Another Oscar season. Another Woody Allen movie. Another attempt to shuffle past Dylan Farrow’s accusation of childhood sexual assault while Allen puts a thinly veiled screed against her mother into theaters. The “For Your Consideration” screener for Allen’s latest, “Wonder Wheel,” even considerately removes his name from the packaging just in case Oscar voters had any qualms about who made the product they were voting on. The grounds on which the case of her assault were dismissed by the original medical examiners have been questioned, even then by the presiding judge and attorney, as laid out in Maureen Orth’s 2014 piece “10 Undeniable Facts” for Vanity Fair.
There is one difference this Oscar season however: The discourse outside of Allen has shifted considerably, bringing forth a public reckoning with sexual abuse and harassment by men in power, from the entertainment industry to public office, purging moguls, politicians, and other previous untouchables that HR departments were used to sweeping under the rug. Whether it leads to a structural shift and ushers in a new system of accountability (it’s heartening to see conversations about everything from protecting workers through the collective power of unions to longtime radical concepts like restorative justice on the table) or it remains an attempt by executives to curtail bad business while remaining profitable on the market is yet to be seen.
Men who for a long time were using systems of intimidation to silence their victims with everything from lawyers to ex-Mossad agents (in the case of Harvey Weinstein) are seeing the door, but inconsistencies remain. For example, Louis CK’s movie “I Love You Daddy” about a Woody Allen figure had its distribution cancelled once allegations that were an open secret were finally in an era where they could made on the record. Woody Allen, though, has “Wonder Wheel” in theaters (it is fortunately, already not playing at the Charles Theatre), another movie in the works, and a distribution deal with Amazon—despite the executive that signed the Amazon deal being fired over sexual misconduct allegations of their own. Dylan Farrow again had to ask, now with the belief in victims leading to otherwise seismic shifts in accountability, “Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Woody Allen?”
Back in 2014, I wrote a version of the list below for the now defunct site Animal New York, dealing with the still prevalent notion that that sacrificing Allen as an artistic and cultural institution on account of a “murky” case would be detrimental to the history of American cinema. A final frontier in which criticism works outside of concepts like justice, where one must be allowed to engage with art in a way that transcends reactionary morals and that Allen’s art in particular is too great to be ruled out by ethical concerns. It wasn’t new and it had been disputed before. Jonathan Rosenbaum, in “Notes Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen,” posited Allen as a foreign arthouse CliffsNotes for middlebrow American intellectuals with inferiority complexes, dumbed down Bergman and Fellini and not much else. In 1979, Joan Didion suggested Allen’s nexus of cultural godsends were merely an outgrowth of capitalist consumption, an arrangement of commodities meant to signify artistic enrichment but merely functioning as a collector’s catalogue.
As someone who grew up a neurotic, nebbish-y Jew, I found his works at least somewhat formative—but life goes on, and the idea that we can’t live without Allen is a false one. Treating his works as the final word on a number of subjects is a disservice to the vast history of cinema and literature. As such, this is an attempt to offer an alternative viewing option for every one of his films so that we can finally let go of his overrated career. Some of the artists in question have their own checkered history and when I wrote this I hadn’t realize that Fassbinder, in particular, was an abusive tyrant himself. Being dead, though, reckoning with his behavior as such doesn’t mean perpetuating his career in a way that evades accountability. The list is by no means definitive—and that is the point—so feel free to substitute with your own choices and make my canon cannon fodder.
“What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” / “Tokyo Drifter”
The entire joke of “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” is that Allen and friends found a Japanese cheapie and for the benefit of Western audiences recut and redubbed it with an endless string of Asian stereotypes. Once considered inventive, its sub-“Kung Pow: Enter The Fist” gags don’t really need saving. That said, Seijun Suzuki’s “Tokyo Drifter” takes the Western gangster picture and gives it a psychedelic, William Burroughs-esque cut-up that leaves the hard-boiled yarn in a pile of surreal pixie dust.
“Take The Money And Run” / “Bottle Rocket”
For a charming riff on the heist genre also made up of endearingly bumbling criminals, “Bottle Rocket” is still great and also works as a sweet-natured epilogue to “Thief,” where maybe James Caan’s Frank finally came to peace with his post-prison PTSD and adopted a euro-bohemian openness to life’s left turns.
“Bananas” / “Duck Soup”
Allen liberally quotes from Groucho on the reg, and “Duck Soup” is a literal lifesaver in Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Unlike the condescending cultural tourism of “Bananas,” the Marx brothers situate their absurdist conflict between European decadents, a necessary reminder that the civilized West is a post-WWII myth. “Duck Soup’s” eventual descent into free-associative nonsense is also one of the greatest critiques of war by way of demonstrating by default, the totality of its psychic carnage.
