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Five underrated Woody Allen movies

Five underrated Woody Allen movies (photo)

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The two part Woody Allen documentary on PBS this week has got a lot of people thinking and talking about the prolific filmmaker again. Everyone agrees on his best work — “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” — and just about everyone agrees on his worst stuff — “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” — but after that it gets a little trickier.

Picking five “underrated” Woody Allen movies isn’t an easy job. The man has made a lot of films, and everyone has their personal favorites; a Twitter poll on this subject yielded at least a dozen different responses and no clear consensus (though “Match Point” and “Broadway Danny Rose,” two fine films which are both absent from this list, were quite popular). So these are my five favorite underrated Woody Allen movies. You could very easily have five others you prefer. But if you haven’t seen these, I recommend that you do.


“Take the Money and Run” (1969)

Allen’s true directorial debut (after the Japanese redub “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”) was this early mockumentary. While Woody would refine his faux documentary technique in 1983’s “Zelig,” and he would make much “better” movies over the course of the next forty years, he arguably never made a funnier one. Admittedly, his visual style and command of narrative circa 1969 were crude. But to me “Take the Money and Run”‘s rough edges look like strengths, not weaknesses. Not knowing the “right” way to direct a movie meant he tried about fifty different ways — all in the same, frenetic picture about a bumbling career criminal (Allen) and his misadventures in the underworld. As Allen settled into a filmmaking routine, his movies began to look more and more similar; occasionally, they became downright predictable. Decades later, “Take the Money and Run” is still a shocker.


“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” (1972)

In Part 1 of the PBS documentary, Allen dismissed this movie the way you’d write off a meal at a highway rest stop. So why have I watched it more than any other Woody Allen movie? Probably because while its creator really only values his work as a tragedian, I love “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)” as an uproariously funny sketch comedy movie. When it gets remembered at all, it’s usually for the final bit, which dramatizes the inner workings of the male reproductive organs from the perspective of one sarcastic sperm (played, of course, by Woody). But I love the sci-fi spoof in the middle that culminates with a mad scientist’s greatest experiment — a gigantic, disembodied, female breast — roaming the countryside like a monster movie villain (the heroes finally defeat it by trapping it in a giant bra). And we haven’t even mentioned the sequence where Gene Wilder falls for a sheep. Why is this not Woody’s most beloved comedy again?


“Shadows and Fog” (1992)

True, Woody Allen’s nebbish schtick and German expressionist cinematography make for a strange combination, the cinematic equivalent of a peanut butter and sushi sandwich. But somehow the goofy one-liners and atmospheric visuals work well together. “Shadows and Fog” has some of Allen’s best post-“Love and Death” comic premises, including two men commiserating over a beer about women, unaware they’re both kvetching about the same girl, and the moody, murky images are absolutely stunning. Woody Allen’s never made a real horror film, but “Shadows and Fog” comes closest, especially in the scene where Jodie Foster licks Woody’s nipples. “Shadows and Fog” isn’t quite a scary movie, more of a “scared movie;” even by the standards of Woody Allen’s filmography, it’s an incredibly paranoid picture. Made just before his relationship with Mia Farrow exploded into a tabloid nightmare, it pulses with anxiety and misery. Farrow’s character gets cheated on by her artist husband while Allen’s character is nearly killed by his ex-wife after she catches him sleeping with one of her relatives. Was Allen, who based the film on his 1975 one-act play “Death,” foreshadowing his problems or confessing to them before he got caught? Ironically, this atypical looking Woody movie feels like one of his most intensely personal statements.




“Deconstructing Harry” (1997)

Woody Allen is the author of his films, but is he also their subject? He has insisted for decades — even in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary — that his seemingly autobiographical movies have nothing to do with his real life. One of the things I love about “Deconstructing Harry” is the way it deconstructs that disagreement between filmmaker and viewer. In the film, Allen plays a novelist named Harry Block who must defend himself from charges by friends and (not so) loved ones that he airs their dirty laundry in his art. In “Woody Allen: A Documentary,” Allen insisted, not surprisingly, that Harry was nothing like him. But Harry breaks up a family with an affair and fights bitterly for custody of a child with his ex-wife, things Allen did very publicly in the years leading up to “Deconstructing Harry.” I’m not saying Allen is wrong, or that audiences are right. I’m saying that tension makes “Deconstructing Harry” — which is also bitterly funny, by the way — incredibly interesting.


“Melinda and Melinda” (2004)

This wouldn’t be the first (or tenth) movie I would show a Woody Allen neophyte, but as a cinematic experiment, it’s one of the director’s most fascinating. Allen is a master of weaving multiple stories together into one film (see “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) but in this case, he chose to tell one story multiple times. Over dinner, a group of writers debate whether life is inherently comic or tragic by alternating between funny and sad variations of the same basic premise: a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell, who’s wonderful in both halves of the film) interrupts a dinner party and comes to upset the lives of a married couple. While it is indeed an experiment, “Melinda and Melinda” still speaks directly to Woody Allen’s core philosophical beliefs. Is the world funny or sad? By dramatizing that question, and by showing how similar the two sides truly are, he argues that the only constant in life is absurdity. Whether we prefer to laugh or cry at it is up to us.


What do you think is Woody Allen’s most underrated movie? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.