Woody Allen, whose career will be celebrated next week by PBS’ documentary series American Masters, has been making films for so long that it’s a wonder the program didn’t profile him sooner. With 47 directing credits, 68 screenwriting credits, and let’s-not-even-start-totaling his Oscar wins and nominations, he’s a gray-haired machine who gets more done in a decade than most artists accomplish in a lifetime.
When I decided to pick my favorite Allen films for a slide show, I thought it would be easy. After all, he tells “American Masters” that he’s pursued a quantity-over-quality strategy, making as many pictures as he can and hoping his batting average stays solid over time. Filtering out the really horrible titles wasn’t tough — so long, “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” Celebrity and Hollywood Ending.
But picking the best took longer than I expected, because while most filmmakers are lucky to have one career phase, Allen has had at least five. There was the “earlier, funny phase,” the late-’70s American urban artiste phase, the 1980s chameleon entertainer phase, the post-Soon-Yi-scandal 1990s phase in which his scripts got a lot angrier and more profane, and most recently a European phase — one that delivered his top-grossing feature, 2011′s Midnight in Paris. And in between phases he’s had slumps so dispiriting that some people figured he was done.
You can view Matt’s slide show here at Salon.
Matt Zoller Seitz is the TV critic for Salon and publisher of Press Play.