Oscar Directors: Allen, Woody–Background, Career, Awards

Research in Progress: October 21, 2021

Woody Allen Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance: No; sister would become producer

Social Class: lower middle; father, jewelry engraver and waiter; mother bookkeeper.

Race/Ethnicity/Religion: Jewish (Bronx, Bklyn)

Nationality:  US

Formal Education: City College of New York, 1954, He left during first semester. He taught himself; he later taught at The New School and studied with writing teacher Lajos Egri.

Training: writing short jokes when he was 15, comedy writer; comedian

First Film: As actor, What’s New Pussycat? as director, Take the Money and Run, 1969; 34

First Oscar Nomination:

Other Nominations:

Oscar Awards: Annie Hall, 1977; 42

Nominations Span: Allen has received most nominations, 16, for Best Original Screenplay Oscar

Genre (specialties): comedy

Collaborators: Diane Keaton 8; Farrow. Marshall Brickman co-wrote 4 films

Last Film:

Contract:

Career Output: 50 features

Career Span: 1969-2019; over 50 years

Career Shape: Peak: 1980s films, when he was in late 40s

Subjective Best: Stardust Memories (1980), Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Match Point (2005), his best films.

Great: Annie Hall; Manhattan; Hannah and Her Sisters;

Marriage: Diane Keaton; Mia Farrow

Politics:

Death: NA

Heywood “Woody” Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg; December 1, 1935) is an American director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans more than six decades and multiple Oscar-winning movies.

He began his career as a comedy writer on Sid Caesar’s comedy variety program, Your Show of Shows, working alongside Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.

He also began writing material for television, published several books featuring short stories, and writing humor pieces for The New Yorker. In the early 1960s, he performed as a stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village alongside Lenny Bruce, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Joan Rivers. There he developed a monologue style (rather than traditional jokes), and the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish, which he maintains is quite different from his real-life personality. He released three comedy albums during the mid to late 1960s, even earning a Grammy Award nomination for his 1964 comedy album entitled simply, Woody Allen. In 2004 Comedy Central ranked Allen fourth on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, while a UK survey ranked Allen the third-greatest comedian.

By the mid-1960s, Allen was writing and directing films, first specializing in slapstick comedies such as Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Sleeper (1973), and Love and Death (1975), before moving into dramatic material influenced by European art cinema during the late 1970s with Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979) and Stardust Memories (1980), and alternating between comedies and dramas to the present. He often stars in his films, typically in the persona he developed as a standup.

Annie Hall (1977), a romantic comedy featuring Allen and his frequent collaborator Diane Keaton, won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress for Keaton. Allen is often identified as part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmakers of the mid-1960s to late 1970s such as Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Sidney Lumet. Critics have called his work from the 1980s his most developed period. His films include Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Another Woman (1988), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Many of his 21st-century films, including Match Point (2005), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), and Midnight in Paris (2011), are set in Europe. Blue Jasmine (2013) and Cafe Society (2016) are set in New York and San Francisco.

Allen’s best-known films include Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris (2011).

In 2007 he said Stardust Memories (1980), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Match Point (2005) were his best films.

Allen has received the most nominations–16–for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. He has won 4 Oscar Awards, one for Best Director, and three for Best Original Screenplay.

He also garnered nine British Academy Film Awards. In 1997, Allen was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

In 2014 he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement and Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical for Bullets over Broadway.

The Writers Guild of America named his screenplay for Annie Hall first on its list of the “101 Funniest Screenplays.” In 2011 PBS televised the film biography “Woody Allen: A Documentary on its series American Masters.”

Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg at Mount of Eden Hospital in the Bronx, New York City, on December 1, 1935. He and his sister, future film producer Letty (born 1943), were raised in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood. He is the son of Nettie (née Cherry; November 8, 1906 – January 27, 2002), a bookkeeper at her family’s delicatessen, and Martin Konigsberg (December 25, 1900 – January 8, 2001), a jewelry engraver and waiter. His family is Jewish; his grandparents were immigrants to the U.S. from Austria and the Lithuanian city of Panevėžys. They spoke German, Hebrew and Yiddish. Both of Allen’s parents were born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Allen’s childhood was not particularly happy; his parents did not get along and he had a rocky relationship with his stern, temperamental mother. He spoke German in his early years. He later joked that he was often sent to inter-faith summer camps when he was young. While attending Hebrew school for eight years, he went to Public School 99 (now the Isaac Asimov School for Science and Literature) and Midwood High School, graduating in 1953. Unlike his comic persona, he was more interested in baseball than school and his strong arms ensured he was picked first for teams. He impressed students with his talent for cards and magic tricks.

