Woody Allen

Diane Keaton, Woody Allen and Tony Roberts in the 1977 Academy Award winner for Best Picture: Annie Hall

Diane Keaton, Woody Allen and Tony Roberts in the 1977 Academy Award winner for Best Picture: Annie Hall

  • Born:  1935
  • Rank:  10
  • Score:  794.70
  • Awards:  Oscar / DGA / 2 BAFTA / 3 NYFC / NSFC / NBR
  • Nominations:  6 Oscars / 4 DGA / 4 BAFTA / 4 Golden Globes
  • Awards Note:  Is the all-time leader in Oscar screenplay nominations with 14 and the all-time leader in WGA nominations with 19
  • Feature Films:  39
  • Best:  Hannah and Her Sisters
  • Worst:  Manhattan Murder Mystery

Top 10 Feature Films:

  1. Hannah and Her Sisters – 1986
  2. Annie Hall – 1977
  3. Manhattan – 1979
  4. Crimes and Misdemeanors – 1989
  5. The Purple Rose of Cairo – 1985
  6. Zelig – 1983
  7. Bullets over Broadway – 1994
  8. Stardust Memories – 1980
  9. Sweet and Lowdown – 1999
  10. Interiors – 1978

Top 10 Best Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1977 – 4th – Annie Hall
  • 1978 – 4th – Interiors
  • 1979 – 4th – Manhattan
  • 1980 – 7th – Stardust Memories
  • 1983 – 5th – Zelig
  • 1984 – 7th – Broadway Danny Rose
  • 1985 – 5th – The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • 1986 – 1st – Hannah and Her Sisters
  • 1989 – 5th – Crimes and Misdemeanors
  • 1994 – 7th – Bullets over Broadway
  • 1999 – 9th – Sweet and Lowdown

There are many writers who become directors and some of them have become among the finest of directors (Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder and John Huston were all screenwriters before they were directors).  But Woody Allen took an odd career path as a comedy writer and a stand-up comedian before writing his first film and then directing his first film almost as a sort of lark.  He took a Japanese spy film, wrote hilarious English dialogue, making it a quest for the perfect egg salad recipe and there you have What’s Up Tiger Lily, his 1966 directing debut.  But you could jump forward a decade and you still wouldn’t have had anyone taking him seriously as a director.  By the time Annie Hall debuted in April of 1977, Allen had 4 WGA nominations but was mainly known still as a comic (“I like your early funny movies” his character is constantly told in Stardust Memories).  But then the critics noticed that Allen could be serious and funny at the same time.  They noticed that he could actually act and that he was one hell of a writer.  And suddenly everything changed.  It won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay from the New York Film Critics, the BAFTA and the Academy Awards.  Woody Allen was suddenly a director to take seriously.  He proved it the next year by following in the path of his cinematic idol, Ingmar Bergman, and making a deathly serious film (Interiors).  The critics were mixed but he was still taken seriously: 4 Golden Globe nominations and 5 Oscar nominations, including Director and Screenplay.  Then came Manhattan, hailed by many as his best film and though the Oscars were not as enthusiastic, other groups were (he again won Best Picture from the BAFTAs).  After that, he was off and running.  Through the 80’s he usually released a film a year and many of them received good notices from the critics and awards attention, with Hannah and Her Sisters getting the most praise from both (and another screenwriting Oscar).  But Allen stayed who he was, shying away from awards attention (it took until he was asked to give a tribute to New York City in the wake of 9/11 at the Academy Awards in March of 2002 before he would finally show up at the Oscars) and at the end of the eighties, his personal life suddenly became front page material.  When he dated Diane Keaton in the 70’s, she was the star of his films and in the 80’s he moved on to Mia Farrow, both personally and professionally, but the scandal of his affair with his adopted daughter and the tabloid news of his split with Farrow became more talked about than his films.  In the midst of this he had a couple of notable critical flops (Shadows and Fog and Manhattan Murder Mystery).  But then he made Bullets over Broadway, a film where he cast John Cusack in a role he would have played years before and suddenly he was back on top of his game with 7 Oscar nominations, including, once again, Director and Screenplay.  The rest of the nineties went fine, with the critical blip of Celebrity.  But then came the new century and many began to wonder if Allen had lost his talent.  Five films came and went, none of them getting much attention, none of them bad, but none of them with the old Woody Allen magic.  But then, finally, came Match Point and another critical revival and his first Oscar nomination in 8 years.  While that was followed by the critically panned Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream, next up came Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which somehow didn’t end up with an Oscar nomination for Screenplay, but did win Best Picture at the Golden Globes and reminds us all how good Woody Allen has been and can still be.

