Woody Allen is one of the finest filmmakers the cinema has ever produced. An artistic journey that started off as a comic writer for a daily newspaper, soon nurtured him to an established standup comedy artist, only to become a filmmaker later. Woody Allen, as a filmmaker, has had a very different approach towards filmmaking. While other comedians from his era or pre-modern era like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd concentrated on the character portrayal and consistently played characters with similar physical mannerisms and give their physical appearance an impish texture which never fails to amuse audiences at their mere countenance, Woody Allen’s portrayal of himself has been different. In most of the films, he portrayed himself as a bespectacled nerd or geek who looks intellectual, but ironically despises the ideas pertaining to intellectuality.
In his career spanning more than six decades, Woody Allen has focused majorly on comedy and parodies and that too not the situational ones. He has made the ones that have witty dialogues which often his characters speak. This makes him the “center of attraction” in his films. This not only detriments the existence of other characters, but also their equation with the plot. His films sound more like a radio talk show, in which he perpetually goes on to lampoon self-proclaimed intellectual individuals of the elite society, the quality which gives his films a tone of commentary rather than ‘cinema’.
As a filmmaker who later turned into an author, Woody Allen has 47 films in his oeuvre, from which we have chosen 16 films that are best from his filmography and define him as a filmmaker.
Here’s the list of 16 Best films by Woody Allen –
1. Bananas  –
The film tells the story of a New Yorker, who gets dumped by his activist and intellectual girlfriend. He goes to a tiny Latin American nation and gets into its latest rebellion. In this film, Allen weaves the narratives to depict the CIA and revolution of Latin America. However, a perpetual disparage for the intellectuality is quite evident in his character’s personification. The film incessantly uses subtle allusions towards intellectuality, but has a playful tone throughout. This is the first film wherein he appears as the nerd character. The characterization continues in his other films too.
2. Love and Death  –
It’s a satirical film which tells the story of a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin, who ideate a plot to kill Napolean. Shot in a Czarist Russian backdrop, the film digresses rather hilariously to parodize some of the best moments in World Cinema. Woody Allen mocked the works of much-celebrated filmmakers. Scenes from films like Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘The Battleship Potemkin’ and Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ are re-shot to a rather hilarious effect. The film is arguably Allen’s funniest film. The performances by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are world class in this one.
3. Annie Hall  –
Annie Hall, which tagged itself as “a nervous romance” tells the story of a New York comedian, who falls in love with a quirky girl named Annie Hall. The film is one of the best rom-com ever made. However, for the most part of the film, Allen focuses on his character. Most of the witty dialogues are spoken by Allen himself and the quirkiness of his female co-star somehow succumbs to the satirical impulse of the filmmaker, which makes the romance between both of them look pale, but as an audience, we feel that’s what he wants to show. Moreover, the satirical commentary by Allen on film critics who consider themselves as unconquerable intellectuals, is again a retort towards intellectuality. The film has some beautifully thought sequences in terms of direction, which makes it a must watch.
4. Interiors  –
With ‘Interiors’, Woody Allen showcased his storytelling and characterization skills. It tells the story of three sisters, who find their lives messed up after the divorce of their parents. The film depicted a lot of ‘Bergmanism’ with the way Allen has handled the characters and weaved the scenario. The filmmaker has kept changing the tone of the film by portraying the happiness and sadness of the family, and what’s the best part is sometimes he evokes both feelings at the same time. ‘Interiors’ was Allen’s first foray into serious drama and was an embarrassing failure. However, the film is now hailed as one of his best works.
5. Manhattan  –
Manhattan tells the story of a divorced television writer, who is in a relationship with a teenager, but his life takes a steep turn when he falls in love with his friend’s mistress. After the dismal debacle of Interiors, Allen yet again came with a comedy film and it perhaps is one of the beautifully shot films in his oeuvre. With Manhattan, Woody Allen showcased his filmmaking forte. The film beautifully captures New York, the city that is a part of many films by the filmmaker. Manhattan, apart from being a romantic comedy, depicts the complications of the protagonist’s relationships with his ex-wife, the teenager, and best friend’s mistress he falls in love with. The film is a must watch for its witty dialogues, and Diane Keaton’s terrific performance.
6. Stardust Memories  –
The film tells the story of a filmmaker, who remembers his affairs in the retrospect of his work life. Even though Allen has denied insinuations, ‘Stardust Memories’ inevitably reminds audiences of Federico Fellini’s ‘8½’, which is also a biographical account of a filmmaker. The film depicted the conflict between the nurturing woman and the younger son, the theme that Allen uses quite a lot of time in his films and even writings. The film was about existentialism, philosophy, God, wars, and politics. This was the first time Allen indulged ‘tone of intellectuality’ in his own film, which he rather satirically reproaches in his other films.
7. Zelig  –
Zelig is perhaps the most inventive from Woody Allen’s filmography. The film is shot more like a documentary, and takes the shape of a’ mockumentary’, as it narrates the protagonist’s intense period of celebrity status, during 1920, and the analysis from the coeval intellectuals. This again depicts Allen’s inclination towards commentary in his films. The best thing about the film is the character has ‘Chameleon Disorder’ and Allen has used it to hilarious effect. Zelig becomes a hero, when he abandons his ‘chameleon side’, only to become a bigger hero later, when he starts believing that he can fly a plane. The film is a must watch as it has the essence of the most ‘Allenesque’ comedies.