“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask”/ “Taxi Zum Klo”
“Taxi Zum Klo” is willing to demonstrate the Everything in Allen’s title and then some as a frank, funny, and unfiltered autobiographical tale of gay cruising that along the way plays like a big, troll-ish “fuck you” to William Friedkin’s nightmare about what the homos are up to, “Cruising” too.
“Play it Again, Sam”/ “In A Lonely Place”
A Humphrey Bogart homage that pretends to question Bogie’s gender problems with beta male neuroses as the alternative while simultaneously dropping one of the most uncomfortable string of rape jokes in all of movies. One is better off watching the god Nicholas Ray’s “In a Lonely Place,” where Bogart’s toxic masculinity is explored by way of an abusive screenwriter who might as well be a murderer.
“Sleeper” / “Safrana” & “Soleil O”
“Safrana” and “Soleil O” are less dystopian time warps than post-colonial satires of France’s (and the West’s) perception of itself as a beacon of advanced civilization from the perspective of African migrants whose labor it exploits for progress.
“Love and Death” / “Shadows Of Our Forgotten Ancestors”
Sergei Paranov’s “Shadows Of Our Forgotten Ancestors” already toyed with Russian literary history by adapting Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky’s novel into a freewheeling romp of familial rivalries, boisterous cultural celebrations, and careening disasters far more enlightening than Allen’s series of anachronistic jokes.
“Annie Hall” / “Modern Romance”
Woody Allen’s transition from two-reeler gag-man to serious filmmaker also contains his biggest problem—movies about “smart” nebbishes who can’t drop the “dumb” quirky broads in their life. Allen’s whole career is Nice Guys of OKC sexism with better jokes. “Modern Romance’s” female counterpart, on the other hand, is the rational anchor in the relationship, while Albert Brooks’ hysteria drops one-liners in favor of breaking point discomfort, leaving a more realistically sour taste than Allen.
“Interiors” / “35 Shots Of Rum”
Instead of the classic “fuck you mom and dad!” tale of rich kids dealing with their parents divorce (in boring Ingmar Bergman-lite style), try “35 Shots of Rum’s” affecting “Late Spring” riff where a radical, collegiate daughter and her widowed train car driver father find themselves drifting apart in the non-white part of France Allen has never bothered with.
“Manhattan” / “The Landlord”
Allen’s WASPirational tendencies crystallized here, completely leaving behind his ethnic conundrums in favor of whitebread foibles that whitewash New York in their essentialism. Watch Hal Ashby’s “The Landlord” instead, a New York comedy whose central conceit about Park Slope gentrification and race/class discord is as relevant to Brooklyn now as it was in the ‘60s.
“Stardust Memories” / “Goodbye, Dragon Inn”
Given that “Stardust Memories” was a shameless rip of Fellini’s “8 ½,” you could probably just stick with “8 ½,” but Tsai Ming Liang’s “Goodbye, Dragon Inn,” about the mysterious goings-on during a run-down theater’s final screening of King Hu’s Wu-Xia epic “Dragon Inn”—from failed attempts at cruising to the ghosts of cinema’s past saying goodbye to their life’s work—would be a far less cynical viewing, offering an entire cosmology from the ephemeral flashes of lives reflected back on us.
“A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” / “Together”
Lukas Moodysson’s “Together” is another period piece with various couples in retreat getting their sexual standards in a twist, only this one’s getaway is a utopian hippie commune in ’70s Sweden where gender and class on multiple sides of the political divide are left upended. Less a one night stand than a seasonal affective disorder whose chaos reorganizes into delightfully comedic praxis.
“Zelig” / “Chameleon Street”
Instead of Allen’s shy adapting to strong personalities, Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s “Chameleon,” based on a real person, demonstrates black intelligence worming past the barriers of white American condescension.
“Broadway Danny Rose” / “24 Hour Party People”
This kaleidoscopic Factory Records story is also about a talent agent (of sorts) whose work is prey to the whims of local opinion, but the cheekily self-deprecating mythology here steps out of Allen’s oldies comfort zone and into what was actually happening behind the scenes.
“Purple Rose of Cairo” / “Last Action Hero”
A blockbuster trying to have it both ways and question the connection between bloodlust and box office returns while offering both, this much-maligned, meta-actioner starring Arnold is the closest we’ll get to hey-day Grant Morrison’s reflexive humanism on film.
“Hannah And Her Sisters” / “Born In Flames”
It soon becomes apparent that Allen has a limited number of topics. Though not about sisters per se, “Born in Flames’” exploration of a diverse sisterhood in the aftermath of a peaceful socialist revolution screams for an intersectionality nowhere to be found in Allen’s work.
