Over a career that spans more than sixty years, Woody Allen has stuffed those six decades full of wit, humour, pessimism and art. He has written and directed over fifty feature films, enjoyed a successful career as a stand up comic and is even a competent jazz musician – and at the grand age of 82, Allen has no intention of slowing down or allowing his reputation as one of the Hollywood greats to fester. His latest film starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, Wonder Wheel, has yet to be given a UK release date but in the mean time, there’s fifty plus films, a lot of which are irrefutable classics, to admire and appreciate.
Born Allan Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn, New York, he began to call himself “Woody Allen” in his late teens as he sold jokes and gags to newspaper columnists. His work was adored by fellow writers and his connections resulted in him being invited (at the tender age of 19) to join the NBC Writer’s Development Program where he continued to write jokes and was hired as a full-time writer. Eventually, Allen was encouraged to perform his written jokes as a stand-up by his manager, Jack Rollins, but his performances weren’t always well received by audiences; his conversational and subdued approach to the material was often misunderstood and he subsequently developed an anxious and affected persona which he continues to implement to this day. The transition into becoming a playwright and screenwriter/director came in the mid to late 60s and Allen’s Play It Again, Sam originated as a Broadway production. It featured Diane Keaton as her career was going from strength to strength ands he went on to star in the film version, along with many of Allen’s most revered films.
• Blue Jasmine (2013)
Their most popular and memorable collaboration remains Annie Hall, which won four Academy Awards including Best Actress for Keaton and Best Director for Allen. The titular character was inspired by Keaton (her real surname is “Hall” and her nickname is “Annie”) and her various character traits, “Of course I recognised myself in the roles [Woody Allen] wrote. I mean, in Annie Hall particularly. I was this sort of novice who had lots of feelings but didn’t know how to express herself, and I see that in Annie.” Annie Hall has since become the benchmark and pillar for all other romantic comedies and has ranked at No. 4 on the American Film Institute list of “100 Best Comedies”. Allen’s filmography is one of the most uniquely specific out there and the director’s own persona is omnipresent in many of his works. His lead characters and protagonists are often writers or academic intellectuals with a nervous disposition (e.g. Café Society and Midnight in Paris) – and many develop infatuations with women much younger than themselves (e.g. Manhattan, Magic in the Moonlight and Irrational Man), a trope that has garnered criticism and raised eyebrows over the years.
Despite a number of questions surrounding Allen’s past, his personal life and the recurring themes and narrative beats that his work explores, he continually churns out film after film every year. He recently wrapped production on A Rainy Day in New York starring a slew of young actors such as Elle Fanning, Timothee Chalamet and songstress Selena Gomez and the film is slated for release later this year. Rumours about A Rainy Day in New York’s storyline have circulated and already caused controversy (it reportedly involves a married middle-aged man who pursues an intimate relationship with a 15 year-old), but Allen remains a draw to top Hollywood talent and distributors alike.
• Annie Hall (1977)
• Manhattan (1979)
• Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
• Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
• Midnight in Paris (2011)
By Evie Brudenall