Allen wrote jokes (or “gags”) for agent David O. Alber to make money, and Alber sold them to newspaper columnists. At age 17, he legally changed his name to Heywood Allen and later began to call himself Woody. Allen, his first published joke read: “Woody Allen says he ate at a restaurant that had O.P.S. prices—over people’s salaries.” He was soon earning more than both of his parents combined. After high school, he attended New York University, studying communication and film in 1953, before dropping out after failing the course “Motion Picture Production”. He studied film at City College of New York in 1954, but left during the first semester. He taught himself rather than studying in the classroom. He later taught at The New School and studied with writing teacher Lajos Egri.

Allen began writing short jokes when he was 15, and the following year began sending them to various Broadway writers to see if they’d be interested in buying any. He also began going by the name “Woody Allen.” One of those writers was Abe Burrows, coauthor of Guys and Dolls, who wrote, “Wow! His stuff was dazzling.” Burrows then wrote Allen letters of introduction to Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and Peter Lind Hayes, who immediately sent Allen a check for just the jokes Burrows included as samples.

As a result of the jokes Allen mailed to various writers, he was invited, then age 19, to join the NBC Writer’s Development Program in 1955, followed by a job on The NBC Comedy Hour in Los Angeles. He was later hired as a full-time writer for humorist Herb Shriner, initially earning $25 a week. He began writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, specials for Sid Caesar post-Caesar’s Hour (1954–1957), and other television shows.[27]p.111 By the time he was working for Caesar, he was earning $1,500 a week. He worked alongside Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Neil Simon. He also worked with Danny Simon, whom Allen credits for helping form his writing style.[30][34] In 1962 alone he estimated that he wrote twenty thousand jokes for various comics.[33]:533 Allen also wrote for the Candid Camera television show, and appeared in some episodes.[35]

He wrote jokes for the Buddy Hackett sitcom Stanley and for The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, and in 1958 he co-wrote a few Sid Caesar specials with Larry Gelbart.[33]:542 After writing for many of television’s leading comedians and comedy shows, Allen was gaining a reputation as a “genius”, composer Mary Rodgers said. When given an assignment for a show he would leave and come back the next day with “reams of paper”, according to producer Max Liebman.[33]:542 Similarly, after he wrote for Bob Hope, Hope called him “half a genius”.[33]:542

His daily writing routine could last 15 hours, and he could focus and write anywhere necessary. Dick Cavett was amazed at Allen’s capacity to write: “He can go to a typewriter after breakfast and sit there until the sun sets and his head is pounding, interrupting work only for coffee and a brief walk, and then spend the whole evening working.” When Allen wrote for other comedians, they would use eight out of ten of his jokes. When he began performing as a stand-up, he was much more selective, typically using only one out of ten jokes. He estimated that to prepare for a 30-minute show, he spent six months of intensive writing.[33]:551 He enjoyed writing, however, despite the work: “Nothing makes me happier than to tear open a ream of paper. And I can’t wait to fill it! I love to do it.”[33]:551

Allen started writing short stories and cartoon captions for magazines such as The New Yorker; he was inspired by the tradition of New Yorker humorists S. J. Perelman, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, and Max Shulman, whose material he modernized.  His collections of short pieces includes Getting Even, Without Feathers, Side Effects, and Mere Anarchy. His early comic fiction was influenced by the zany, pun-ridden humor of S.J. Perelman. In 2010 Allen released audio versions of his books in which he read 73 selections. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.

