Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ten Completely Underrated Woody Allen Movies

B-Sol of the insanely excellent blog The Vault of Horror takes the floor here at Cinema-Geek for a look at ten frequently overlooked films from one of his (and my) favorite directors.

Woody Allen has one extremely huge body of work. The guy basically makes a movie every year, and he’s been doing it for about 30 years. So you do the math.

Unfortunately, the downside of making movies that often is that not every one is going to be an unquestioned classic. Furthermore, every now and then, one will inevitably slip through the cracks.

Folks, I’m an unabashed Woody lover. I enjoy anything the guy does, from absolutely perfect films like Annie Hall and Manhattan, to relatively missable stuff like Alice, and Anything Else. I’d go so far as to call him the second finest working director, after Martin Scorsese.

So instead of listing the obvious Woody Allen treasures that everyone agrees are great—Hannah & Her Sisters, Sleeper, Crimes & Misdemeanors, etc.—I thought it would be more interesting to shed a little light on some unfairly underrated Woody Allen movies. If you love his stuff and haven’t seen these, give them a chance…

Bananas (1971)
Allen’s second film, this is a completely side-splitting comedy from his “early, funny” era. However, wedged between other gems like Take the Money and Run and Sleeper, it often gets lost in the shuffle. Woody as a Castro-esque Central American dictator is beyond priceless. And keep an eye out for the cameo from a young, unknown Sylvester Stallone.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
Another of the lesser-appreciated ‘70s Allen screwball comedies. A series of madcap vignettes dealing with human sexuality that literally leaves me breathless with laughter. John Carradine appears as a mad scientist who creates a monstrous female breast; a great oral sex joke is acted out; plus, the world’s worst transvestite. Comedy gold.

Love and Death (1975)
Only Woody Allen would be genius enough—and ballsy enough—to cross Dostoyevsky with the Marx Brothers. And have it actually work. This is the last film in Allen’s “silly phase”, right before Annie Hall. Plus, it teams up Allen and Diane Keaton, so you really can’t go wrong.

Stardust Memories (1980)
A bold film in which Allen basically plays himself, a movie director facing doubt about his own work, plus criticism for evolving as an artist. Very funny, as well as dramatic, plus one of the most memorable usages of a Louis Armstrong song in a movie, ever. Lovingly shot by longtime Allen collaborator and Godfather II cinematographer Gordon Willis.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Woody actually steps away from his comfortable urban setting with this gentle romantic comedy set in the early 1900s, in the countryside. Woody plays an eccentric inventor--plus we’ve got ‘80s Allen muse Mia Farrow, the legendary Jose Ferrer, a young Mary Steenburgen, Airplane’s Julie Hagerty, and of course, Tony Roberts. Plus, Allen puts together a soundtrack made up entirely of beautiful 19th century Romantic compositions.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Astonishingly panned when it came out, this one is now rightfully recognized as an underrated treat. Woody plays a cheeseball talent agent, and Mia Farrow steals the show as his ditzy love interest. Best of all, the whole thing is framed as the recollections of a bunch of old school comedians having lunch at Katz’ Delicatessen in Manhattan…

Shadows and Fog (1990)
A bizarre little film that once again demonstrates Allen’s brilliant knack for synthesizing multiple themes and devices. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Woody were set loose inside a Kafka novel, then this is the movie for you. Quite serious and even chilling at times, Allen still manages to bring the comedy in the right places, mainly due to how hilariously out of place he is.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
I’ve always felt this movie was grossly misunderstood. Like myself, Allen is a huge admirer of the classic Fred Astaire-style musical comedies of the 1930s—and with this film, he answers the cinematic question, what if one of those films were set in the present day? Contains a number of delightful old-time pop standards, all performed legitimately by members of the cast not typically known for singing (including Tim Roth!).

Deconstructing Harry (1997)
For my money, this is Allen’s finest film of the 1990s, yet for the most part it went unrecognized. It was marketed around the gimmick of Woody going to Hell a la Dante, and although that’s the funniest part, there’s a whole lot more to it. But the sight of Woody Allen stumbling through the Inferno to the tune of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” is truly something else…

Small Time Crooks (2000)
Right before deciding to start casting younger actors in all the roles he used to take himself, Woody teams up with Tracy Ullman in this almost-forgotten comic delight. Best of all, Woody plays a smart-talking working class stiff, a real change of pace from his stereotypical neurotic New Yorker shtick.

Thanks again to B-Sol for this great list. Be sure to swing by The Vault of Horror for his musings on the horror genre.


le0pard13 said...

Wonderful retrospective, B-Sol. Nicely done.

Great blog, Nate. I'll come back and continue my visit.

Thanks to both of you.

dansiella said...

How about Take the money and run? I found that to be a great underrated Woody Allen flick

Will Errickson said...

Is Husbands & Wives considered underrated? I think that edges over Deconstructing Harry as his best of the '90s. I can't *believe* Broadway Danny Rose was panned on release; it's one of his most charming films!

Dr. Eric said...

I recently saw Cassandra's Dream, and I think it is the equal of many of these films. Kudos to you Nate on recognizing Broadway Danny Rose! It was my favorite Woody film until Crimes & Misdemeanors. Curse of the Jade Scorpion is also a lot of fun!

Unknown said...

I wish I could take credit for that, Eric, but congratulations should be directed to B-Sol, who kindly contributed the list.

Tim Tipton said...

Two words: Sweet & Lowdown.