Where To Start With... Woody Allen
With 46 completed films and a 47th in production, Woody Allen is surely one of the most prolific filmmakers in history. For some, his films are an acquired taste, but for others – especially actors and those working in the film industry – he's a comedic genius and a filmmaker who almost everybody wants to work with. As Cate Blanchett put it after being invited to star in his previous film, Blue Jasmine, when Woody Allen calls, “you say yes before you've even seen the script.”
His 46th film, Magic In the Moonlight, stars Colin Firth as an English magician named Stanley who, under the guise of his stage name Wei Ling Soo, creates huge, oriental-themed stage shows featuring grand illusions, but he also has another speciality. Stanley has dedicated much of his life to debunking fraudulent spiritualists, mediums and others claiming to possess psychic powers or the ability to communicate with the dead.
His friend Howard (Simon McBurney) tasks him with sussing out a young spiritualist named Sophie (Emma Stone), whom he fears is conning his rich friends from her base in the south of France. However, when Stanley visits her with the intention of tricking her into revealing how the con works, even he is puzzled and before long he starts to doubt his convictions about her. Worse than that, he think he might be falling in love with her.
Woody Allen always manages to tackle big subjects in a fairly light way and although the film is essentially debating subjects as fundamental as to whether or not there is an afterlife, Magic in the Moonlight never bogs the viewer down in its heavy subject matter, instead producing much of the film's comedy from the relationship between Stanley and Sophie. Firth is the perfect casting here and Stone is equally impressive, but as with most of Allen's films it's all in the script and the writing is as sharp as ever.
You'll be able to pick up his latest offering on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday February 9th and you can find the trailer below. In the meantime we've picked out five of our favourites from Woody Allen's extensive filmography to get you in the mood...
Traditionally, comedies don't do all that well at the Academy Awards and if you need proof, all you have to do is look at the fact that Annie Hall, released in 1977, is still the most recent comedy to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. That may paint a picture of Academy bias, but it's also a testament to Woody Allen's abilities as a writer and director. Starring himself alongside Diane Keaton, Annie Hall's tale of awkward romance is perfectly measured and, like many of Allen's films, includes a pretty interesting cast, from Christopher Walken to Paul Simon. If you look closely you'll also spot Jeff Goldblum loitering in the background of the party scene, while there's also a first ever appearance on a cinema screen for Sigourney Weaver. Funny, touching and utterly enjoyable, this is highly recommended.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay at last year's Academy Awards, Blue Jasmine is the aforementioned film starring Cate Blanchett as a former New York socialite who moves in with her sister when she finds her privileged life in ruins when her marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin) breaks down. Jasmine is narcissistic and self-absorbed, beginning to disrupt her sister's life as soon as she arrives and struggling to adjust to her new surroundings in San Francisco. More sombre than some of Allen's films, it's no less compelling and the performances from Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in the role of her sister, Ginger, are just brilliant and even earned the former her first Best Actress Oscar.
Allen describes Stardust Memories as one of the best films he has worked on and it's difficult to argue with that. Loosely based on the Federico Fellini classic 8 ½, the film features Allen as a filmmaker named Sandy Bates who made his name making comedies, but is trying to move away from that and make more serious, artistic films. However, he finds himself plagued by fans and there is a running gag throughout the film where numerous characters – including visiting aliens from space – repeatedly tell him that they prefer his 'earlier, funny films'. Bates is essentially having a sort of nervous breakdown and struggling to choose which one of the women he is seeing is the right one for him to find happiness. Starring Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper and Tony Roberts, this film is often overlooked compared to some of his others, but it's a real gem.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask)
Loosely based on the sexual self-help manual of the same name by Dr. David Reuben that became hugely popular during the 'sexual revolution' of the 1960s, Allen's film parodies its subject, choosing seven short, unrelated stories which are all purported to be based on Reuben's book. These include a TV game show named What's My Perversion? and a medieval court jester who gives his queen a love potion, only to be foiled by her chastity belt. The best of all of these though is the segment starring the brilliant Gene Wilder as a psychotherapist treating a man who has fallen in love with a sheep, only to then fall in love with the same sheep himself. If you've never seen a Woody Allen film before, this is a good place to start.
Considered by many to be his best work, Manhattan sees Allen playing Isaac Davies, a TV writer who quits his job to write his first novel – a decision he's already beginning to regret as he struggles with two separate alimony payments. Meryl Streep also stars as his one of his ex-wives, who left him for another woman and is now writing a book of her own in the form of a kiss-and-tell detailing every aspect of their former marriage. Released just two years after Annie Hall, Manhattan also sees Allen casting Diane Keaton again, this time as Mary, a journalist who becomes the mistress of his best friend and, although he initially dislikes her, Isaac begins to fall for her too. As good as any film he's produced, this is a classic.