“Radio Days” / “Turtles Can Fly”
Bhaman Ghobadi’s “Turtles Can Fly” is a wartime drama (this time Iraq) from a (sage) child’s perspective in which a community (in this case a Kurdish refugee camp) is heavily reliant on a technological medium (here satellite instead of radio) for understanding the outside world.
“September” / “Morvern Callar”
Instead of Allen’s recycled usage of the frail and unstable woman archetype, “Morvern Callar” dumps the suicide onto the boyfriend’s part as a misguided martyrdom that sets the stage for “woman as subject” to reclaim agency over her own narrative.
“Another Woman” / “A Single Man”
For an existential meditation on aging, death, and academia, “A Single Man’s” tale of a gay professor’s diminishing returns after his loved one’s departure bolsters its Vogue spread stylistics with genuinely emotional subtext.
“Crimes and Misdemeanors” / “The Trials of Henry Kissinger”
Another comedy-drama about a white man who gets away with murder and this time gets a Nobel Peace prize for it.
“Alice” / “I Am Love”
“I Am Love” turns rich white woman feminism into a superheroic origin story. Tilda Swinton flying the coop is one of the most epic “my man ain’t shit, peace out y’all” sequences in the history of film.
“Shadows and Fog” / “Night and Fog”
While “Shadows” is Allen’s tribute to German expressionism, you realize none of his works actually deal with that other German mark on society—the Holocaust—even if his title borrows from one of the most powerful and succinct examinations of it.
“Husbands and Wives” / “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?”
Since one of Allen’s main themes is bourgeois marital discord, why not leave it to the king, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?” presents as wry a dismantling of the hetero-nuclear familial dream as there is.
“Manhattan Murder Mystery” / “Wild Grass”
Alain Resnais, a true innovator from the French New Wave, continues in old age to break ground instead of settling into consistent mediocrity with this philosophical caper about old people and weed.
“Bullets Over Broadway” / “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon”
Another comedy about a gangster trying to get his moll into showbusiness, “The Last Dragon” also deals with white gentrification of black culture—the message being, “CAN VANITY FROM VANITY 6 LIVE?” pretty much.
“Mighty Aphrodite” / “Frankenhooker”
A horror-comedy that retools “Re-Animator” to critique the threat of “domestic bliss” to the innocent sex workers stuck with living out its secret fantasies.
“Everyone Says I Love You” / “Car Wash”
A disco musical (of sorts) true to its genre’s roots in that its black, latino, queer (or a combination thereof) working class characters (with the token well-meaning but clueless rich, white lefty) turn to disco’s multicultural uplift as a soothing mechanism for their societal frustrations.
“Deconstructing Harry” / “Sullivan’s Travels”
For a good take on exploiting people to get over writer’s block, there’s “Sullivan’s Travels,” in which a privileged director leaves his mansion to play hobo better than your average trust punk and learn about “the other side” for his next movie.
“Celebrity” / “The Nutty Professor”
For a far more caustic take on celebrity, try Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor.” Though not directly about fame, its central autocritique of Lewis’ IRL schmuckness puts a lot more at stake than this masturbatory exercise, even if Lewis eventually just devolved into Buddy Love for his remaining years.
“Sweet And Lowdown” / “‘Round Midnight”
Of course Allen’s one movie about jazz would be about a shitty white guitar player. “Round Midnight” boasts saxophonist Dexter Gordon as a fictional composite of Lester Young and Bud Powell in a film with more at stake than cheap, sullied nostalgia.
“Small Time Crooks”/ “Crimson Gold”
Also concerning a jewelry store robbery, “Crimson Gold” is a much grimmer affair, but within its caustic realism are a few comically bitingly setpieces that display how class inequality and systemic frustrations are as criminal as actual crime.
“Curse Of The Jade Scorpion” / “Querelle”
In its own way, “Querelle” is also a magical movie about thieves and cursed trajectories, one awash in phallic set designs, lush colored backdrops, and spilled blood.
“Hollywood Ending” / “Hooper”
For a film about filmmaking that actually has a point and some heart, Hal Needham’s “Hooper” is like Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” but southern fried with bar fights, car stunts, and explosions for the hell and the love of it.
“Anything Else” / “The Monkey Hustle”
You know what’s a great movie about an old man mentoring a kid or two? “The Monkey Hustle” (with a script co-written by Odie Hawkins!), where Yaphet Kotto shows some kids the ropes of the “flim flam, scoot and scam” plus a whole Chicago neighborhood (including Rudy Ray Moore as a slick, ostentatious priest) fights corrupt development.
“Melinda and Melinda” / “The Double Life Of Veronique”
Another artfully elusive Kieslowski feature, with Irene Jacob playing two performers, the titular Veronique and her mysteriously linked other Veronika, the latter’s death leaving a bewitching crater in the former’s existence.
