All 47 Woody Allen movies - ranked from worst to best

(L-R): Annie Hall, Sleeper and Vicky Christina Barcelona
(L-R): Annie Hall, Sleeper and To Rome With Love

Annie Hall or Bananas? Blue Jasmine or Sleeper? Our critics Robbie Collin and Tim Robey rank all 47 Woody Allen movies

47. Hollywood Ending (2002)

The curtain-raiser for Cannes in 2002 was the definition of a duff opener, pleasing nobody: Allen cast himself as a once-fêted director who suffers an attack of hysterical blindness. Strenuous farce ensues, with a feature-length quantity of dead time on screen, and only Téa Leoni threatening to be an asset. The punchline explains its Cannes berth: when the $60m movie Allen’s character directs while blind is a resounding flop, his one consolation is that the French love it. But not even the French loved Hollywood Ending.

46. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

Allen has often shown an interest in stage magic and hypnotism (see also: Scoop, Magic in the Moonlight), but this enthusiasm reached its unfortunate nadir in this dodo of a light comedy, his most expensive film (it cost $33m) and by his own reckoning among the worst. His own performance as a wisecracking insurance investigator hypnotised into jewel theft was one problem, but Helen Hunt doesn't fare much better as the ruthless efficiency expert he wants off his back. All the film achieves is managing to look lavishly nostalgic for a more sexist era.

45. Whatever Works (2009)

Imagine Manhattan if it’d been left to fester behind a radiator for a year. That’s more or less the measure of this comprehensively rancid May-September comic romance, although a fairer reflection of the age gap in question might be February-Hogmanay. Larry David’s sour particle physicist and Evan Rachel Wood’s blithering nymphette are Allen’s most flatly hideous screen couple, and the script clangs away deafeningly with misanthropy, misogyny and psychological false notes.

44. Don’t Drink the Water (1994)

In 1994, Allen adapted his first professionally produced play – a quick-fire Cold War farce in which a family of American tourists are mistaken for spies – for the television network ABC. A previous film version had been made in 1969, and apparently niggled away at Allen for years, though his own take in no sense redeems it: it looks shatteringly cheap and ugly, while the cast (which includes Michael J. Fox and Julie Kavner) have nothing to work with but reheated, three-decades-old schtick.

43. To Rome With Love (2012)
Credit: Rex

The worst of Allen’s late-period European films by some distance feels like a quartet of plots were randomly snatched from the director’s famous ideas drawer and liberally soused with Dolmio. They are, in reverse order of wretchedness: a shaggy dog story about singing in the shower, a middle-aged architect reflecting on a youthful romance, a grandad-ish kvetch about pointless celebrity, and a D.O.A. re-do of an early Fellini romp. The cast ranges from Jesse Eisenberg (fine under the circumstances) to Alec Baldwin (wail-out-loud terrible), with a monumentally insulting temptress role for Penélope Cruz.

42. Shadows and Fog (1991)

The great Italian cinematographer Carlo di Palma made 12 films with Allen, qualifying him as the director’s favourite director of photography, and was his chief accomplice in this stylistically bold homage to German Expressionism, which more or less does exactly what its title says. Plotwise, we’re stuck doing ill-thought-through Kafka pastiche, and despite the banner cast – Madonna, Kathy Bates, Lily Tomlin and Jodie Foster play prostitutes, with Mia Farrow and John Malkovich as a pair of circus performers – everything about it feels rattling and empty. It was a big flop.

41. Scoop (2006)

The second of Woody Allen’s London films achieved the weird distinction of getting no theatrical release in its place of origin, despite the returning presence of Scarlett Johansson, and Hugh Jackman in the lead. The reasons are simple: it’s flagrantly disposable, continues Allen’s embarrassing love affair with a London that doesn’t exist, and cooks up no intrigue worth bothering with, for all the ins and outs of its Thin Man-esque plot. The one redeeming feature, surprisingly, is Allen himself, in the supporting role of an amusingly befuddled stage magician called The Great Splendini.

40. Anything Else (2003)

Allen has yet to submit a film entitled “Will This Do?”, but Anything Else comes closest, both in its title and for recycling old tropes about thwarted creativity and being stuck with a pesky, permanently difficult long-term girlfriend (Christina Ricci) who wants to move her mother in. Jason Biggs’s character is meant to be an aspiring comedy writer, but Allen’s script gives him not one funny line. All of these go to his ageing intellectual mentor, a veritable fount of park-bench philosophical witticisms, played by guess who. Go on, have a guess.

39. Cassandra’s Dream (2007)

Allen’s European films have a definite touristic quality: watching them, you can almost sense the director location-scouting from an open-top bus. But in his third picture set in London, he goes off-piste, and things come seriously unstuck. Almost nothing in this Faustian thriller of two East End brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor) embroiled in a murder plot rings true: not the characters’ inner lives and aspirations, and certainly not their dialogue, which barely sounds human, let alone British. Compensation comes in the shape of a spirited supporting turn from Sally Hawkins and Philip Glass’s gathering storm of a score.

38. Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

A period frolic on the Riviera promises to be easy on the eye, and this fluffy time-killer is indeed bathed in seductive, slanting light. But Allen misjudges both the appeal of his main character, an arrogant English stage conjuror called Stanley Crawford, and the ability of Colin Firth to make him bearable, still less engaging. There’s a modicum of blithe-spirit fun to be had with Emma Stone, as an air-cupping young medium whose act Firth is furiously determined to debunk. Even setting aside their 28-year age gap, though, the romance here is a non-starter.

37. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Woody’s fourth and, thus far, final London film is a lightly cynical ensemble juggling act, taking in gold-digging, psychic love advice and ambulance-chasing literary plagiarism. Josh Brolin is well cast as a desperate novelist, but Gemma Jones has the best of it as the jilted wife of Anthony Hopkins, whose new girlfriend is a tacky ex-hooker (Lucy Punch). Allen, alas, seems above all of his characters here, and inflicts petty twists of fate on them which feel forced and malicious rather than wise or illuminating.

36. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

On paper, it’s a hoot: a Japanese spy movie called International Secret Police: Key of Keys (1965), which Allen overdubbed in English to feel something like an Austin Powers spoof. Weird moments connect: “That’s Shepard Wong’s gambling ship!” remarks one female character. “Oh, I hate him so very much. He’s one of the seven worst people in the world.” But there’s something smirky, superior and naggingly problematic about the movie, like a giggling class joker making fun of the Asian kids. Allen himself disowned it as “stupid and juvenile” after producers wrested it away and inserted concert performances by The Lovin’ Spoonful.

35. Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Borrowing the Broadway Danny Rose structuring device of a dinner-table anecdote, Woody tells a tale of two hypothetical Melindas, both played by Radha Mitchell, whose gate-crashing of a Manhattan dinner party take different turns: one comic, one tragic. Comic Melinda has much better hair, but her exploits aren’t notably funnier than that of Tragic Melinda, who just turns up the neuroticism to 11 and seems convinced she’s doomed. Will Ferrell and Chlöe Sevigny at least look alive, and it feels like the definition of middling Allen, almost irritatingly watchable until it just stops.

34. Celebrity (1998)

Or: the one with Kenneth Branagh doing his party-trick Woody impression, Leonardo DiCaprio as a bratty A-list star bedding multiple models, and coarse routines with fellatio practised on bananas. It’s the last time Allen collaborated with Ingmar Bergman’s great cinematographer Sven Nyqvist, whose black-and-white vision of this strained media circus is doubtless designed to remind us of La Dolce Vita. But the film’s a bitter pill with negligible insights, and sends Branagh slavering after far too many gorgeous young starlets (Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder) for us to be quite comfortable.

33. Match Point (2005)
Credit: Kobal

Match Point actually did Allen some favours: it set him up with a new muse in Scarlett Johansson, made decent money, and the script got him his first Oscar nomination since the late 1990s, to the abject horror of most British critics. Kinder US reviews saw this London-set murder tale as a return to the scabrous morality play of Crimes and Misdemeanors, but it was one afflicted with a telling and insurmountable tone-deafness: fatal for what was purporting to be a satirical dissection of the English class system. Extra debits for those silly ghosts at the end.

32. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

Allen does Pygmalion, complete with a Borscht Belt Greek chorus, although the jumbled, snobbish and emotionally curdled results fall noticeably short of mythic. A well-to-do New Yorker (Allen) decides to trace the birth mother of his adorable adopted son, and is horrified – plus more than a little turned on – to discover she’s a hooker and porn starlet. Mira Sorvino gives an Oscar-winning, eardrum-tightening turn in a thankless role: the film patronises Sorvino’s character relentlessly, and when it works, it’s because the actress heroically refuses to roll over and take it.

31. Small Time Crooks (2000)

One of Allen’s goofier and more good-natured entertainments in the post-peak era, this even got distribution from DreamWorks, and was a substantial summer hit. The second half is a deflating series of slightly snobbish nouveau-riche gags, but Allen and principal co-star Tracey Ullmann manage to sock these over with some zing: there are truly funny parts for Hugh Grant, too, as an oleaginous art dealer, and Elaine May as Ullman’s cousin, a chatterbox halfwit. It’s reminder of the now-lost era when Allen could populate a so-so script with the right cast to jolly it along, and that would do.

30. Alice (1990)

Mia Farrow’s wealthy Manhattan housewife rediscovers the wonderland that’s missing from her life and also, implicitly, the title of this lumpy magic-realist comedy. Seeking help for a bad back, Alice meets a Chinese doctor whose herbal infusions allow her to turn invisible (and thereby spy on her cheating husband), summon up an old boyfriend, soar above the Manhattan rooftops and generally defy the strictures of middle age. The role fits Farrow like a silk slip, but its kooky premise doesn’t quite shake up the by-now familiar narrative concerns.

29. Irrational Man (2015)

A middling entry in Allen’s unofficial Perfect Murder tetralogy (see also: nos 38, 32 and 2), with Joaquin Phoenix’s existentially impaired philosophy don plotting a broad-daylight poisoning as a means of reclaiming his übermenschian potency. The premise is tightly rigged, though its intellectual reference points (Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky again?) feel, at this point in Allen’s career, worn very thin indeed. But an odd, un-Allen-ish lead performance from Phoenix and sunny supporting work from Emma Stone tickle it to life. (Read the full review)

28. September (1987)

Nine years after Interiors, this was Allen’s first return to straight, sombre dramatic territory, though the model was more Chekhov than Bergman this time. Springing from the suicide attempt of Mia Farrow’s Lane, it’s a country-house whinge-athon about the miasma of personal unhappiness. It’s also oppressively ochre and overfurnished, relying on a stage-vet cast (especially Dianne Wiest and Elaine Stritch) to kick some life into it. Allen even shot it twice, replacing Sam Shepard, Charles Durning and Maureen Stapleton with Sam Waterston, Denholm Elliott and Stritch. He’s said he wouldn’t mind having a third go.

27. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Credit: Alamy

Lilting and serene, with some good performances and even better jokes, this reminiscence about a (fictional) virtuoso guitarist of the 1930s is perhaps the only one of Allen’s films about an artist in which Allen himself could have never played the lead. That duty falls to Sean Penn, whose odious but talented jazzman is one of the director’s more memorable scumbags. The real star turn, however, is Samantha Morton, who gives a performance of supreme silent-movie control and comic timing as Penn’s mute lover.

26. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

Allen cast a fond eye back to the Hollywood musicals of his childhood for this all-singing, star-stuffed confection, which follows a clan of wealthy Manhattanites chasing after love in New York, Venice and Paris. Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn are among the game cast singing their hearts out. Despite those names it was a commercial flop, and its airiness can sometimes play as insubstantial. But when the film works, it really works: not least when Hawn defies gravity on the banks of the Seine in its magical finale.

25. Sleeper (1973)

The first film in which Allen directed Diane Keaton was also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first film to suggest he had more in him than than madcap, gag-driven comedies. (They appeared in a film together before his directing days). That’s not to say Sleeper isn’t as madcap and gag-driven as his earliest work: a film about a health food shop owner who falls into a vat of liquid nitrogen and wakes up 200 years later kind of has to be. But Allen’s painting with new colours here: romance, melancholy, and even – gasp! – coherent plotting, while the uproarious robot butler sequence showcased his talent for silent-era physical clowning.

24. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

This anthology of seven sketches on a raunchy theme, loosely based on a best-selling bedroom manual of the day, has grown grubbier with age. But watched with a generous and forgiving eye, its legendary popularity (in the US, it was one of the 10 most successful films of its year) still makes sense. And three sequences still burst with visual ingenuity and laughs: an Italian cinema spoof, the famous science-fiction-like scene in which Allen plays a sperm on date night, and Gene Wilder’s tender love affair with a sheep.

23. Midnight in Paris (2011)

Depending on your point of view, this huge hit and Oscar Best Picture nominee – Woody’s first in a quarter-century – is either glass-half-full or half-empty Allen: an enjoyable, shiny bauble in which time-travel back to the Jazz Age reveals the grass to be always greener; or a shallow, rather pseudy coffee-table conceit whose present-day characters are cut-out irritants. Adherents to both viewpoints were surprisingly passionate, but there’s not all that much separating them, in truth. Owen Wilson’s jaunty flâneur takes the whole thing in his stride: hard not to, when Allen’s throwing so many easy conquests in his direction.

22. Bananas (1971)

Perhaps of all Allen’s early comedies, this is the one that could be remade today with the fewest concessions to modern taste. That might be because on its release, it already felt like a film out of time: it’s effectively the Marx brothers’ Duck Soup with a Cuban spin (Allen’s wilting New York nebbish accidentally becomes a dictator) and survives on its never-ending supply of lunatic gags, thundering past like an express train. It looks cheap, which is funny in itself, and satire and spoofery are crammed in until it bulges at the seams.

21. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Allen’s sourest comedy is one of his more arresting, certainly of the increasingly wayward 1990s: it touches a few raw nerves. The structure is roughly lifted from Bergman's reflections on a life in Wild Strawberries, as Allen’s flailing writer, Harry Block, is invited back to his alma mater to receive an honorary degree. This trip involves reckoning with the fallout from Harry’s failed relationships, not to mention some wacky swerves into sketch comedy – Robin Williams develops the medical condition of being out-of-focus, and Tobey Maguire plays a sex-obsessed alter ego. It’s an uneven grab bag, a flawed film à clef with biting and honest moments.

20. Cafe Society (2016)

It’s the Thirties, and young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has abandoned the sepia-tinted hubbub of the Bronx for the Technicolor vistas of Hollywood. After arriving in town, Bobby seeks out employment from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a bulldoggy agent who doesn’t so much drop names as scatter them in his wake like confetti. Work is hard to come by, but in the meantime Phil puts Bobby in touch with his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who offers to show him the sights. 

After a run of russet-hued collaborations with cinematographer Darius Khondji, Allen is working here for the first time with the venerable Vittorio Storaro, and the change has done him the good. A couple of scenes with Bobby and Vonnie together are the most visually beautiful sequences in an Allen film in goodness knows how long. And then there's Stewart, who’s the best thing here from the moment she steps on screen. (Read the full review)

19. Love and Death (1975)

The smartest of Allen’s early run of scattershot comedies is a surprisingly accessible send-up of the Russian literature he was devouring at the time, and which would go on to shape his later, weightier work. Allen is Boris Grushenko, a “militant coward” who’s sent off to fight the French, and ends up involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon with the help of his pretty cousin (Boris: “twice removed!”), played by Diane Keaton, who’s well on the way to the height of her comic powers. Parodies of Tolstoy, Eisenstein and Bergman rub shoulders with some vintage surreal and bawdy Allen riffs.

18. Radio Days (1987)

Radio Days is Allen being nostalgic about nostalgia: it’s the kind of film about the olden days they just don’t make any more. The model was Fellini’s free-flowing 1973 masterpiece Amarcord, with Rimini swapped for Rockaway Beach in Queens, where a working-class Jewish family buzz and drift through everyday life, while the music of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington crackles comfortingly from the living room set. Allen weaves in further stories of stars and wannabes, muddling memory and fantasy. The result isn’t so much a collage as a patchwork quilt.

17. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

It sounds like Shakespeare laid the template for this gauzy upstate romp, but it was really the “weekend in the country” conceit of Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (spun off by Stephen Sondheim, too, in A Little Night Music). There’s a lot of sneaking around, love being kindled, or rekindled, and so on: you imagine the Porky’s crowd lured in by the title may have been disappointed. As an Allen milestone, it’s mainly notable as the first of his (unlucky) 13 films with Mia Farrow, who took the role originally written for the too-busy Diane Keaton. She gets more dreamy close-ups than he’d ever give her again.

16. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

The best of Allen’s Europe-trotting films is the one most in touch with its touristic soul. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall are two young American women who fall for Javier Bardem’s divorced artist during a Catalonian excursion – and like A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, it’s the idea of romance as a mini-break for the soul that gives the film its rosily libidinous power. Of its unspeakably attractive cast, Penélope Cruz was the eventual Oscar-winner; oftentimes, you sense Allen’s just happy to be tagging along for the ride.

15. Take the Money and Run (1969)
Credit: Getty

“This is a bank robbery, not a movie,” complains Allen’s Virgil Starkwell – although in this case, it’s easy to get the two confused. Allen rushes into this mock-biopic of a hapless serial crook all puns blazing, with concepts pilfered from Chaplin and the Marx brothers, and an arsenal of brilliant sight gags, one-liners and physical comedy routines. (For the sheer comic density of the idea, the marching-band cellist might be the best thing he ever did.) It’s his archetypal early, funny film: one may have come earlier, but none were funnier.

14. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

This is a throwback to when Allen’s sheer confidence with the pen ruled: the idea of a theatreland gangster farce, with playwright John Cusack finding an unexpectedly brilliant collaborator in the form of Chazz Palminteri's Mob bodyguard, isn’t inspired per se, but the characters he flings together keep it brimful of pep and ideas. Jim Broadbent and Tracey Ullmann both ham it up marvellously as seen-it-all Broadway stars, and Jennifer Tilly scores as the squeaky moll cast to guarantee financing, but the jewel in this ensemble is Dianne Wiest, walking off with her second Allen-derived Oscar as the sublimely melodramatic diva Helen Sinclair.

13. Blue Jasmine (2013)
Blue Jasmine - Trailer Blue Jasmine - Trailer
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Of Allen’s many mooted returns to form, here’s the film that actually was one: a lacerating comedy of financial and romantic recessions, and his best work since his extraordinary mid-career hot streak came crunching to a halt in the early 1990s. Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her heart-tightening performance in the title role – a kind of Blanche DuBois of Park Avenue brought low by her husband’s economic chicanery. Jasmine’s dogged denial of her desperate circumstances is the fire under the film’s feet, and watching her crumble is agonising, thrilling – and, most damning of all, great fun.

12. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

After the breakdown of his relationship with Mia Farrow, Woody called up some old pals – Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, co-writer Marshall Brickman, and even long-absent muse Diane Keaton – for this decompression exercise, which is a lovely, elegant diversion: a sprightly comic spin on the kind of material he’d attacked before for trenchant irony. Woody and Diane enter Nick-and-Nora detective mode when their elderly neighbour (Lynn Cohen) abruptly drops dead. The dimestore plot – not always Woody’s main point of interest – is satisfyingly wrought, perhaps thanks to Brickman’s input, and the quartet of leads fall back into a mutually sceptical sparring mode that’s flat-out irresistible.

11. Interiors (1978)

The most hair-shirt-ish of all Allen’s projects, and his most self-consciously “serious” enterprise, Interiors walks a tightrope between ballsy, committed artistry and self-parodic doffing of the cap to Ingmar Bergman. Choose your side. The Swedish auteur could hardly have his fingerprints on this more if he’d been credited as the decorator – we spend most of it inside a gloomily beige Long Island beach house pontificating on everyone’s misery, and Geraldine Page’s witchy obsession with expensive vases gets quickly hard to take. That said, the emotional effort being expended is cumulatively hard to shrug off, and Maureen Stapleton’s touching late intrusion as a klutzy, vulgarian stepmom does have absolutely the liberating effect intended.

