A ‘Catalogue Of His Greatest Films,’ trumpeted the press release. Bit of a stretch – that would be the cherry pickings from his work in the ’70s and ’80s – but this round-up of Woody Allen’s 1994-2000 output catches him before his ’00s nosedive. It even chucks in Wild Man Blues (1997), Barbara Kopple’s chronicle of Woody’s 1996 European tour with his New Orleans Jazz Band.
Best of the seven Allen films in the collection are Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Sweet And Lowdown (1999), giving us, respectively, a put-upon playwright (John Cusack), an author suffering from writer’s block (Allen), and a brilliant but obnoxious jazz guitarist (Sean Penn). Allen again stars as sportswriter who seeks out the birth mother of his genius adopted son in Mighty Aphrodite (1995) only to discover she’s a potty-mouthed prostitute (Oscar-winning Mira Sorvino).
Also highly enjoyable, if slight, are Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and Small Time Crooks (2000), the former a breezy musical in the ’30s tradition and the latter a semi-successful return to the broad comedy that characterised the filmmaker’s earlier, funnier movies. Which leaves Celebrity (1998), a good-looking, energetic spin on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita with a maddeningly affected Woody impression by Kenneth Branagh as a journalist touting his script to rich and famouses.
Also available to buy individually and digitally, these films buzz with neurotic artists, broad-stroke lowlifes, seesawing relationships and bittersweet humour. Well worth a purchase – just be sure to buy Allen’s greatest films first.