You know a Woody Allen film when you see it. The characters are chatty, well-cultured, sometimes clumsy, but always over-thinking and fussing over details. The women have the added trait of being intelligent and decisive. The music is usually jazzy, the visuals linger longingly on the cityscape, and the humour runs deep. Allen is one of Hollywood's most irreplaceable, inimitable artistes today.
He acts in his own films, though not as frequently as he writes and directs them. With multiple Oscar nominations from 1977 through 2013 for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, he has won the Best Director award for Annie Hall and the screenplay award three times.
On his birthday, we take a look at his popular films that have moved its audience from tears to laughter, while also giving them something to think about:
Annie Hall (1977)
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen): I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member. That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.
An endearing rant about relationships and the futility of life, Annie Hall ranks as one of Allen's best films. He stars as the protagonist along with Diane Keaton. Frequently breaking the fourth wall, he narrates his life story, particularly his relationship with Annie Hall. His narcissistic, pessimistic and over-analysing rambling is not just comical but also profound at some point. Funny and original, the film won four Oscars in 1977, including Best Director, Actress and Picture.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Mickey (Woody Allen): I had a great evening; it was like the Nuremberg Trials.
Another comic delight from Allen early on in his career, this 1986-hit stars Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher and Dianne West. The family drama spans between three Thanksgiving dinners at Hannah's home. With intertwining relationships, ex-husbands and life in Hollywood, the story is allegedly based on Farrow, Allen's wife at that time. The film won two Oscars.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Cliff (Woody Allen): Show-business is dog-eat-dog. It's worse than dog-eat-dog. It's dog-doesn't-return-other-dog's-phone-calls, which reminds me. I should check my answering service.
Allen's 1989 film is existential, funny and dealing with many storylines effortlessly. With performances by Allen, Farrow, Martin Landau and Anjelica Huston, the story revolves around an opthalmologist who has to make a decision—leave his wife for his mistress or risk being exposed. At the same time, a filmmaker has to make a documentary on his estranged wife's brother, whom he dislikes. Dark in humour, Allen puts his characters through tough decisions based on selfishness and happiness.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Vicky (Scarlett Johansson): Oh, what makes him so angry toward the human race?
Juan (Javier Bardem): Because after thousands of years of civilization they still haven't learned to love.
Set in Spain, this stylish 2008 film was one of his better-performing films, compared to the string of flops throughout the 1990s. Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson play Vicky and Cristina, two best friends with contradicting views on life. On a vacation in Barcelona, they meet an irresistible painter (Javier Bardem), who changes their lives forever. As director-writer, this might be one of the least Allen-isque films. Devoid of niggling pessimism and outlandish characters, it leaves space for honest contemplation about living life spontaneously or conventionally.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Gil (Owen Wilson): Yeah, that's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life's a little unsatisfying.
Adriana (Marion Cotillard): That's the problem with writers. You are so full of words.
Owen Wilson stars as a writer suffering from a writer's block smitten by Paris. He somehow gets transported back to the golden age period, where he meets his muse (Marion Cotillard), and prominent artists like Dali (Adrien Brody), Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston). The surrealist romantic comedy is a visual treat, with charm and jazz added in for good measure. It ended up being Allen's highest grossing film in the US, and won him his third Oscar for screenplay.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett): Who do you have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?
Based loosely on Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, this was Allen's latest films to get generally positive reviews. Cate Blanchett plays the central character who has nervous conditions and takes over her sister's life and house. While Blanchett was praised for her performance and even won the Oscar for it, the film itself was revered among critics for being one of his “strongest” films so far.