10. Stardust Memories (1980)

If Allen’s first truly great film arrived in 1977 (see no 3), it was three years later that his greatness began to rankle – with both his audience and himself. Stardust Memories is about the moment that artistic success feels like failure: it was Allen’s own, chortlingly prosaic version of the high-toned creative ennui of Fellini’s 8½. Allen plays himself – or, rather, the filmmaker Sandy Bates, who’s buffeted by fans and torn between lovers to the point that chaos starts to take on the shape of art itself. Slammed at the time, it’s a retrospective knock-out, thanks to its ambitious structure, vinegary gags and the searing monochrome photography, courtesy of Gordon Willis.

9. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Sometimes Allen has a knack for casting himself ideally, sometimes he doesn’t. Despite his terrible wardrobe, beleaguered variety agent Danny Rose is one of Woody’s most snugly tailored roles: instantly funny, a little sad, and right up at the most endearing end of the characters he’s played. It helps that Mia Farrow, as a girl-next-door with a criminal ex, is such a sweet moll, too: sharp-tongued but vulnerable beneath it. The film is deceptively throwaway, but has a neat nugget of philosophy to cleave to, about loyalty to anyone who has offered you theirs. The warmth of the payoff spreads through you like a ray of sunshine.

8. Zelig (1983)

Throughout his career, Allen has downplayed the degree of self-portraiture in his work, but perhaps this ingenious spoof documentary, about a once-famous ‘human chameleon’ who lived in the first part of the 20th century and who could alter his personality and appearance to blend in wherever he went, is the quintessential Allen-as-Allen movie. It’s about the horror of conspicuousness when all you want to do is fit in, and the humour bites down on all kinds of personal and political pressure points. (Allen’s chosen time period and Zelig’s Jewish-American heritage are not accidents.) The special effects, in which Allen is seamlessly inserted into vintage newsreels, are still astonishing, and draw out the aching tragicomedy of Zelig’s plight. He’s the original man who wasn’t there.

7. Husbands and Wives (1992)

It opens with one of Allen’s most vividly written, shot and acted scenes ever, as Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack arrive for dinner and announce their separation plans. The way their best friends, Allen and Farrow, respond – shocked, but also offended – turns this into a rapid marvel of four-way characterisation. This is Allen’s most scorching anatomy of marital bonds, a film so bitter, witheringly frank and unsentimental he entirely reinvented his style of shooting and editing for it.

Jump cuts abound, straight-to-camera interviews break up the plot, and Carlo Di Palma’s handheld camera whip-pans all over the place, seeming to reel from one accusation or gossip-bomb to the next as this foursome all experiment separately with new lovers: perfect catch Liam Neeson, aerobics bimbo Lysette Anthony, impressionable student Juliette Lewis. It’s Woody’s last film with Farrow and feels, even more now, like a brutal post-mortem on their whole relationship: he even makes himself the loser.

6. Manhattan (1979)
Credit: Alamy

Received wisdom has it that Manhattan is a cinematic love letter to New York. But it’s actually the opposite: a thank-you card from New York, via Allen, to cinema – for the alchemical process by which light and shade and music can turn buildings and streets into a miraculous, shared dream of a city. In theory it’s a romantic comedy, though its romance and humour are by turns anxious and wistful, and its characters come weighed down by manifold flaws and neuroses (not least the troublesome May-September romance between Isaac, Allen’s conflicted comedy writer, and Mariel Hemingway’s 17-year-old student).

Instead, it’s the city itself, frozen in time by Gordon Willis’s immaculate black-and-white photography, that nourishes them. Simply by watching the sun rise over the East River, a Gershwin song drifting out of the morning mist, Allen’s tiny worker ant can somehow feel like the king of the colony.

5. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Film is so often an escape route for Allen’s characters that it’s only natural one would eventually make the journey in reverse – hopping down off a cinema screen and into the life of a troubled soul seeking comfort at the movies. Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a waitress slogging through an unhappy marriage and the Great Depression, is halfway through an escapist swashbuckler when its lantern-jawed hero (Jeff Daniels) clambers out of the frame and whisks her out of the door on a romantic caper of her own.

