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Ranked: Woody Allen Films from Worst to Best
With Midnight in Paris hitting theaters this week, we look back at everything from Annie Hall to Match Point.
by Zachary Wigon
Woody Allen has written and directed forty-one films in the last forty-five years, making him one of our most prolific auteurs. He's also run the gamut between great and awful more perhaps than any other director. With his latest, Midnight In Paris, out this Friday, I sized up the man's formidable body of work, listed here from worst to best.
41. Cassandra's Dream (2007)
Sometimes you really do wonder what goes through Woody's head when he's working on a script: "What should I recycle? A little murder from Crimes and Misdemeanors? A little guilt complex from same and Match Point?" An insipid retread of those two excellent films, Cassandra's Dream is a movie Woody had already made twice, with no room to improve. Woody on full autopilot; it's a terrible picture by any standard.
40. Whatever Works (2009)
Some people say there's no such thing as a bad Woody Allen movie, just weaker and stronger ones. To which I say: watch Whatever Works. Screwing up as exciting a combination as Larry David and Woody Allen is practically inconceivable, but David feels totally off (strangely) in the Woody surrogate role, and Evan Rachel Wood (otherwise a fantastic actress) plays like a caricature. It also seems criminal to waste the talents of Harris Savides — the world's greatest working director of photography — on this. The one-liners are as clunky as they've ever been.
39. September (1987)
Woody shot this film, edited it, and then decided he had to shoot it again with a different cast. He should've just shelved the thing entirely. Taking place in one summer house with a interconnected web of people who all have attractions to each other, it aims to be an unaffected character study, but comes across as narcissistic. That's always the danger of making the type of movies Allen makes — movies simply about the relationships of little people in an indifferent world. His filmmaking is stronger when he doesn't seem to invest those relationships with deep, undeserved meaning.
38. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)
Despite what the title might have you believe, this is not in the same realm as wacky Woody flicks like Bananas — rather, it's an uncertain, confused film that falls somewhere between a screwball comedy and a more straightforward entangled-relationships drama.
37. Midnight In Paris (2011)
Neither a comedy nor a drama, this fantasy-romance plays like a C-grade version of The Purple Rose of Cairo. Owen Wilson is miscast as a neurotic-yet-romantic screenwriter, and the story feels thin, with a love interest (Rachel McAdams) who has about as much characterization as an electrical appliance. The most interesting character (Michael Sheen) basically vanishes after the first act. There are occasional laughs, and Darius Khondji's photography of Paris is fantastic, but those are the few bright spots.
36. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
This film was derided by many, and Allen's called it his worst. I wouldn't go that far — the screwball form always lets him at least slip in some solid one-liners — but the jokes fall flat here more often than in similar faux-noir farces like Manhattan Murder Mystery and Small Time Crooks. Jade Scorption concerns a hypnotist who exerts mind-control over Allen's insurance investigator as well as his co-worker (Helen Hunt) to make them steal jewels for him. It's about as sensible as it sounds.
35. Melinda and Melinda(2005)
Points to Woody for an ambitious narrative construct — he tells the same story twice, once as a comedy, once as a drama — but no points for anything else, frankly. Will Ferrell, pre-mega-fame, hews too close to the traditional Woody persona in the comedic section, and the dramatic half aches of melodrama.
34. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
Technically the first film Woody directed, Tiger Lily is actually a mash-up of two Japanese spy movies that he recut and overdubbed; the plot is utterly absurd, and the whole film is basically just a vehicle for Woody to play off of the bizarre image/dialogue juxtaposition. Slightly dated at this point, but the strength of the best lines — "They kill, they maim, and they call information for numbers they could easily look up in the phone book!" — ensured that he would be able to keep making films.
33. Alice (1990)
A more fantastical version of the stronger Another Woman, Alice is another example of Woody trying to make a film he often struggles with: the well-off-person-trying-to-gain-perspective movie. Here, the protagonist is a wealthy housewife whose dalliance with magical herbs provides her with the strength to push herself outside her comfort zone — because, Allen seems to be saying, she's not strong enough to do it herself. While the emptiness of materialism is an interesting subject, the goofy magic-herbs device undermines what Allen is trying to deal with.