Top 10 Lines from Woody Allen films (chronological order):

  1. I’m what you would call a teleological, existential atheist. I believe that there’s an intelligence to the universe, with the exception of certain parts of New Jersey.  (Sleeper)
  2. The sun is bad for us.  Everything our parents said is good for us is bad.  The sun, milk, red meat, college.  (Annie Hall)
  3. Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone I love.  (Annie Hall)
  4. Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.  (Annie Hall)
  5. I forgot my mantra.  (Annie Hall)
  6. That’s what you said about Jill, and under your personal vibrations she went from bisexuality to homosexuality.  (Manhattan)
  7. Art is the only thing you can control.  Art and masturbation.  Two subjects which I am an absolute expert on.  (Stardust Memories)
  8. And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.  (Hannah and Her Sisters)
  9. How the hell do I know why there are Nazis?  I don’t know how the can opener works.  (Hannah and Her Sisters)
  10. To me, love is very deep.  Sex only has to go a few inches.  (Bullets over Broadway)

Annie Hall – #2 film of 1977

His previous films had all been funny.  It was natural for him; he was smart and well-read.  His nightclub acts had been the stuff of legend (the lines in Annie Hall where Alvy Singer is being a professional comedian are the same lines he used to use in his act).  But did anyone really think he was an actor?  Did they think he was much of a director?  Sure he could so surreal scenes (think of the sperm scene in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex or almost any scene in Sleeper), but he could pull them off within the context of a more serious film?

The answers came quickly.  Lots of films have voice-overs, but how many begin with a person staring at the camera and talking to the audience?  Especially in such a personal vein?  Then we have the scene in line at the movie theater, with the obnoxious professor expounding on his theories (ironically, I kind of agree with his ideas on Fellini).  Then Alvy pulls Marshall MacLuhan from behind a poster and the scene moves to a new level (what is even funnier is that MacLuhan gets his line wrong – and the printed version of the screenplay even keeps the line).  Then we have the great scene where Alvy and Rob discuss the idea of anti-semitism and fleeing New York for L.A..  When the scene begins, neither character is in shot, though we can hear their conversation.  Then they appear from down the street and slowly move towards the camera.  It is not a director’s trick; it is simply a more interesting way of capturing their conversation on film than simply following them down the street.  It is the beginning of Woody Allen as a serious director.

Then we have Diane Keaton.  She had been kicking around in films for several years, had been an important part of The Godfather and its sequel and played Allen’s love interest in several previous films.  But she had never been considered a particularly serious actress.  She had never been up for any awards.  Then she suddenly wins three of the four major critics awards and caps it off with the Golden Globe, BAFTA and the Oscar.  It is a magnificent performance, deserving of all its awards (she finishes just outside my list of the 10 best lead performances of all-time).  There has to be part of the director in that.  Magnificent leaps in careers don’t just happen by accident.  Working with Allen allowed her to find the talent that would spring forth in Reds, Shoot the Moon and Something’s Gotta Give.

Then there was Woody’s performance.  He had already established himself as a nebbish shy person who believes he is a great ladies man when he is really just a smart and funny nerd.  But there was something much more personal in this.  The personal aspect of the screenplay allowed him to find a more personal role for himself and it showed in that he got his one and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  There is added depth and dimension to his character, from his school days (“For God’s sake, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period.”  “Well  I never had a latency period!”) to his nightclub days (“I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me” – a classic line from his actual nightclub days) to his relationship issues (“Sex with you is a Kafkaesque experience.”).  And even though we see him sabotage his relationship and try to set it right, we also see him understand the depth there was in the relationship and how much he misses it.

That’s what it really comes down to: those last couple of minutes on film.  We’ve gotten so many laughs and the great performances but it’s the end that pushes it over the top into truly great film mode.  Because Allen gives us what will essentially be the theme of his entire career:  “I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.”  That’s what he’s spent the rest of his career doing.  There were complaints when he dropped the jokes and went with the Bergman theme for Interiors and complaints later when he didn’t go back to straight comedy and then cheers when the critics and awards groups alike applauded for Hannah and Her Sisters.  But all them stem from that last line.  He’s just looking at the eggs from a different point of view.

And let’s face it.  Most of us need the eggs.

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