It’s a glorious premise, explored by Allen and his cast to dazzlingly funny ends. What gives the film its existential bite, though, is a two-part acknowledgement late in the game: firstly, that the beautiful solace film offers is a lie, and secondly, that it doesn’t matter. Watching it, you feel (and probably look) like Farrow’s heroine: a smiling face in the dark, lit up, flickering, alive.

4. Another Woman (1988)

Allen’s most underrated, under-seen work is also one of his shortest, at 84 minutes. It has a remarkably elegant hold on tone, and the lead performance of Gena Rowlands must be one of the three or four greatest in Allen's oeuvre, along with Keaton in Annie Hall, Landau in Crimes, and Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Rowlands plays Marion, a philosophy professor whose accidental eavesdropping on Mia Farrow’s therapy sessions prompts a sudden set of reflections on her own life.

Gene Hackman, Ian Holm and Martha Plimpton feature in the flashbacks and present-day scenes she’s weighing up against each other, trying to work out where her life slid into a rut of barely noticed unfulfilment, and how to escape it. In the film’s most unnerving scene, she bumps into a high-school friend (Sandy Dennis) who dumps a shocking checklist of grievances in her lap, revealing Marion's long-held view of herself as a kind of mirage.

3. Annie Hall (1977)

Every scene, every gag in Annie Hall is so familiar that it’s easy to forget how abrasively strange it is: the subtitled romantic double-speak, the outpoured soliloquies to camera, the temporal freeness, even Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, wandering through his own childhood flashback. It’s a romantic comedy the like of which cinema had never seen before and hasn’t since. Allen and Diane Keaton are jousting here on such a perfectly even footing, and with such supremely matched warmth and wit, that you half feel she should be credited as co-director.

It’s established in Allen lore that the picture was originally a two-and-a-half-hour solipsistic ramble, with Alvy and Annie’s fling relegated to a subplot. But in the edit, their relationship was what brought the film to life, and the dead wood was mercilessly cut back. Allen’s preferred name for the film he’d originally planned was Anhedonia: a Greek term for the inability to feel pleasure. There couldn’t have been a less appropriate title for the finished film.

2. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

“People carry awful deeds around with them. This is reality. In reality we rationalise, we deny, or we couldn’t go on living.” With these words, ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (the magnificent Martin Landau) tries to justify an appalling crime – his last recourse, after he orders the murder of the mistress (Anjelica Huston) who is threatening him with blackmail, in holding on to the cushy existence he’s built.

He’s speaking to the film’s other main character, Allen’s documentary filmmaker Clifford Stern, in the one scene they share, sitting apart from a wedding celebration at the film’s very end. Not here the fortune-cookie insights that some of Allen’s lesser pictures call philosophy. Here he’s thinking deeply about moral choice, the question of whether guilt in your own eyes or the eyes of the world matters more. This bubblingly wise film, rich with beautifully dovetailing metaphors about blindness and conscience and the perils of self-knowledge, has only grown in stature since its release. It is Allen on soaring form, gliding so elegantly through its maze of ideas it’s as if the spirit of Fred Astaire gave it lift-off.

1. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Credit: Rex

Here it is: not just Allen's creative pinnacle, but perhaps the most perfectly assured braiding of comedy and drama in mainstream American film. It feels like the miraculous sweet spot between all of its filmmaker's many modes and tones – biting without being cruel, profound without seeming sanctimonious, warmly humane without collapsing into goo.

The diverging romantic fortunes of Hannah (Mia Farrow), Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest, who won an Oscar, as did Michael Caine) provide an ideal, Chekhovian structure for Allen to check in on a midway state of adulthood, when there's already a sense of disappointment about squandered promise and happiness unsustained, but still a great deal to play for. And this is what makes his bittersweet symphony so affirming, and generous-minded to all involved, and the viewer most of all. Without cheating its way out of everyone's massed misfortunes, it says, in so many words: don't give up.

 

 

 

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