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Article – 5 Woody Allen Films To Watch Before You Die


Posted July 10, 2017 by

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5 Woody Allen Films To Watch Before You Die

“I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

The problem with Woody Allen is that he’s a Cassandra. He prophesies the finality of death and self-oblivion. Constantly. Regardless of what we believe happens in the end, or whether his prophesy is right, when he shows us existential terror we feel it. Buy tickets for a new release and you’re instantly a landowner at the local cemetery.

But his films don’t just deal with existentialism. They embrace human flaws of fear, anxiety, failure and inequality; his knowledge and use of heavy Western philosophy in his writing adds weight and credence to the subtext. Kant’s theory of Universal Law was a noticeable sinew (among others) of Irrational Man (2015), the protagonist acting with moral motivation regardless of the consequences.

Allen’s films have always germinated from profoundly human experiences, whether he stars in them or not; the holiday romance, the fantasy of being chased by a giant boob, the moral dilemma, the vitriolic rationale of adultery. It’s the then twinkling leap into the unknown that sets his narratives apart from the clichéd moral play of other films. And because Allen’s films deal with internal questions, his films are relatable, ergo, popular.

In an interview with the Guardian in the lead-up to last year’s Cannes, the director famously said he’d like to, “achieve immortality through not dying, rather than his movies”. It seems an unlikely proposition when you consider his cinematic oeuvres are loved the world over. Over five decades on, Allen’s lustrous comedies are as compelling as ever.

Here are five Woody Allen films the author would urge you to watch before you head into the great unknown. 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Richard Corliss writing for Time magazine in 2008 suggested Vicky Cristina Barcelona was, “evidence that a summer in Spain can do wonders for a writer-director who may not have outlived his prime.” An acclaimed romantic comedy-drama VCB is typically Allen-esque in its approach to the impudence of extra-marital relationships and the soul-ravaging of creative spirits. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall are two young American women who fall for Javier Bardem’s divorced artist Juan during a holiday to Spain. Here is a true sense of the beautiful agony that sustains Allen’s storylines.

Irrational Man (2015)

Although released to a lukewarm reception, critics have argued that Irrational Man could be better understood as an intellectual rum ration rather than the conventional crime drama Bloody Mary. Indeed, its references to the teachings of Dostoevsky, Heidegger, and Kant – to name a few – while tempered by the hand of fate are the film’s water stations. More questions than answers originate from the actions of the flawed hero, which is probably why it didn’t go down so well. But it is a delicious salad bowl of philosophical dilemmas and of course uber-entertaining. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe, a whiskey-soaked college professor who encounters an opportunity to, “make the world a better place.” And the rest is history.

Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)

Nominated for three Academy Awards, Crimes and Misdemeanours was not a box office success but earned praise critically. In a similar vein to Irrational Man it promotes the capacity of the individual to carve out their own moral path. The story overflowing with finely distilled metaphors about God, conscience and original sin follows a highly respected ophthalmologist who after having an affair, rather than admit the wrongdoing to his wife, hires someone to kill his lover. After grappling with the guilt he is able to rationalise his actions and continues to enjoy an unpunished life.

Manhattan (1979)

In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected Manhattan for preservation in the National Film Registry. It is a worthy addition to the collection. Allen’s choice of lensing, narrative and actors makes it one of his best romantic comedies. What’s more, the soundtrack provided by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – which inspired Allen’s initial ardour – creates a perfect romantic accompaniment to the troubled relationships studded throughout a film about human vanity. From the outset Manhattan embraces you in a world of near-perfect cinema.

Annie Hall (1977)

Touching, comical and autobiographical, Annie Hall is arguably the greatest of Allen’s creations. Its technical execution never misses a beat. The film is Allen’s private commentary on life’s fleeting qualities, highlighting how enslaved we are to chance and how the thought of life’s approaching end overshadows choices we make. The believable synergy between Allen’s character Alvy and Annie (Diane Keaton) is eclipsed only by the command each has over their characters’ idiosyncrasies. With a starring cast including Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall and Marshall McLuhan, Annie Hall remains an imperative watch.


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Written by:

Nick Whittle
Freelance Contributor

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