My moviegoing friend and I had a spirited conversation over oysters and cocktails the other night about whether my favorite film director, Woody Allen, has lost his magic touch. I suggested that Allen still had the stuff; “Match Point” was clear evidence of that. My moviegoing friend responded that while she hadn’t seen “Match Point,” Allen resume over the last eight years (“Small Time Crooks,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Anything Else,” “Melinda and Melinda,” “Match Point” and “Scoop”) demonstrates that his skills as a writer (his primary talent, my moviegoing friend opines) have been left floating somewhere in the Hudson River.
Fair point, I replied. But remember that before Allen started trying to be funny, he was making impeccable films like “Husbands and Wives, ” Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Everyone Says I Love You,” “Deconstructing Harry,” “Celebrity” and “Sweet and Lowdown,” a film my moviegoing friend adores.
He made those films from 1992 – 1999, all in a row. That’s one hell of a streak.
I can’t defend any of the films Allen has made this century (with the exeception of “Match Point”), but I think it’s still premature to write off the guy who made “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Zelig” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The interesting thing about Allen’s films are that you can tell their quality by their cast. Reference the films from this century. The rags starred such B and C-list actors like Michael Rappaport (yes, I know he was in “Mighty Aphrodite”), Treat Williams, Helen Hunt (post her undeserved Oscar), Tracy Ullman, Jason Biggs, George Hamilton, Debra Messing, Jon Lovitz, and Elizabeth Berkley. You had to know they were going to suck (although “Melinda and Melinda,” not a great, but not an awful film, starred the very fine actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Radha Mitchell, Amanda Peet, Will Ferrell, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Carell, and Josh Brolin).
But his two latest efforts, “Cassandra’s Dream” and an untiled Barcelona project, star quality actors. “Dream” features Colin Farell, Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson. The Barcelona film stars Javier Bardem, Patricia Clarkson and Penelope Cruz. I have hope.
But don’t just take my word for it. Noah Forrest, writing for The Frenzy over at Movie City News, weighs in on the discussion.
I’m of the belief that when someone has released so many masterpieces, it is ridiculous to ever write that person off. It’s not as if those masterpieces were confined to one brief period, either; he’s made at least two masterpieces in three different decades. So while his recent output hasn’t been of the highest quality, I will never have the gall to think that the man has somehow “lost it.”