We’re some forty years into the career of Woody Allen, America’s most consistent—and perhaps consistently undervalued—filmmaker, and it’s become almost impossible for cinephiles, and even casual movie connoisseurs, to abstain from participating in the annual combing-over of his oeuvre that accompanies his each new release. Which one’s the best? Which one’s the worst? How about a complete ranking from #1 to #41? (Spend five seconds on Google, and you’ll find a few.) It’s almost a sport. I recently passed a soused evening at a party separating the wheat from the chaff via pithy one-liners with a group of similarly Allen-versed comrades. It took some time—it’s easy to forget how many Woody Allen movies you’ve seen until you actively try to remember them all.
It should be noted that Allen holds an entirely unique economic position amongst currently practicing filmmakers: he cranks out new movies yearly and each receives nationwide release in semi-commercial venues, while the entirety of his back catalogue remains in print and readily available. So while Midnight in Paris rakes in the dough, re-establishing Allen as a commercial force about two and a half decades since anyone cared to imagine him as such, his other forty films are all out there and ripe for the picking (currently Netflix is streaming about a dozen and has the entire oeuvre up for rental), a rare completist’s utopia. It begs exploration: if you’ve known him primarily as the comedic force behind the winsome Annie Hall and Manhattan, take a trip through his darker late eighties/early nineties heights—September, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives. Gave up on the man around Mighty Aphrodite? There’s been plenty to admire in his work, pre- and post-Match Point. So what if you’ve heard The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is awful—it’s only 103 minutes . . .
There are only two Allen films out of the whole gaggle I actively dislike end-to-end, giving the Wood-man a pretty astounding .956 batting average. This places me in a small minority of folks who find his neo–borscht belt features Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, and Scoop winningly cheesy and frequently funny, and who find September and Interiors successful personal expressions of his Bergmania. There’s nothing wrong with the early funny ones either. I can even go to bat for films like Cassandra’s Dream, Celebrity, and Shadows and Fog—not great works by any stretch, but all skillfully rendered at the level of basic craft and offering flashes of those things we look to Woody Allen for: smart, literate humor; penetrating psychological insight; a coherent philosophical worldview pliable enough to account for and chart both the ups and downs of human existence with equal doses apathy and empathy. Finding a Woody Allen film completely lacking in all of these crucial areas is difficult, unless you dare subject yourself to his terrible twosome from the early aughts, Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda, the worst films from the weakest stretch of his career. Read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium.