Thursday, July 25, 2013

Top 10 Male Performances in Woody Allen Movies

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine hits U.S. theaters tomorrow, and early reviews appear to be unanimous on two points: it is a good Woody Allen movie, and it contains a perfect Cate Blanchett performance. This is great news because, although Blanchett is always perfect, she is not always in films that do her talent justice. So, basically, I’m excited for Blue Jasmine and thrilled to see Blanchett do what she does best.

In honor of Allen’s new film, I thought it’d be fun to list my favorite performances from his movies. The fellas are up first, with the ladies dropping tomorrow. Enjoy!

10. Adrien Brody – Midnight in Paris (2011)
as Salvador Dalí
Sure, there are far more substantial (and Oscar-winning) roles to occupy this spot, but I couldn’t not including Adrien Brody’s scene stealing turn as Salvador Dalí in Midnight in Paris. Brody’s performance is confined to roughly two minutes and the repetition of mostly one word, but it is utterly perfect. A fun bit of casting coupled with genius, restrained screenwriting.

9. Gene Wilder – Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But were afraid to ask (1972)
as Dr. Ross
I don’t want to give away why Wilder is so great in this film, but let me put it this way, the title of Wilder’s segment in the film is “What is Sodomy?” and the two main stars are Gene Wilder, and a sheep. Enough said.

8. Ian Holm – Another Woman (1988)
as Ken
Woody Allen loves writing cold, elitist male characters, and Ian Holm’s Ken is one of my all time favorites. As Gena Rowlands’ uptight doctor husband, Holm is a small fury of a man. Passive aggressive, shallow and hopelessly entitled. His double use of the term, “I accept your condemnation” will force you to hate him.

7. Max von Sydow – Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
as Frederick
Another cold, entitled character, von Sydow’s Frederick is the type of reclusive genius whose girlfriend is constantly apologizing for his intelligence. She defends Frederick to everyone she knows, before finally realizing that his intellectual methods of “teaching” her (as if she needs to be taught) are crippling. A brief performance, but an exceptional one.

6. Martin Landau – Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
as Judah Rosenthal
The best Woody Allen characters are the ones that we want to like, but can’t help passing judgment on. Because they are so well written, their layers are impossible to pick apart. For example, on the surface, Judah Rosenthal is a good man. A successful doctor, devoted family man, and so on. But when he hires a hit man to kill his impetuous mistress, it’s only natural that we turn on him. Landau knows this. He’s aware of the audience’s potential shift of appreciation for Judah, and he smartly plays right into it. The final scene of this film may be the single best scene of Landau’s career. Despondent and faultless.

5b. Woody Allen – Stardust Memories (1980)
as Sandy Bates
I’m splitting the fifth pick for no other reason than it is the same actor playing two roles I love equally (I’m doing the same tomorrow as well). First up is Allen’s conflicted and humorously complacent Sandy Bates, a famous filmmaker attending a weekend film festival of his own films. Constantly berated by “fans” who beg Bates to go back to making funnier films, the director drifts amusingly between two worlds: the harsh reality of fame, and the dream world of existentialism. Allen has noted that Bates is the character most like his real life personality, which is equally as pleasant as it is unnerving.

5a. Woody Allen – Annie Hall (1977)
as Alvy Singer
By far the most popular and neurotic character Allen has ever played, Alvy Singer is the kind of cinematic treasure that will outlive us all. Whether he’s arguing about the use of substances during sex, trying to catch a giant lobster in his kitchen, or listening to Christopher Walken discuss his suicidal tendencies, there isn’t a note in his performance that Allen doesn’t hit remarkably.

4. Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Match Point (2005)
as Chris Wilton
Chris Wilton is my favorite pathetically desperate male character of Woody Allen’s career. When we meet Chris, we have no reason not to fall absolutely in love with him. He’s kind, appreciative, self educated, a hard worker. But once he marries into money, his true colors are revealed. He subtly morphs into a philandering, money-obsessed jerk who puts himself before everyone. The conclusion Chris reaches in order to once again be free, is the same conclusion a handful of Allen’s characters have also reached. But I’ve never seen it played with as much despair as Meyers does here. I’m undeniably drawn to Chris’ pain.

3. Gene Hackman – Another Woman (1988)
as Larry Lewis
Gene Hackman has never played a character like Larry Lewis. A kind, gentle soul void of anger, resentment, and/or violence. Through flashbacks, we learn that Larry is the one that got away from bitter author, Marion Post (Gena Rowlands). Perhaps Larry could’ve stopped her from turning cold and unpleasant. Perhaps his quiet love could’ve saved her from the rain. Larry is a very small part, but it will always remain one of my favorite of Hackman’s career. His earnestness brings tears to my eyes.

