The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
The challenge: Pick the five best and five worst Woody Allen movies from the 40-something features he's directed since "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" (the Japanese spy movie he re-dubbed and re-cut in 1966). Here are my choices, loosely ordered, for MSN Movies. (Having just re-re-re-re-watched "Another Woman" for an Opening Shot entry -- I can't pull myself away from it once it starts -- I might now rank it higher than "Crimes and Misdemeanors," I think....) I recently caught up with or re-visited all the movies on my lists and quite a few more (yes, I sat through "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" again, though I confess I only made it through the first half hour of "September" -- more than enough to confirm my memories of how wooden it was.) From my introduction to the full story at MSN Movies:
"I've contributed my share of mediocre and very bad films, just like everybody else. I've been working on the quantity theory. I feel if I keep making films, every once in a while I'll get lucky and one will come out OK. And that's exactly what happens." -- Woody Allen, in Robert Weide's film "Woody Allen -- A Documentary," to be released in the fall as part of PBS's "American Masters" series.
In case you don't remember, there was a time when Woody Allen was kind of a big deal. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s -- roughly from "Annie Hall" to "Bullets Over Broadway" (the last time he received an Oscar nomination for Best Director) -- Allen was considered by many to be one of the most vital and interesting American auteurs. His reputation as a serious (though often comedic) filmmaker seemed all the more impressive coming from a former TV gag writer and stand-up comic.
If his achievements seem less significant from the viewpoint of the 21st century, there are likely several reasons.... [from his advanced age to the Soon-Yi scandal]
In 2011, Allen's "Midnight in Paris," his 42nd feature as a director, was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival. No matter how it is received, it seems unlikely to ride the rocket to cinematic oblivion any faster than the last Woody Allen picture to kick off the festival (the hackneyed "Hollywood Ending" in 2002) -- or, for that matter, the 2010 Cannes opener, Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood." But I'd say it's been at least 20 years since Allen produced anything that could stand alongside his peak movies of the 1970s and 1980s.
Allen assessed his own work in a 2010 Times of London interview: "There are a few better than others, half a dozen, but it's a surprising paucity of worthwhile celluloid," he said, citing as his own favorites (in chronological order): "Zelig," "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Husbands and Wives," "Bullets Over Broadway," "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Only "Zelig" and "Husbands and Wives" feature him as an actor, and all but the first two were released after his bust-up with Farrow. I wouldn't place any of those among his finest, but I like more of his movies than I dislike. So, here goes: my choices for the best and worst of Woody Allen.
See my comments on my favorites and least-favorites (in not very strict order) -- with alternates and runners-up -- at MSN Movies:
So, pitch in. Do you agree with Allen that none of his pictures will last? Which do you think are overrated (my choice: the insufferably condescending "Purple Rose of Cairo") or underrated ("Another Woman," for me, and "Radio Days")?
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