Stand-up comedian
From 1960 to 1969 Allen performed as a stand-up comedian to supplement his comedy writing. His contemporaries during those years included Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, and Mort Sahl, his personal favorite. Comedy historian Gerald Nachman notes that Allen, while not the first to do stand-up, would eventually have greater impact than all the others in the 1960s, and would redefine the meaning of stand-up comedy: “He helped turn it into biting, brutally honest satirical commentary on the cultural and psychological tenor of the times.”[33]:525

After Allen was taken under the wing of his new manager, Jack Rollins, who had recently discovered Nichols and May, Rollins suggested he perform his written jokes as a stand-up. Allen was resistant at first, but after seeing Mort Sahl on stage, he felt safer to give it a try: “I’d never had the nerve to talk about it before. Then Mort Sahl came along with a whole new style of humor, opening up vistas for people like me.”[33]:545 Allen made his professional stage debut at the Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan in October 1960, where comedian Shelley Berman introduced him as a young television writer who would perform his own material.

His early stand-up shows with his different style of humor were not always well received or understood by his audiences. Unlike other comedians, Allen spoke to his audiences in a gentle and conversational style, often appearing to be searching for words, although he was well rehearsed. He acted “normal”, dressed casually, and made no attempt to project a stage “personality”. And he did not improvise: “I put very little premium on improvisation,” he told Studs Terkel.[33]:532 His jokes were created from life experiences, and typically presented with a dead serious demeanor that made them funnier: “I don’t think my family liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib.”

The subjects of his jokes were rarely topical, political or socially relevant. Unlike Bruce and Sahl, he did not discuss current events such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Cold War, or Vietnam. And although he was described as a “classic nebbish”, he did not tell the standard Jewish jokes of the period.[43] Comedy screenwriter Larry Gelbart compared Allen’s style to Elaine May: “He just styled himself completely after her,” he said.[33]:546 Like Nichols and May, he often made fun of intellectuals.

Television talk show host Dick Cavett, who was among the minority who quickly appreciated Allen’s unique style, recalls seeing the audience at the Blue Angel mostly ignore Allen’s monologue: “I recognized immediately that there was no young comedian in the country in the same class with him for sheer brilliance of jokes, and I resented the fact that the audience was too dumb to realize what they were getting.”[33]:550 It was his subdued stage presence, while initially unappreciated, that eventually became one of Allen’s strongest traits, explains Nachman: “The utter absence of showbiz veneer and shtick was the best shtick any comedian had ever devised. This uneasy onstage naturalness became a trademark.”[33]:530 When he was finally noticed by the media, writers like The New York Times’s Arthur Gelb described Allen’s nebbish quality as “Chaplinesque” and “refreshing”.

Allen: Screen Persona

Allen developed an anxious, nervous, and intellectual persona for his stand-up act, a successful move that secured regular gigs for him in nightclubs and on television. He brought innovation to the comedy monologue genre and his stand-up comedy is considered influential.[44] Allen first appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on November 1, 1963, and over nine years his guest appearances included 17 in the host’s chair. He subsequently released three LP albums of live nightclub recordings: the self-titled Woody Allen (1964), Volume 2 (1965), and The Third Woody Allen Album (1968), recorded at a fund-raiser for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential run.

In 1965 Allen filmed a half-hour standup special in Great Britain for Granada Television, titled The Woody Allen Show in the U.K. and Woody Allen: Standup Comic in the U.S.[46] It is the only complete standup show of Allen’s on film. In 1967 Allen hosted a TV special for NBC, Woody Allen Looks at 1967. It featured Liza Minnelli, who acted alongside Allen in some skits; Aretha Franklin, the musical guest; and conservative writer William F. Buckley, the featured guest. In 1969 Allen hosted his first American special for CBS television, The Woody Allen Special, which included skits with Candice Bergen, a musical performance from the 5th Dimension, and an interview between Allen and Billy Graham.

In 1966 Allen wrote an hour-long musical comedy television special for CBS, Gene Kelly in New York, New York. It focused on Gene Kelly in a musical tour around Manhattan, dancing along such landmarks as Rockefeller Center, the Plaza Hotel and the Museum of Modern Art, which serve as backdrops for the show’s numbers. Allen appeared in the special alongside Kelly. Guest stars included choreographer Gower Champion, British musical comedy star Tommy Steele, and songstress Damita Jo DeBlanc.

Allen also performed standup comedy on other series, including The Andy Williams Show and The Perry Como Show, where he interacted with other guests and occasionally sang.[53] In 1971 he hosted one of his final Tonight Shows, with guests Bob Hope and James Coco.

