Where does ‘Blue Jasmine’ rank among Woody Allen’s films?

Woody Allen shakes hands with the great beyond in "Love and Death," his best ever film.
Woody Allen hangs out with the Grim Reaper in “Love and Death,” his best film to date.

It’s that time of year again — that is, when Woody Allen releases his annual film. The exact time of year fluctuates. (In the ‘90s, it was always in the fall, in time for Oscars. For the last few years he’s been an improbable summer movie filmmaker.) And whenever one of his new films is released, it’s time to do that thing when you sum up his career, looking back over his rather daunting body of work — a film per year, with few exceptions, since 1969! — and realize that, hey, the entire cinematic body of work by Woody Allen isn’t at all bad. In fact, it’s comparable to the (other) greats!

Jordan Hoffman over at film.com has done a terrific film-by-film ranking of Woody’s 43 1/3 films, though he also includes some that he only wrote and/or acted in, like “What’s New, Pussycat?,” “Play It Again, Sam” and “The Front,” two of which are as terrific as many of Woody’s films. (It feels weird calling him “Allen” — which is, in fact, his actual first name — and especially “Mr. Allen,” a la The New York Times.) It’s a great round-up, one not afraid to mount cogent defenses of such runs like “Shadows and Fog” and “Another Woman.”

And here, without any neurotic self-deprecation, is ours. (Note: This is only theatrically released films, not TV work, including the impossible to find “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story” — which, if anyone has a line on…)

Stone-Cold Masterpiece
1. “Love and Death” (1975)
2. “Manhattan” (1979)
3. “Bananas” (1971)
4. “Annie Hall” (1977)
5. “Sleeper” (1973)

Near-Masterpiece
6. “Radio Days” (1987)
7. “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986)
8. “Broadway Danny Rose” (1984)
9. “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985)
10. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)
11. “Deconstructing Harry” (1997)
12. “Zelig” (1983)
13. “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1993)

Really, Incredibly Good
14. “Stardust Memories” (1980)
15. “Take the Money and Run” (1969)
16. “Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
17. “Husbands and Wives” (1992)
18. “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994)
19. “Blue Jasmine” (2013)
20. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2006)
21. “Sweet and Lowdown” (1999)

Quite Solid
22. “Match Point” (2005)
23. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” (1972)
24. “Another Woman” (1988)
25. “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966)
[+ 1/3 “Oedipus Wrecks,” his contribution to “New York Stories” (1989)]
26. “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995)
27. “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1983)

Problematic, But Mostly Positive
28. “Anything Else” (2003)
29. “Cassandra’s Dream” (2005)
30. “Interiors” (1978)
31. “To Rome, With Love” (2012)
32. “Midnight in Paris” (2011)
33. “Shadows and Fog” (1991)

Problematic, With Less Merit — But Some
34. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (2010)
35. “Whatever Works” (2009)
36. “Celebrity” (1998)
37. “Hollywood Ending” (2002)
38. “Scoop” (2006)
39. “Small Time Crooks” (2000)

Pretty Bad — But, You Know, Not Entirely Worthless
40. “September” (1987)
41. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001)
42. “Alice” (1990)
43. “Melinda and Melinda” (2004)

A few observations:

1. “Love and Death,” our No. 1, is not always cited as his best straight-up comedy, much less his best overall film. People tend to gravitate toward “Sleeper,” which is a touch more sophisticated and reined-in. But that’s why we love this: This movie is insane. It’s incredibly dense, with parodies of Dostoevsky and Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein flying madly about. (It’s crazy this is one of his biggest moneymakers.)

However, it’s his last full-on comedy before the hybrid of comedy and drama that is “Annie Hall.” But in a way it’s just as serious as any of his serious films. It’s a statement of purpose: The film touches on the same ideas of morality in a universe that may not have a god or any kind of governing principles as “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (plus its not bad, in many ways more “cinematically” pleasurable knock-off “Match Point”). Everyone engages in heady philosophical debates, and though every exchange is played for laughs, there’s a seriousness there. It’s all a joke, but Woody’s anxious philosophical beliefs are all there.

2. The Naughts were not great for Woody. For awhile there, after three or four (and then five) subpar films, some even gave up on him. But looking back, it’s actually not worthless. Only two films are actively terrible, and even they have stray bits to recommend. Indeed, he hasn’t made a film that was “bad” in nine years (i.e., 2004’s “Melinda and Melinda,” which is pretty pathetic — but has some strong work from Radha Mitchell and others).

3. “Anything Else” has a lot of issues. But it’s one of his most revelatory films, in terms of what Woody says about the Woody Myth. There’s not a small amount of people — some of them Gentiles, including yours truly — who grew up idolizing Woody. Here, the lead is played by Jason Biggs, a Catholic (often cast as Jews) who takes on the role of a guy who looks up to a witty writer played by Woody Allen. But this version of the Woody character is a crank — a bitter misanthrope who has given up on humanity and, in one scene, prefers petty violence to the poison pen. Biggs discovers he is not someone to whom to aspire. (Lucky for him, Woody seems to have chilled out a bit in the ensuing decade, seeming to have come to grips with the idea of living in a godless universe.)

4. As he got into the 1980s, Woody — a one-time gagman who unexpectedly found himself treated as a serious artist — became a more profound thinker, and an even more trenchant observer of humanity. But some of us still prefer his gag-filled, energetic youthful work. The “early, funny” ones (as dubbed by the aliens, voiced by Woody himself, in the undervalued “Stardust Memories”) are some of the greatest, craziest comedies ever made — as dense and inventive as the films by the Marxes and other Vaudeville types. And is this the greatest sight gag ever? It gets our vote.

5. Man, how good is “Manhattan Murder Mystery?” One of the loveliest portraits of marriage (and of being old in NYC) ever.



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