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“Irrational Man” and back: Ranking the films of Woody Allen

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I know I’m one of the few, but in my humble opinion Woody Allen has yet to make an overtly bad film. His best are all time classics, but even his worst are still very much watchable movies that have pleasures to be found within them. On the occasion of the release of his latest outing Irrational Man, I wanted to run down all of Allen’s solo directorial endeavors and rank them. I’ll also be writing a bit about Irrational Man first, but below you’ll find a list of all 45 of his works to date. In the interest of not making this the longest piece in existence, I’m only going to be writing about the top ten, but the list will go down the line of everything he’s made (with the exception of what he didn’t direct, didn’t completely direct, or made for TV). A number of my picks will be fairly obvious choices, but there’s at least one or two selections in the top ten that are somewhat controversial picks. Enjoy…

First, as promised, a bit on Irrational Man. It’s mid-level Woody, which is to say that it’s far from his best but in no way his worst either. Essentially, it’s an above average moral drama, with strong turns from Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey, and Emma Stone. Allen is meditating on philosophy, justice, as well as life and death, which are nothing new for him. It’s done in a slightly different way than normal, almost as a counterpoint to her other darker outings. It can be a bit on the slow side, but Irrational Man, which is out today, is well worth seeing, so be sure not to miss out if you’re a fan of the legendary filmmaker.

Woody Allen 2014

Now, take a look at how I’d rank the films of Allen:

1. Annie Hall – An all time classic dramedy, as well as one of my favorite films of all time, this is Woody Allen’s Best Picture winner and his almost undisputed masterpiece. Diane Keaton gives an all time performance, rightly winning Best Actress, while Allen turns in his best performance as well, which was nominated in Best Actor. His Best Director win was justified as well (not to mention Best Original Screenplay), since this is a brilliant and perfect film. I love it with all of my heart. It’s tops for Allen.

2. Sleeper – Allen’s funniest film to date is a slapstick science fiction tale that sees him and Diane Keaton almost making a silent movie in the process. The comedy is hilarious, the satire is spot on, and it very much holds up to this day, despite the occasional dated reference. It’s a classic, of course, but it still deserves a bigger audience.

3. Manhattan – The other movie mentioned as his masterpiece, this is one of the best love letters to New York City ever, particularly the borough that gives the flick its title. Allen reportedly hated it and wanted to shelve the project, but how wrong he was. This is a beautiful dramedy that hits on all cylinders. Allen, Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, and Meryl Streep are all excellent here.

4. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask – One of Allen’s most underrated comedies, this sex farce is full of vignettes that throw everything at the wall and waits to see what sticks…no pun intended. Tony Randall’s segment in the brain during sex is amazing, as is Gene Wilder as a doctor who falls in love with a farm animal. Trust me, it works.

5. Hannah and her Sisters – If Annie Hall or Manhattan isn’t Woody’s pinnacle to you, then it’s probably this one. An embarrassment of riches for actresses here, along with plenty for the gentlemen as well, this is possibly one of the all time greatest films in terms of the performances given. Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Dianne Wiest are just the tip of the iceberg here with this terrific film, which won Allen another Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

6. Radio Days – An underrated gem for Allen, it’s his loving look back at how important radio was before televisions. This is one of his sweetest films, also featuring Farrow and Wiest in some of their most under-seen roles for the filmmaker. If there’s one under the radar title to really seek out from this list, it would be this one here, if you ask me.

7. Match Point – The flick that reinvigorated him, it’s a shockingly sexy thriller that had audiences on the edges of their seats. Allen’s first collaboration with Scarlett Johansson produced one of her best performances, while it featured some of his sharpest direction in a while. You’d never have realized it was his movie if you hadn’t been previously aware, which is a true compliment.

8. The Purple Rose of Cairo – The magic of the movies as only Allen could show it. Farrow teams with Jeff Daniels here to show how cinema works as an escape, while also romancing it, literally. As beautifully directed a film as he’s done, it’s just perfect. As a bonus, it holds a personal significance to me as well, as it was filmed at the movie theater that my grandfather was a projectionist at.

9. Midnight in Paris – His most recent classic is this romp through France, both in modern times and also the heights of classiness in the past. Owen Wilson is a winning Allen surrogate, Corey Stoll steals his scenes, and just everyone in the ensemble is having a blast. It’s as much fun as any of his non overt comedies have ever been, and it rightly won him another Best Original Screenplay statue at the Oscars.

10. Anything Else – I’m undoubtedly the only person who would put this comedy in his top ten, but I unabashedly love it. Jason Biggs is a strong Allen stand in, while Allen himself contributes with a super funny supporting performance. It’s in many ways a light remake of Annie Hall, but it’s just a fun update of the same material. It’s my Allen guilty pleasure.

Woody Allen 2014

Here’s the rest of his films, ranked without commentary…

11. Zelig
12. Bullets Over Broadway
13. Bananas
14. Blue Jasmine
15. Interiors
16. Mighty Aphrodite
17. Crimes and Misdemeanors
18. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
19. Take the Money and Run
20. Deconstructing Harry
21. Sweet and Lowdown
22. Shadows and Fog
23. Everyone Says I Love You
24. Manhattan Murder Mystery
25. Whatever Works
26. Husbands and Wives
27. Stardust Memories
28. Small Time Crooks
29. Irrational Man
30. Broadway Danny Rose
31. Melinda and Melinda
32. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
33. Celebrity
34. Magic in the Moonlight
35. Love and Death
36. What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
37. Another Woman
38. Scoop
39. To Rome With Love
40. Alice
41. Hollywood Ending
42. September
43. Cassandra’s Dream
44. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
45. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Be sure to check out Irrational Man, in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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