Life magazine put Allen on the cover of its March 21, 1969, issue.

In 1979, Allen paid tribute to one of his comedy idols, Bob Hope, at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, creating a special for the event titled “My Favorite Comedian” that included clips from Hope’s films, selected and narrated by Allen. Hope said of the honor, “It’s great to have your past spring up in front of your eyes, especially when it’s done by Woody Allen, because he’s a near genius. Not a whole genius, but a near genius”. Dick Cavett served as the host, but Allen was absent, editing Manhattan. Guests at the event included Diane Keaton, Kurt Vonnegut, and Andy Warhol.

Playwright

In 1966 Allen wrote the play “Don’t Drink the Water.” The play starred Lou Jacobi, Kay Medford, Anita Gillette and Allen’s future movie co-star Tony Roberts. A film adaptation of the play, directed by Howard Morris, was released in 1969, starring Jackie Gleason. Because he was not happy with that version, in 1994 Allen directed and starred in a second version for TV, with Michael J. Fox and Mayim Bialik.

The next play Allen wrote for Broadway was Play It Again, Sam, in which he also starred. The play opened on February 12, 1969, and ran for 453 performances. It featured Diane Keaton and Roberts.  The play was significant to Keaton’s budding career, and she has said she was in “awe” of Allen even before auditioning for her role, which was the first time she met him. In a 2013 interview Keaton said that she “fell in love with him right away,” adding, “I wanted to be his girlfriend so I did something about it.”  After co-starring alongside Allen in the subsequent film version of Play It Again, Sam, she later co-starred in Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan. “He showed me the ropes and I followed his lead. He is the most disciplined person I know. He works very hard,” Keaton has said.

In 1981 Allen’s play The Floating Light Bulb, starring Danny Aiello and Bea Arthur, premiered on Broadway and ran for 65 performances. While receiving mixed reviews, it gave autobiographical insight into Allen’s childhood, specifically his fascination with magic tricks. The play, set in 1945, is a semi-autobiographical tale of a lower-middle-class family in Brooklyn. New York Times critic Frank Rich gave the play a mild review, writing, “there are a few laughs, a few well-wrought characters, and, in Act II, a beautifully written scene that leads to a moving final curtain.”

Allen has written several one-act plays off Broadway, including Riverside Drive, Old Saybrook and A Second Hand Memory, at the Variety Arts Theatre.[64][65]

On March 8, 1995, Allen’s one-act play Central Park West opened off-Broadway as a part of a larger piece titled Death Defying Acts, with two other one-act plays, one by David Mamet, and one by Elaine May. Critics described Allen’s contribution as “the longest and most substantial of the evening”.[66]

On October 20, 2011, Allen’s one-act play Honeymoon Motel opened on Broadway as part of a larger piece titled Relatively Speaking, with two other one-act plays, one by Ethan Coen and one by Elaine May.[67]

On March 11, 2014, Allen’s musical Bullets over Broadway opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre.[68] It was directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman and starred Zack Braff, Nick Cordero, and Betsy Wolfe. Allen received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical. The show received six Tony award nominations.[69]

Allen’s first movie was the Charles K. Feldman production What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), for which he wrote the screenplay. He was disappointed with the final product, which inspired him to direct every film he wrote thereafter except Play It Again, Sam. Allen’s first directorial effort was What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966, co-written with Mickey Rose), in which an existing Japanese spy movie—Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (1965), “International Secret Police: Key of Keys”—was redubbed in English by Allen and friends with fresh new, comic dialogue. In 1967 Allen played Jimmy Bond in the 007 spoof Casino Royale.

In 1969 Allen directed, starred in, and co-wrote (with Mickey Rose) Take the Money and Run, which received positive reviews. He later signed a deal with United Artists to produce several films. Bananas (1971, co-written with Rose), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), Sleeper (1973), and Love and Death (1975).

Sleeper was the first of 4 screenplays co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.

In 1972 Allen wrote and starred in the film version of Play It Again, Sam, directed by Herbert Ross and co-starring Diane Keaton. In 1976 he starred as cashier Howard Prince in The Front, directed by Martin Ritt. The Front was a humorous and poignant account of Hollywood blacklisting during the 1950s; Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and three of Allen’s cast-mates, Samuel “Zero” Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough, had themselves been blacklisted.

