Tanner Babcock

Woody Allen

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Year Title Rating
1971 Bananas 4.5/10
1972 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex 6.5/10
1973 Sleeper 5/10
1975 Love and Death 7/10
1977 Annie Hall 7/10
1978 Interiors 8.5/10
1979 Manhattan 9.5/10
1980 Stardust Memories 9/10
1982 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy 6/10
1983 Zelig 7/10
1984 Broadway Danny Rose 7.5/10
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo 6/10
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters 7.5/10
1987 Radio Days 7.5/10
1987 >>September .../...
1988 Another Woman 6/10
1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors 8/10
1990 Alice 6.5/10
1991 Shadows and Fog 7.5/10
1992 Husbands and Wives 7.5/10
1993 Manhattan Murder Mystery 7/10
1994 Bullets over Broadway 6.5/10
1995 Mighty Aphrodite 6.5/10
1997 Deconstructing Harry 7.5/10
1998 >>Celebrity .../...
1999 Sweet and Lowdown 5/10
2004 Melinda and Melinda 5.5/10
2005 Match Point 7.5/10
2007 >>Cassandra's Dream .../...
2008 Vicki Cristina Barcelona 6.5/10
2009 Whatever Works 6.5/10
2010 >>You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger .../...
2011 Midnight in Paris 5/10
2012 >>To Rome with Love .../...
2013 Blue Jasmine 7/10
2014 Magic in the Moonlight 5.5/10
2015 >>Irrational Man .../...
2016 >>Cafe Society .../...
2016 Crisis in Six Scenes 7/10

"Tanner, did you really watch all of these Woody Allen movies?" Yes, I really did. Most of them more than once.

I've decided that Woody Allen was both, at different phases in his career, an idiot and a genius. He is currently my favorite director. He was a cheap, Three Stooges-like physical comedian, who matured into the college-senior-intellectual romantic depressive. His dialogue is often unrealistic and elevated, with the characters beaming long flowery lines, loaded with references to academia and other films. His work is transparent - that is to say, it's very easy to watch a Woody Allen film and see his thought process, his messages, and you get the image a single neurotic, short, Jewish man sitting at his typewriter, rather than seeing the events or the characters. It sounds like an odd way of describing my favorite director, but Woody Allen's work is timeless and artful. If you want to feel warm, sentimental, romantic, but also morbid and uncertain (but okay with being uncertain), there's a film by Woody Allen to suit your perspectives of the evening.

Any Woody Allen film before Love and Death is bound to be pretty awful. Except for maybe Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, these early films are atrociously immature, and hardly watchable. And this is coming from a moviegoer that worships the ground he's walked on. They have the romantic sensibilities of a high-schooler making dick jokes. Somehow, most of these early ones are praised to the skies by film critics and review aggregators. I find it difficult to sit through anything of his before 1975.

Annie Hall

Annie Hall was my first Woody Allen film, and it's also most people's. This was the first film of his to really stick with people, a film where he learned how to be vulnerable. Allen recognized that if he were to apply his real-life experience to tell the story of his real-life relationship with actress Diane Keaton, he could be honest with his audience. This marked the beginning of his artistic maturity, and it also instilled his name and screen persona in the American household.

Interiors

Interiors is a stroke of genius. Made only one year after Annie Hall and one year before Manhattan, this was Woody Allen's first drama. It was also the first film he made that he himself did not star in. Interiors tells the story (with perfect symbolism, imagery, and family-dynamic parallels) of a family's implosion. It details the breakdown of successful interior decorator Eve, a woman whose world was her aesthetics, and whose family lived in this world as if they were pieces of furniture or sculptures. "There was no room for any real feelings." This film also profiles the three daughters as struggling artists, whose creations only widen the gap they were created to fill. It is revealed at this point in Allen's career that the pursuit of art and creation are very important themes in his films - many of his works are about a novelist, or a film director, or a comedian, or TV producer. Someone struggling to send a message to the world.

Manhattan

Manhattan is my favorite film. I sincerely believe the entire medium of film, is incapable of offering me a film that is as meaningful, or as entertaining, or as compelling as Manhattan. This is a film about you, and your relationships, and your subconscious, and the deepest fear looming over the head of every conscious man. This is a film about two relationships, ever changing as if in cycles - lovers who are consistently unsure of each other and themselves. As this film's plot unfolds, the visuals of the shots, the spacial geometry, the lighting and sets, and the movements of each scene, symbolize the events happening on the screen. It is difficult to describe this unique kind of synesthesia through words, but if you watch this film, and pay attention to how the scenes are photographed, it will strike you.

When this film begins, 42-year-old Issac Davis (Allen), an aspiring novelist who works as a TV producer, is dating 17-year-old high schooler Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Married college professor Yale (Michael Murphy) is having an affair with neurotic journalist Mary Wilkie (Keaton). This film symbolizes the indecisiveness and futility of relationships in wealthy, affluent societies. As Issac grows bored of Tracy, and falls in love with Mary, Yale breaks up with her. Issac breaks up with Tracy in a heartbreaking scene. The relationship between Issac Davis and Mary is short-lived.

But the most prominent message of Manhattan, and the reason why it's one of the most important films ever (or at least of the 20th century), is that everyone is looking for love, but no one really knows what they want. These relationships, romances, neuroses, illnesses, and phenomena, even the pursuit of art and creation, are merely self-inflicted distractions, defense mechanisms, things we've designed to keep us from acknowledging or thinking about the great unknowable nothingness of death. Human life in this uncaring, indifferent universe, is full of unanswerable questions, deep looming crippling fears, existential panic, and societal alienation. Love and relationships are a game we've created to distance ourselves from this fear, it's a trick we've played on ourselves; like a child who clings to the belief in Santa Claus, our relationships tell us "I am an individual person and my life matters." Art is a game we've created to distance ourselves from this fear, also. "My creation is important and it matters to people." Both of these self-affirming statements are lies: No individual life matters. No single creation or pursuit of art matters. And I think deep down, we all know this, but we cling to these lies to keep us going, so that we can get out of bed in the morning.

Stardust Memories

"That was the most horrifying thing I've ever seen." "Too much reality is not what the people want." "What self-indulgence!" "Sandy, we'll sue them if they touch one frame of your film." "I promise you, you won't win."

Woody Allen pays homage to many influential films from Europe. Interiors is known for looking and feeling like an Ingmar Bergman film - notice the rolling beach shots, the baroque lighting. Stardust Memories explicitly references the Fellini film 8 ½ in its opening scene (in which Woody Allen is stuck on a train full of sad people). I believe this film to be among the greatest of all time, as it shows the loneliness and Kafkaesque alienation of rich celebrities. It portrays every step of the artistic process, as if it were scientific, always testing for a creative hypothesis, analyzing the "results" or reactions. But unlike science, the artistic process is pure vanity - nothing is accomplished. Each film that the character Sandy Bates finishes, only serves to alienate him from his audience even more. This film has a self-awareness that is a tunnel: much like an image that appears in a mirror within a mirror, Stardust Memories references itself referencing itself. It is the ultimate meta-film, the film about itself: hollow and self-indulgent by design.

I also think this is the funniest Woody Allen, as it indulges itself in a kind of cynical, hostile, even rage-filled comedic style. And yet, as Stardust Memories creates a comedy that grows more and more absurd and indulgent by the second, at the same time, it further explores his fear of death and search for meaning in the empty universe.

"You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."