2. Sean Penn – Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
as Emmet Ray
Emmet Ray might be the most exquisite out-and-out asshole Allen ever penned. He’s an excellent musician haunted by competition and regret, which he continually numbs with booze and women. When he finally comes across a gal worth keeping, he treats her like utter shit. And when I watch Sweet and Lowdown, I am reminded how difficult it is to play a character like Emmet Ray so convincingly. Emmet teeters right on the edge of audience gratitude and dissatisfaction, and it takes a skilled actor to make the role work. Penn is one such actor; few could make such a shitty person so compelling.

1. Woody Allen – Manhattan (1979)
as Isaac Davis
To be perfectly honest, Allen’s off-screen delivery of the opening monologue in Manhattan is almost enough to call Isaac Davis my favorite male character Woody Allen has ever written. But there’s more. So much more. Juggling a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old, while battling his lesbian ex wife for time with their son, while falling in love with his best friend’s mistress, is certainly no easy feat, but Allen’s frantic neurosis was made for this role. Isaac contains all of the trademark qualities of a self-played Woody Allen character, but in the end, I’m left with his silent, welcoming face. Staring into the eyes of the woman he loves, begging her to stay without saying a word. It’s a level of restraint that we rarely see from Allen himself, but I always find it compelling.

Click here for more lists from And So it Begins..., including:
Top 10 Female Performances in Woody Allen Movies

35 comments:

  1. great list! but no owen wilson? i think him over brody, for sure.

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    1. Thanks! I actually thought Owen Wilson was just okay in Midnight in Paris. He was still Owen Wilson, you know? Brody was Dalí.

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  2. For me so far...

    1. Woody Allen-Zelig
    2. Martin Landau-Crimes & Misdemeanors
    3. Woody Allen-Manhattan
    4. Gene Wilder-Everything You Always Needed to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
    5. Jeff Daniels-The Purple Rose of Cairo
    6. Michael Caine-Hannah & Her Sisters
    7. Javier Bardem-Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    8. Adrien Brody-Midnight in Paris
    9. Woody Allen-Love & Death
    10. Sean Penn-Sweet & Lowdown

    Oh, and worst male performance in a Woody Allen film goes to Jason Biggs for Anything Else. He was just terrible in that film although it's a film that pretty much sucked with the exception of Woody destroying some guy's car which I think exemplifies his creative frustrations with his own work.

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    1. Great list. All the ones on your list that aren't on mine were very close to making the cut, namely Woody in Zelig. What a unique little film that is.

      Also agree that Biggs is the worst, by far. Anything Else is Woody's weakest film, in my opinion. Well, after To Rome With Love.

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  3. I'll never understand the love for Manhattan, but, yeah, Penn in Sweet & Lowdown is a revelation. If you had to pick an overall underappreciated Woody Allen flick (and there are many), that one would be near the top.

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    1. Well, one other person I know that will never understand the love for Manhattan is Woody himself. He still considers it his worst film.

      Nice to hear the Sweet and Lowdown praise. I too think that one is vastly underrated.

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  4. Excellent list. There are still a few films here I haven't seen, but your #10 and #9 picks are perfect (as are the rest of course). Adrien Brody was just fantastic as Dali. I couldn't imagine anyone else in that role.

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    1. Thanks man. The first time I saw Midnight in Paris, I had no idea Brody was in it, let alone playing Dalí. Perfect use of that character. Makes me laugh my ass off.

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  5. I hate being the guy that swoops in and says "No (insert name here)" and, yet, I feel I have no choice in this instance.......no Chazz Palminteri in "Bullets Over Broadway"?

    In spite of my whining, great list.

    Also, I'm really curious, what do you think of "Shadows and Fog"?

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    1. Ha, it's all good man. Sadly, I'm far to used to the "No...." comments on my lists. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of what should be here, I suppose.

      But noting that, it literally came down to Chazz or Brody. Chazz would've been 11, no question. Aside from Wiest, he is by far my favorite thing about BoB.

      Shadows and Fog... I like it as an exercise, but I think the final film is just okay. If I'm not mistaken, it is his most expensive film to date, which seems a little off to me. I like it now more then I did then, but still, just okay.

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  6. Very rarely do I like Woody Allen playing Woody Allen in Woody Allen's films. After a while, his neurosis gets better of me. But somehow, Manhattan and everything in it just works for me. Love Issac Davis topping the list. Great to see Brody and von Sydow making the appearance. I always enjoy both these characters.

    However one I am most happy to see on the list is Martin Landau. His performance is what makes Crimes and Misdemeanors one of my favourite Allen films.

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    1. I'm not the biggest fan of Woody playing Woody either. In fact, I think he's only really pulled it off a handful of times, if that. But Isaac is great. I love him.

      So happy to hear you're a fan of Landau's work in that film. I honestly think that if C&M only focused on Landau's story (which is essentially what Match Point is), then it would've been a masterpiece.

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    2. Now you are just reading my mind! I think Allen's storyline is C&M is completely extraneous. I Love that film but I'd like it even more, if it wasn't for his arch. Maybe that's why I love Match Point so much. :)

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    3. Exactly! When I saw Match Point, I said, "Yes, bravo." He recycled such familiar material, but he made it better in my opinion.

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  7. I personally liked John Cusack and Owen Wilson's takes on the Allen persona when they did Bullets Over Broadway and Midnight in Paris respectively.

    Brody was certainly one of my favorite aspects of Midnight in Paris. (The other aspects were mainly the pitch perfect casting of the other famous figures. Oh, and Wilson.) Likewise with Meyers in Match Point.

    Oh, and one more male role in a Woody Allen film: Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Okay, I'm done.

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    1. You know, that'd be another good idea for a list: Top 10 (or 5...) Woody Allen Doppelgängers. I think Cusack might be my favorite. Tough call though.

      Daniels came in at number 12 for this list. I really do love him in that film. One of his all time best performances.

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  8. Yaay great list. I would add Jeff Daniels, Corey Stoll and Owen Wilson in mine, but yaayyy for Brody! That scene, along with Christoph Waltz's "That's a bingo!", ALWAYS makes me laugh, no matter what mood I'm in.

    And totes agree with Allen in Manhattan being number 1.

    Can't wait for the female performances list. That will be tough.

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    1. Thanks! Ha, that's the second time I've seen you use that "totes" word. It's turning into your "bitchin'" which I can dig :)

      I like the female list, can't wait to publish it!

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  9. I'm curious, do you ever get frustrated by your commenters questioning your choices? I read all of your lists, but this one seems to have a lot of people calling you out.

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    1. The easy answer is: Nah. Perhaps this is a tad presumptuous of me, but with a list like this, I'm assuming most of the commenters haven't seen Another Woman, or Everything You Always Wanted..., or hell, even Sweet and Lowdown. So maybe if they had seen those films, they'd agree with me. Or, obviously, maybe not. In the end, it all comes down to we like what we like, which is a motto for blog commenting that I've embraced over the years. In short, it's all good, ya dig?

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    2. I have seen you use that phrase before. That's a good attitude to have. I think I would be annoyed by it, that's all. Probably why I don't blog.

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    3. Understandable. I think the people who have commented so far on this post are all really cool people, and certainly don't leave comments to be annoying. I always encourage people to tell me what they would chose if they made the same list. I like other opinions.

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    4. Now, for annoying, see David's comment below.

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    5. I swear that wasn't me.

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  10. Great list! I need to see Hannah and Her Sisters again.

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    1. Thanks! That's a great one right there.

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  11. I think I would've picked Corey Stoll as Hemingway over Brody's Dali, if you're gonna go with a supporting role in "Midnight...". How'd you forget Michael Caine in "Hannah and Her Sisters", or Jeff Daniels in "The Purple Rose of Cairo", that's a tough role to play.

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    1. "Forget"...? "Forget"...?

      I didn't forget Caine and Daniels. The list is for 10, and my personal choices ranked higher than those two performances.

      But thanks.

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  12. I actually have yet to see both Another Woman and Sweet and Lowdown (my fail, I know) but the rest of these are great choices. I know it'll sound weird, but I remember first seeing Hannah and Her Sisters and being sort of scared of how Max von Sydow was going to work in the film. Even though I love the work of his I've seen with Bergman, I didn't know how he would fit into an Allen film but was astounded at how well he was utilized in it. I actually wished there was more of him in that film. I don't know if I would have picked Brody, I probably would have gone for Billy Crystal in Deconstructing Harry, but that's just me.
    Once again, great list man and I can't wait to see Blue Jasmine!

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    1. I completely understand what you mean about von Sydow in Hannah. I was very curious to see how that was going to work, but thankfully, it worked so well.

      Love Crystal in Deconstructing Harry. I really like that film as a whole, actually.

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    2. ''With you it's all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm!''

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  13. I love all those Stardust Memories mentions here, such a fantastic movie. I'd definitely have Caine on Hannah and her Sisters on my list, but Von Sydov was fantastic there too, as was Allen - such a funny character there.

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    1. Caine was definitely close to making the cut. He's such a desperate guy in that film. I love it. Also love that you love Stardust. A seriously underrated Woody gem.

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  14. What a brilliant list! Only 2 or 3 of these would probably make my list, but I can't argue with any of your picks. I thought I was alone on Jonathan Rhys Meyers' performance, so it's great to see him on here. It's awesome to see Stardust Memories and 2 mentions of Another Woman on here as well.

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    1. Thanks man! That's the thing... even though 2 or 3 of these would end up on your list, I bet I'd agree with EVERY pick on your list as well. So many to choose from. Dude, I love Meyers is Match Point. I thought he tackled desperation so well.

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