“Match Point” / “Snake Eyes”
For a movie about sports and murder that shamelessly rips off its influence, Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock homage “Snake Eyes” doesn’t pretend to be above the camp that it actually is, and as such has fun with it.
“Scoop” / “The Ruling Class”
For a film about an aristocrat going full Jack the Ripper, “The Ruling Class” has Peter O’Toole’s heir to the House of Lords conflating wealth and power with divinity to the point of killing to keep it that way. Overtly satirical and committed to its subversive vision.
“Cassandra’s Dream” / “Twin Dragons”
Another film about two brothers embroiled in conflict after one of them sinks in debt to the mob. Both brothers are played by Jackie Chan and this one has a factory sequence to rival Charlie Chaplin’s in “Modern Times.”
“Vicky Christina Barcelona” / “Two Lovers”
An understated look at the “is she Jewish?” conundrum and an even more downbeat “Heartbreak Kid” where Moni Moshonov ‘s(!!!) Russian immigrant laundromat owner wants a depressed Joaquin Phoenix to keep it within the tribe even while he’s bent on the “shiksa” next door.
“Whatever Works” / “Arab Labor”
Instead of trying (and failing) to situate Larry David as a Woody surrogate, Israeli sitcom “Arab Labor’s” main Palestinian nebbish tragicomically demonstrates the limitations of assimilatory concession when your surrounding environment doesn’t even register you as human.
“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” / “Cleo From 5 to 7”
In which a fortune teller’s false prediction looms over a singer awaiting her medical results, wandering around Paris meeting multiple strangers, all while Agnes Varda carves out a subtle manifesto on feminism, existentialism, and war.
“Midnight In Paris” / “I Shot Andy Warhol”
For a series of half-sketched caricatures and drab period recreations gathered together to denostalgize the past, go with Mary Harron’s “I Shot Andy Warhol.” It partially endears one to Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. manifesto while also critiquing its essentialist transphobia, either way leaving one with no desire to go back in time.
“To Rome With Love” / “Teorema”
Wherein Pier Paolo Pasolini sent Terence Stamp to Italy with loins, having him play an angel of destruction whose seductive presence tears apart an Italian family’s bourgois bubble and causes self-reflection to the point of disrepair.
“Blue Jasmine” / “Wanda”
Skip Elia Kaza’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” adaptation (Allen’s source here) because dude was a snitch but check his wife Barbara Loden’s “Wanda,” a great movie about an ambling, working class woman whose elliptical wanderings wrest her narrative from us with proto-“Morvern Callar” obfuscation.
“Magic In The Moonlight” / “Rouge”
To invert “Magic In The Moonlight’s” Houdini-esque debunking of spiritualists and also its casual orientalism, turn to Stanley Kwan’s “Rouge,” where the ghost of a ’30s courtesan (the late, great Anita Mui) winds up at a reporter’s office in ’80s Hong Kong searching for the ghost of her forbidden upper-class lover (the late, great Leslie Cheung), who died with her in a suicide pact so they could be together in the afterlife. It dispenses of illusion with a heartbreaking, romantic sincerity that shows class as the ultimate grift.
“Irrational Man” / “Ganja & Hess”
Instead of another “Crimes and Misdemeanors”/”Match Point” (albeit with a more justifiable cause) try Bill Gunn’s “Ganja & Hess,” a hallucinatory, class-conscious parable about the self and communal destruction wrought by a wealthy black anthropologist upon becoming a vampire.
“Café Society” / “The Errand Boy”
Jerry Lewis’ gleefully anarchic “The Errand Boy,” in which a gopher is chosen by execs to spy on their studio, tearing both the studio and its chosen medium apart in the process, is an obliterating rebuke of the studio system Allen celebrates in “Café Society.”
“Crisis In Six Scenes” / “Harlan County USA”
Allen’s tale of suburban family in the ’60s overturned by the arrival of a radical hippie does include the great Elaine May leading an elderly reading group on Mao and Fanon-inspired bouts of direct action, but any number of films about regular workers turned radical activists are worth watching instead. try “Harlan County USA’s” document of a miner’s strike in Kentucky.
“Wonder Wheel” / “Losing Ground”
Instead of another “my freakin’ ex-wife!” saga about a hysterical actress, Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground,” about the existential and sexual discord between a professor of logic and her libertine artist husband (“Ganja & Hess’” Bill Gunn) as he paints models while she acts in a student film about a “tragic mulatto,” was not only one of the first films directed by a black woman (although only just released in 2015 because the film industry hates them) but one of the shrewdest explorations of race, gender, and artistic representation.
“A Rainy Day in New York” / ANYTHING OTHER THAN THIS
Word at the moment is Allen’s next films revisits the Manhattan trope of a middle-aged man dating a teenager, and honestly, maybe just watch like, literally, anything other than that?