I don’t like meeting heroes. There’s nobody I want to meet and nobody I want to work with—I’d rather work with Diane Keaton than anyone—she’s absolutely great, a natural–Woody Allen (1976)

Then came two of Allen’s most popular films: Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Annie Hall (1977) won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Diane Keaton, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for Woody Allen. Annie Hall set the standard for modern romantic comedy and ignited a fashion trend with the clothes Keaton wore in the film. In an interview with journalist Katie Couric, Keaton did not deny that Allen wrote the part for her and about her.

The film is ranked 35th on the American Film Institute’s “100 Best Movies” and fourth on the AFI list of the “100 Best Comedies.”

Manhattan (1979) is a black-and-white film often viewed as an homage to New York City.  The main protagonists are upper-middle class writers and academics. Manhattan focuses on the complicated relationship between middle-aged Isaac Davis (Allen) and 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), and co-stars Diane Keaton.

Keaton, who has made 8 movies with Allen, has said, “He just has a mind like nobody else. He’s bold. He’s got a lot of strength, a lot of courage in terms of his work. And that is what it takes to do something really unique. Along with a genius imagination.”

1980s
In 1980, on Sneak Previews, Siskel and Ebert called Allen and Mel Brooks “the two most successful comedy directors in the world today … America’s two funniest filmmakers.”[73] Allen’s films in the 1980s, even the comedies, became somber with philosophical undertones, influenced by European directors, especially Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Stardust Memories was based on 8½, which it parodies, and Wild Strawberries. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy was adapted from Smiles of a Summer Night. In Hannah and Her Sisters, part of the film’s structure and background is borrowed from Fanny and Alexander. Fellini’s Amarcord inspired Radio Days. September resembles Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanors have elements reminiscent of Wild Strawberries.[74]

Stardust Memories (1980) features Sandy Bates, a successful filmmaker played by Allen, who expresses resentment and scorn for his fans. Overcome by the recent death of a friend from illness, Bates says, “I don’t want to make funny movies anymore” and a running gag has various people (including visiting space aliens) telling him that they appreciate his films, “especially the early, funny ones.”[75] Allen believes this to be one of his best films.[76]

Mia’s a good actress who can play many different roles. She has a very good range, and can play serious to comic roles. She’s also very photogenic, very beautiful on screen. She’s just a good realistic actress… and no matter how strange and daring it is, she does it well.
—Woody Allen (1993)[77]
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) was the first movie Allen made starring Mia Farrow, who stepped into Diane Keaton’s role when Keaton was shooting Reds.[78] He next produced a vividly idiosyncratic tragicomic parody of documentary, Zelig, in which he starred as a Leonard Zelig, a man who has the ability to transform his appearance to that of the people surrounding him.[79]

Allen has combined tragic and comic elements in such films as Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), in which he tells two stories that connect at the end. He also made three films about show business: Broadway Danny Rose, in which he plays a New York show business agent, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a movie that shows the importance of the cinema during the Depression through the character of the naive Cecilia, and Radio Days, a film about his childhood in Brooklyn and the importance of the radio. The film co-starred Farrow in a part Allen wrote specifically for her.[77] The Purple Rose of Cairo was named by Time as one of the 100 best films of all time.[80] Allen called it one of his three best films with Stardust Memories and Match Point.[81] By “best” he said he meant they came closest to his vision. In 1989 Allen and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese made New York Stories, an anthology film about New Yorkers. Allen’s short, Oedipus Wrecks, is about a neurotic lawyer and his critical mother. Film critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised it.[82]

1990s
Allen’s 1991 film Shadows and Fog is a black-and-white homage to the German expressionists and features the music of Kurt Weill.[83] Allen then made his critically acclaimed comedy-drama Husbands and Wives (1992), which received two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress for Judy Davis and Best Original Screenplay for Allen. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) combined suspense with dark comedy and marked the return of Diane Keaton, Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston.

