to be named Best Picture and perhaps his most enduring film. And the most personal. Allan plays a character in the midst of a mid-life crisis which causes him to look to the past when he should really be looking forward. The ill-fated romance between Allen’s character Arvy Singer and the iconic muse played by Diane Keaton, provides the basis for the story. And who could forget the lobster scene.
2. Manhattan (1979)
Allen’s love letter to the city that raised him. Issac (Allen) is a classic neurotic case who begins to re-evaluate his life after falling in love with his friend’s mistress played again by Diane Keaton. Like Annie Hall, Manhattan is about a central figure struggling through a crisis of authenticity. Filmed in black and white, which gives it a classical feel. This one is a quintessential New York film.
3. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
This film follows three sisters and their relationships over a 12 month span. Hannah, played by Mia Farrow is the anchor of the family. It is probably Allen’s most layered film. Hannah and Her Sisters has various subplots overlapping with one another. It is an excellent study of personality types and whether people of different characters can be truly happy with one another. And it probably has the best ensemble cast of any Allen film.
4. Blue Jasmine (2013)
Allen’s fascinating look at class in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. While films like The Big Short and Wolf of Wall Street kept your attention with humour, Allan is more concerned about the impact on people’s lives. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after her husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to jail for running a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. Blanchett was a deserving recipient of an Oscar for Best Actress.
5. Midnight in Paris (2011)
In Midnight in Paris, Allen revisit the theme of nostalgia. It is also a loving tribute to the French capital. Owen Wilson plays Gil, the character Allen would have played if he were younger, a successful Hollywood hack screenwriter who hopes a trip to the city would give him the inspiration to finish his first novel. One night he is picked up on a street-corner and transplanted to the 1920s. It would be a disservice to say anything more. Charming and beautiful. Like Paris itself.
6. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Allan’s late career foray into Europe has produced some of his best work. Like Match Point and Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a character study that uses a European destination to enrich the experience. Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson (both perfectly casr) play two friends who meet a mysterious Catalan painter named Juan Antonio (Bardem). They both eventually become attracted to him. The experiences causes each to re-evaluate their views of love. Penelope Cruz shows up in the second half of the film in a role that won her an Academy Award.
7. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
A satisfying story from a filmmaker at the top of his game in the early 1980s. Allen plays the title character Danny Rose, a small-time show manager trying desperately to keep his biggest act from destroying his career. Filmed in black and white again to convey a 1930s feel and starring Mia Farrow, Broadway Danny Rose is one of Allen’s most charming films. And one that is too often overlooked.
8. Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Mia Farrow stars in a charming depression-era story about a lonely housewife who finds solace in cinema. Mia Farrow’s Cecilia goes to see the Purple Rose of Cairo several times which in Allen’s film is an escapist adventure. One night, a character named Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) walks out of the screen. The Purple Rose of Cairo is an excellent homage to the 30s, a period he returns to various times in his career.
9. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
A struggling playwright (John Cusack) is forced into casting a mobster’s girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) in order to obtain funding for his latest project. An ode to 1920s gangster films, Bullets Over Broadway is also an entertaining look in how far an artist will go to succeed. Tilly won an Academy Award for the role. Also includes great performances by Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palminteri, Ed Broadbent and Mary-Louise Parker.
10. Match Point (2005)
Considered by many as a strong departure for Allen. Match Point is a psychological thriller starring John Rhys Meyers as a former tennis pro named Chris. Chris is engaged to upper-class Chloe ( Emily Mortimer) and destined to live a comfortable existence. But he finds passion with the more unstable Nola (Scarlett Johansson). A classic Allen tale about how happiness is just not enough. There is always something else that people need.
11. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Two different stories that are linked together in an unexpected way. Martin Landau plays Judah, a successful ophthalmologist whose life is almost torn apart after his mistress Dolores (Angelica Huston) threatens to expose their affair. At the same time, Woody Allen’s character Cliff Stern, suffering from a career setback begins to contemplate infidelity himself.
12. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Another depression-era film, this time Sean Penn plays a fictional jazz guitarist named Emmet Ray. Ray, a deeply flawed character eludes gangsters and falls in love with a mute woman played by Samantha Morton. Full of charm, with a terrific performance by Sean Penn, like we could expect anything else. It is one of Allen’s funnier films too.
13. Husbands and Wives (1992)
When an old couple Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) announce they are splitting up it causes their close friends (played by Allen and Mia Farrow pre-split of their own) to re-evaluate their own relationship. A frank and honest look at how romantic relationships work (or don’t in most cases). It does not give any answers but it will have you looking over at your own partner.
14. Cafe Society (2016)
In his latest film, Allen yet again returns to the 1930s in this wonderful look at Hollywood. Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a aimless young man who goes to California to work for his uncle (Steve Carell), a studio bigwig. Bobby meets a secretary named Vonnie played by Kristin Stewart and quickly falls in love. But, she has a secret. It is another lovely ode to time passed and is concerned with whether love could really last time and distance. Even as people change.
15. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
After Woody Allen’s character Lenny learns his adopted son is a genius, he sets out to find the birth parents only to be disappointed. Mira Sorvino plays the good-hearted but dimwitted mother who Lenny decides to help. The story is interwoven with a Greek chorus which has divided audiences. But, this one is funny and well worth your time.