One of the most prolific Directors of our time is Woody Allen. From his start in the mid-1960’s, he has directed a film almost every year since 1966 (with the only gaps being in 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1976, and 1981). As such, with a resume of 43 directed films between 1966 and 2014, it’s no wonder that some might be able to overlook some of his personal life choices, especially considering that the majority of his films receive very favorable critical acclaim. Furthermore, most of the films he directed up until 2003 have Allen acting in front of the camera as well. It is this film persona that we often associate with Woody Allen. As Ned Flanders from The Simpsons put it, “You know, I like his films, except for that nervous fellow that’s always in them.” This week’s two films are some of Woody Allen’s best.
Midnight in Paris
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours
As I mentioned before, Woody Allen has appeared in most of the films he has directed. In recent years, his age has made this more difficult, especially if his character is the lead role. Most all of Allen’s films are romantic comedies, so the main characters must be young enough to attract audiences. But then the question remains, “How will his film persona continue?” I feel that this persona has been so completely fleshed out in previous Allen films that all it would take is for a dedicated actor to pick up on all the idiosyncrasies of the character in order to act the part. I also feel that Owen Wilson took on the Woody Allen persona very well in Midnight in Paris. Of course, when Allen’s original screenplay won an Oscar (his third for screenplays), amongst the 16 other nominations he’s received for writing over the years, it becomes obvious that this character is ingrained in the pages of his scripts.
The “Woody Allen persona” in Midnight in Paris is that of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter who is in conflict with his fiancée, a know-it-all on Parisian history, and his own novel manuscript. His solution comes in the form of a mysterious car from the 1920’s that appears one night and transports him to what he considers to be the “Golden Age” of Paris. Through his now accurate and first-hand encounters with the Paris of the past, Gil out-intellects the know-it-all, bringing more ire from his fiancée. Of course, he really doesn’t care much about this, because by now he has fallen in love with Pablo Picasso’s mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). While in the process of having his novel reviewed by Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), he learns that his fiancée is cheating on him with the know-it-all, but now he also realizes that we all long to live in the nostalgic past. Moving on, he decides to live in the Paris of the present.
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed of Woody Allen’s works, Annie Hall not only won him his first and only Best Picture Oscar, as well as his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but his first and only Best Director Oscar. Over the years, he has been nominated seven times for Best Director, but only won for this film, his first nomination in that category. Similarly, two other films of his were nominated for Best Picture: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and the aforementioned Midnight in Paris. Annie Hall was also another “first and only” time for Allen to receive a nomination for Best Actor. So, considering Allen’s track record with the Academy, you could almost guarantee a movie directed and/or written by him to receive a nod in the Screenplay department, if nothing else. The American Film Institute has placed Annie Hall as high as #31 on their top 100 list.
There’s so much about Annie Hall that is quintessentially Woody Allen. His character, Alvy Singer, is quintessentially nervous, quintessentially Jewish, and quintessentially New York City. As Alvy tries to figure out what went wrong with the one relationship that ever went right, he thinks back over his time with the titular Annie Hall (Diane Keaton, who won Best Actress for this role). Being a creative intellectual, there’s plenty of psychoanalysis into the past relationship, trying to figure out what made it tick. What makes this film somewhat unique in terms of Hollywood romantic comedies is that, despite all the effort that Alvy puts into getting back together with Annie, things never quite work out. This realism in relationships is so often missing from the film world, and is refreshing to see.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Woody Allen works
Bacon #: 2 (Manhattan / Wallace Shawn -> Starting Over / Kevin Bacon)