He returned to lighter movies like Bullets over Broadway (1994), which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, followed by a musical, Everyone Says I Love You (1996). The singing and dancing scenes in Everyone Says I Love You are similar to musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The comedy Mighty Aphrodite (1995), in which Greek drama plays a large role, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mira Sorvino. Allen’s 1999 jazz-based comedy-drama Sweet and Lowdown was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Sean Penn (Best Actor) and Samantha Morton (Best Supporting Actress). In contrast to these lighter movies, Allen veered into darker satire toward the end of the decade with Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Celebrity (1998).

During this decade Allen also starred in the television film The Sunshine Boys (1995), based on the Neil Simon play of the same name.[84]

Allen made one sitcom “appearance” via telephone on the show Just Shoot Me! in a 1997 episode, “My Dinner with Woody”, that paid tribute to several of his films. He provided the voice of Z in DreamWorks’ first animated film, Antz (1998), which featured many actors he had worked with; Allen’s character was similar to his earlier roles.[85]

2000s
Small Time Crooks (2000) was Allen’s first film with the DreamWorks studio and represented a change in direction: he began giving more interviews and made an attempt to return to his slapstick roots. The film is similar to the 1942 film Larceny, Inc. (from a play by S.J. Perelman).[86] Allen never commented on whether this was deliberate or if his film was in any way inspired by it. Small Time Crooks was a relative financial success, grossing over $17 million domestically, but Allen’s next four films foundered at the box office, including Allen’s most costly film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (with a budget of $26 million). Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, and Melinda and Melinda have “rotten” ratings on film-review website Rotten Tomatoes and each earned less than $4 million domestically.[87] Some critics claimed that Allen’s early 2000s films were subpar and expressed concern that his best years were behind him.[88] Others were less harsh; reviewing the little-liked Melinda and Melinda, Roger Ebert wrote, “I cannot escape the suspicion that if Woody had never made a previous film, if each new one was Woody’s Sundance debut, it would get a better reception. His reputation is not a dead shark but an albatross, which with admirable economy Allen has arranged for the critics to carry around their own necks.”[89]

Allen in 2006
Match Point (2005) was one of Allen’s most successful films of the decade, garnering positive reviews.[90] Set in London, it starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. It is markedly darker than Allen’s first four films with DreamWorks SKG. In Match Point Allen shifts focus from the intellectual upper class of New York to the moneyed upper class of London. The film earned more than $23 million domestically (more than any of his films in nearly 20 years) and over $62 million in international box office sales.[91] Match Point earned Allen his first Academy Award nomination since 1998, for Best Writing – Original Screenplay, with directing and writing nominations at the Golden Globes, his first Globe nominations since 1987. In a 2006 interview with Premiere Magazine he said it was the best film he had ever made.[92]

Allen reached an agreement to film Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Avilés, Barcelona, and Oviedo, Spain, where shooting started on July 9, 2007. The movie featured Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall and Penélope Cruz.[93][94] The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival to rapturous reviews, and became a box office success. Vicky Cristina Barcelona won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe awards. Cruz received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

“In the United States things have changed a lot, and it’s hard to make good small films now,” Allen said in a 2004 interview. “The avaricious studios couldn’t care less about good films—if they get a good film they’re twice as happy but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100 million pictures that make $500 million.”[95]

In April 2008 he began filming Whatever Works,[96] a film aimed more toward older audiences, starring Larry David, Patricia Clarkson, and Evan Rachel Wood.[97] Released in 2009 and described as a dark comedy, it follows the story of a botched suicide attempt turned messy love triangle. Whatever Works was written by Allen in the 1970s, and David’s character was written for Zero Mostel, who died the year Annie Hall came out.

Allen was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.[98]

2010s

Allen at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, filmed in London, stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Anupam Kher, Freida Pinto and Naomi Watts. Filming started in July 2009. It was released theatrically in the US on September 23, 2010, following a Cannes debut in May 2010, and a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2010.

