There’s something about Valentine’s Day that makes me recall the glory of Woody Allen. Let’s forgo any conversation about the intelligence of his films or the comedy. Let’s break it down into smaller parts and get to the heart of the matter. Allen is all about two people in love with love. It’s what he does best. His films don’t cost a lot of money to make and 9 out of 10 times they always earn their keep with their final gross and celebrities everywhere are always dying to be in the next Woody Allen film
Because they love him and his art and his stories.
And so do I.
Since discovering Allen’s genius for myself as a young teenager (Radio Days was the popping of my Woody Allen cherry), my obsession for the man, his writings, his film, and his music has grown to be the size of a New York skyscraper. The man’s yearly output is of mythic proportions and each year that passes (after hearing about Allen’s next two projects) I think to myself that there will simply not be anyone like him ever again.
And that’s the truth.
Maybe it’s the simplicity of love; the easiness of two people spending time together that makes me think of the romance inherent in Allen’s repertoire. Yet, it’s there and can’t be denied. Don’t let the wit, the sarcasm, the paranoia, or the absolute conversating fool you. At its core, a Woody Allen film is all about some angle of romance. Considering the man has over 40 films to his name there are bound to be a few duds, yet, since Allen began making films in the late ‘60s, there has been exactly that – only a few duds.
While his audiences have waned through the years, Allen has remained true to his word. He can’t stop. To do so would be insanity. Through it all, the simplicity of a man in love with his craft has been evident; the black-and-white title sequences, the jazz music, the romantic locations (from New York to London), Allen has been all about people falling in love and for that reason alone I close this statement with the following proclamation:
I love you, Woody Allen.
In celebration of Allen’s latest release on blu-ray, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, I present to you my list of Allen’s most romantic – maybe not in the classical sense at times and certainly not his best - films.
10. Mighty Aphrodite (1996): In this retelling of the mythological tale of Pygmalion, Allen directs and stars alongside Mia Sorvino in the role that won her Best Supporting Actress. The film is famously narrated by a Greek chorus and, while sunny and comedic throughout, ends cleverly on a note of sad irony.
9. Broadway Danny Rose (1984): The film that time forgot. Simply put, this film is one long anecdote told by a group of hard-nosed comedians. Not the lovey-dovey type, I know, but the romance comes through in the talent Mr. Rose supports. This is a man who loves his job. This is a classic story about a hapless talent agent (Allen) totally in love with his clients, so much so that he, himself, gets a mixed up in a love triangle that could cost him his life.
8. Alice (1990): Here we have romance, magic, and a bit of Fellini thrown in the mix as a once happily married woman (Mia Farrow) meets a jazz musician (Joe Mantegna) whose passion for life and love absolutely transports her into another world of possibilities. Aided by magical herbs, Alice finds herself acting on the passion she has longed to have in her own marriage. Yet, the herbs do more than arouse her inner passion, they make her aware of herself and what she truly wants in life – to help people.
7. Deconstructing Harry (1997): Perhaps working out life’s frustrations presents itself as a romance, too. Not as sentimental in a classical sense, but poignantly passionate, Allen portrays an author named Block on the way to receiving an award from a university he was once kicked out of. Yet, on that strange trip, he kidnaps his son, picks up a prostitute, and works out his own infamous writer’s block by mixing his life with characters from his books.
6. Radio Days (1987): Essentially, this little gem is Allen’s love letter to the glory days of Radio. It’s iconic, memorable, and the version of September Song used in the film will bring tears to your eyes. Watch for a very young Seth Green in the lead role Allen narrates the film through. Classic stuff. Classic Allen.
5. Stardust Memories (1980): A weird and inspirational little gem that crosses a bit of Fellini’s 8 ½ with the insight of Allen’s own fame and flirtations with serious movies in the wake of his earlier comedies. The romance shines through in the use of visuals and the confusion Allen feels over two women and memories of his ex-girlfriend. Allen considers this one of his very best films.
4. Sweet and Lowdown (1999): Starring Sean Penn (in a role originally planned for Johnny Depp), this mockumentary, narrated by Allen, is essentially a love letter to the Jazz Era of music. It concerns itself with the drunken antics of Emmett Ray, whose passion for playing the guitar is matched only by his passion for booze, and the trouble he causes a mute girl (Samantha Morton).
3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008): Sexy on top of sexy on top of more sexiness; this is romantically shot, romantically acted by its cast: Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, and is just a great time in the summer air of Spain. Match Point’s sleekness has nothing on this film.
2. Annie Hall (1977): I tried not to be too predictable with this list, but there’s just no denying that this film – The Woody Allen Classic At Which All Others Are Measured – is just top notch romantic stuff. And it is. And it should be celebrated for being the ultimate date movie of Valetine’s Day in spite of its hard-nosed ending. It’s truth and it hurts; guaranteed to make you laugh and cry.
1. Manhattan (1979): From its bombastic and hilarious opening to its sudden and hanging closing, this film is the one Romantics sink their teeth into time and time again. Its careful staging, black-and-white photography and its character manipulation are beautifully exhausting and so are its conversations. Yet, it is what the conversations are about that is important to this list. Men and women behaving like beasts. It’s a battle. And Manhattan is their jungle….some souls are lost and some are found and some…pass it up.
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