8. Broadway Danny Rose  –
The film tells the story of a theatrical agent, who gets entangled in a love triangle, involving a mob. The characterization of the girl as a chain-smoking blonde with whom Allen’s ‘agent’ character falls for, looks more like a mob-lady from a Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese gangster movie, and is brilliantly enacted by Mia Farrow. With some typical Allenesque commentary, the film offers an account of different characters like a good-for-nothing actor looking for a job, the people who get break and forget their peers and friends, the good agents who get people employed, beautiful girls who fall for nerds and dumb mobsters, the factors that make this film a must watch.
9. The Purple Rose of Cairo  –
This film narrates the experiences of a film character that walks out of the screen into reality. In ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’, Woody Allen comes as a storyteller rather than an auteur that focuses on his own character and perceptions. In this film, Woody Allen captures the very essence of reality and fantasy, drawing a conspicuous chasm between both. This film has a lot of funny moments, but its archetypal philosophy in motion also depicts that we, as audiences, go to films to live the life which is actually not possible in reality. This again is one of those films which had Allen’s comedic sense but also defied his own idea of “intellectuality”.
10. Hannah and Her Sisters  –
The film is about an extended family and what can be tagged as ‘romantic changes’ it goes through within the span of two years. The film depicts influences from Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Fanny and Alexander’. ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ beautifully captures a rather romantic side of New York. The film is arguably Woody Allen’s best work. The film seems to be about the romantic feelings Michael Caine’s ‘Elliot’ starts having for Barbara Hershey’s ‘Lee’. However, Woody Allen’s character chips in and plays an instrumental part. The events in the film are basically his point of view. Allen and his character’s point of view touch upon existentialism, jealousy, and misconceptions of love. This is a well-directed romantic flick, which has loads of laughter intertwined in it.
11. Radio Days  –
Radio Days is one of those films that are made merely out of nostalgia. Allen weaves the story of an ordinary family intertwined with the point of view on the golden age of Radio. During the progression of the story, Allen not only conveys the lavish life of the radio celebrities of that era, but inundates the plot with humorous bouts and some biographical episodes about his neighborhood and friends. The best thing about ‘Radio Days’ is that it goes to tell that while TV shows are all about what you watch, but talk shows on radio are what you listen and imagine the events to be like, and the imagination can be true or false, but fascinating all the time.
12. Another Woman  –
The film tells the story of a woman who rents an apartment near to a psychiatrist’s office to write a book, but gets attached to the woes of a pregnant woman who seeks that doctor’s help. Allen has portrayed the protagonist as someone who is just less than perfect – she dresses well, is self-contained, organized, and intelligent, but in the pursuit of rationality, there are so many things that she has to sacrifice. The film also takes the shape of a thriller over the course of events. The performance by Gena Rowlands is excellent. Unlike Allen’s other film, this film invokes a melancholic aura.
13. Crimes and Misdemeanors  –
Existentialism and adultery are recurring themes in Woody Allen’s filmography. This film showcases Allen’s prowess in human behavior and psychology. The film tells the story of an eye specialist and a documentary filmmaker. While the eye specialist’s mistress threatens him to reveal their affair to his wife and on the other hand documentary filmmaker starts having romantic feelings for ‘another woman’. With all the witty one-liners and humor element, ‘Crime and Misdemeanor’ sounds more like a commentary on the mere absence of justice in the real world. The best part of the film is how the two stories meet and converge at the cursory end.
14. Husbands and Wives  –
The human error indulged in the judgment of relationships is also a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s oeuvre. Allen takes his penchant of depicting such humanely misconceptions to another level in this film. He tells the story of a couple, who discover problems in their own relationship only after their “the perfect couple” friends announce their separation. Woody Allen digs into the intricacies of so-called “perfect” relationships and the kind of compromises couple do to make it look so. Allen again defies the intellectual ideas of rationality that are forced into a relationship, which help to some extent, but are always detrimental in the long run. The film is a must watch for its philosophy and message.
15. Deconstructing Harry  –
The film tells the story of a writer named Harry Block who is suffering from a writer’s block and while he awaits an award for his bestselling book, the memories of his past and the characters from the books (inspired from his past) haunt him. This film has Woody Allen’s humor and revue elements in galore. It is arguably one of the funniest films in his filmography. The film also takes inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. The best part of the film is that a protagonist is a self-hating man. He is critical about every aspect of his own personality, but Woody Allen portrays it as an integral part of the creative process. Allen’s unquestionable skills of writing one-liners come to the fore in ‘Deconstructing Harry’.
16. Midnight in Paris  –
The film tells the story of a filmmaker who visits Paris with his fiancée’s family. He becomes nostalgic remembering his days in the 1920s every midnight. The film seems more like a daydream. The best part of the film is that the screenwriting depicts minutiae in approach . Allen portrays many things subtly and leaves them to his audiences to decipher. With picturesque set-up backed with some eminently shot cinematic moments and Woody Allen’s signature style dialogue writing, ‘Midnight in Paris’ happens to be the most charming film Allen has ever made, and more so, when the actors play their characters brilliantly.
In a perspective, Woody Allen’s oeuvre seems paradoxical. Even though he has defied the ideas of intellectuality and rationalism through his incessantly intertwined commentary in the films he has made, but ironically he comes up with his own philosophy in the films. In most of the films, he also disparages his own critics and assigns almost all the witty wisecracks to his characters, which in a way, makes the filmmaker sound like a narcissistic genius. However, the way he gives emotional and philosophical depth to rather comedy films makes him an important subject in films studies. Let alone his films, his writings are absolute bedside companions.
The auteur has won 4 Academy Awards, and has also been nominated for twenty others. Woody Allen will always be hailed as one of the most loved and charming filmmakers of all time.