Allen announced that his next film would be titled Midnight in Paris[99] starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Carla Bruni, the First Lady of France at the time of production. The film follows a young engaged couple in Paris who see their lives transformed. It debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2011. Allen said he wanted to “show the city emotionally,” during the press conference. “I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris—Paris through my eyes,” he added.[100] The film was almost universally praised, receiving a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.[101] Midnight in Paris won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and became his highest-grossing film, making $151 million worldwide on a $17 million budget.[102]

His next film, To Rome with Love, was a Rome-set comedy released in 2012. The film was structured in four vignettes featuring dialogue in both Italian and English. It marked Allen’s return to acting since his last role in Scoop.[103]

Blue Jasmine debuted in July 2013.[104] The film is set in San Francisco and New York, and stars Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, and Peter Sarsgaard.[105] Opening to critical acclaim, the film earned Allen another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay,[106] and Blanchett received the Academy Award for Best Actress.[107] Allen co-starred with John Turturro in Fading Gigolo, written and directed by Turturro, which premiered in September 2013.[108] In 2013 Allen shot the romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight with Emma Stone, and Colin Firth in Nice, France. The film is set in the 1920s on the French Riviera.[109] The film was a modest financial success, earning $51 million off a budget of $16 million.[110]

It’s really cool to work with a director who’s done so much, because he knows exactly what he wants. The fact that he does one shot for an entire scene—[and] this could be a scene with eight people and one to two takes—it gives you a level of confidence… he’s very empowering.
—Blake Lively, on acting in Café Society[111]
From July to August 2014 Allen filmed the mystery drama Irrational Man in Newport, Rhode Island, with Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley.[112] Allen said that this film, as well as the next three he had planned, had the financing and full support of Sony Pictures Classics.[113] His next film, Café Society, starred an ensemble cast, including Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Blake Lively.[114] Bruce Willis was set to co-star, but was replaced by Steve Carell during filming.[115] The film is distributed by Amazon Studios, and opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2016, the third time Allen has opened the festival.[116]

On January 14, 2015, Amazon Studios announced a full-season order for a half-hour Amazon Prime Instant Video series that Allen would write and direct, marking the first time he has developed a television show. Allen said of the series, “I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin. My guess is that Roy Price [the head of Amazon Studios] will regret this.”[117][118][119] At the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Allen said, in reference to his upcoming Amazon show, “It was a catastrophic mistake. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m floundering. I expect this to be a cosmic embarrassment.”[120] On September 30, 2016, Amazon Video debuted Allen’s first television series production, Crisis in Six Scenes. The series is a comedy that takes place during the 1960s. It focuses on the life of a suburban family after a surprise visitor creates chaos among them. It stars Allen alongside Elaine May and Miley Cyrus. Cyrus plays a radical hippie fugitive who sells marijuana.[121][122]

In September 2016 Allen started filming Wonder Wheel, set in the 1950s in Coney Island, and starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake.[123] The film served as the closing night selection at the 55th New York Film Festival on October 15, 2017,[124] and was theatrically released on December 1, 2017,[125] as the first movie self-distributed to theaters by Amazon Studios.[126]

In 2017, Allen received a standing ovation when he made a rare public appearance at the 45th Annual Life Achievement Tribute award ceremony for Diane Keaton. He spoke about their longtime collaboration and friendship, saying, “From the minute I met her, she was a great, great inspiration to me. Much of what I have accomplished in my life I owe for sure to her”.[127]

His film A Rainy Day in New York, starring Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez, Elle Fanning, Jude Law, Diego Luna, Liev Schreiber and Rebecca Hall began production in New York in September 2017.[128] Chalamet, Gomez and Hall announced, in the light of the #MeToo movement, that they would be donating their salaries to various charities.[129]

In February 2019 it was announced that Amazon Studios had dropped A Rainy Day in New York and would no longer finance, produce, or distribute films with Allen. He filed a lawsuit for $68 million, alleging Amazon gave “vague reasons” to terminate the contract, dropped the film over “a 25-year old, baseless allegation” and did not make payments.[130][131] The case was later settled and dismissed.[132][133] It was released throughout Europe beginning in July 2019,[134][135] receiving mixed reviews and grossing $20 million at the box office.[136][137][138]

2019 to present
In February 2019, Allen teamed with Mediapro, an independent TV-film company from Spain, to develop his next film, Rifkin’s Festival.[139] In May 2019 Variety magazine confirmed that the film’s cast would include Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, Elena Anaya, Louis Garrel, Gina Gershon, Sergi López and Wallace Shawn and be produced by Gravier Productions.[140] At the end of October 2019, Rifkin’s Festival completed filming and entered post-production with the premiere planned to be in Spain in 2020.[141][142]

In May 2019, it was announced Allen had written a memoir and shopped it around to multiple prominent publishers who rejected it.[143] On March 2, 2020, it was announced that Grand Central Publishing would release Allen’s long-awaited autobiography titled, Apropos of Nothing, set for release on April 7, 2020,[144] The book was set to be released in the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, and France among others.[145] According to the publisher, the book is a “comprehensive account of Allen’s life, both personal and professional, and describes his work in films, theater, television, nightclubs, and print…Allen also writes of his relationships with family, friends, and the loves of his life.”[146][147]

The decision to publish the book was met with backlash from Ronan Farrow who cut ties to the publisher,[148] alongside Dylan Farrow who also responded to the announcement of the release by stating: “Hachette’s publishing of Woody Allen’s memoir is deeply upsetting to me personally and an utter betrayal of my brother.”[149] On March 5, 2020, 75 employees of Grand Central Publishing held a walkout to protest the release.[150][151] On March 6, the publisher announced in a statement that the release of the book was cancelled and the rights were returned to Allen saying, “The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one. Over the past few days, HBG leadership had extensive conversations with our staff and others. After listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG.”[152]

Novelist Stephen King criticized Hachette’s decision to withdraw the book, saying it “makes me very uneasy. It’s not him; I don’t give a damn about Mr. Allen. It’s who gets muzzled next that worries me.” Executive director of PEN America Suzanne Nossel also criticized the decision.[153][154] On March 6, 2020, Manuel Carcassonne of the Hachette’s French branch, the publishing company Stock, announced it would publish the book if Allen permitted it.[153] On March 23, 2020, Arcade[155][156] published the memoir in English and La nave di Teseo published it in Italian.[157]

In June 2020, Allen appeared on Alec Baldwin’s podcast Here’s the Thing and talked about his career as a standup comedian, comedy writer, and filmmaker, as well as his life during the COVID-19 pandemic.[158]

Theatre

Life-size statue of Allen in Oviedo, Spain
While best known for his films, Allen has enjoyed a successful career in theatre, starting as early as 1960, when he wrote sketches for the revue From A to Z. His first great success was Don’t Drink the Water, which opened in 1968, and ran for 598 performances for almost two years on Broadway. His success continued with Play It Again, Sam, which opened in 1969, starring Allen and Diane Keaton. The show played for 453 performances and was nominated for three Tony Awards, although none of the nominations were for Allen’s writing or acting.[159]

In the 1970s Allen wrote a number of one-act plays, most notably God and Death, which were published in his 1975 collection Without Feathers. In 1981 Allen’s play The Floating Light Bulb opened on Broadway. It was a critical success and a commercial flop. Despite two Tony Award nominations, a Tony win for the acting of Brian Backer (who won the 1981 Theater World Award and a Drama Desk Award for his work), the play only ran for 62 performances.[160] After a long hiatus from the stage, Allen returned to the theatre in 1995 with the one-act Central Park West, an installment in an evening of theatre, Death Defying Acts, that also included new work by David Mamet and Elaine May.[161]

For the next few years Allen had no direct involvement with the stage, but notable productions of his work were staged. A production of God was staged at The Bank of Brazil Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro,[162] and theatrical adaptations of Allen’s films Bullets Over Broadway[163] and September[164] were produced in Italy and France, respectively, without Allen’s involvement. In 1997 rumors of Allen returning to the theatre to write a starring role for his wife Soon-Yi Previn turned out to be false.[165] In 2003 Allen finally returned to the stage with Writer’s Block, an evening of two one-acts—Old Saybrook and Riverside Drive—that played Off-Broadway. The production marked his stage-directing debut[166] and sold out the entire run.[167] Also in 2003 reports of Allen writing the book for a musical based on Bullets Over Broadway surfaced, and it opened in New York in 2014.[168] The musical closed on August 24, 2014, after 156 performances and 33 previews.[169]

In 2004 Allen’s first full-length play since 1981, A Second Hand Memory, was directed by Allen and enjoyed an extended run Off-Broadway.[167] In June 2007 it was announced that Allen would make two more creative debuts in the theatre, directing a work he did not write and directing an opera—a reinterpretation of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi for the Los Angeles Opera[171]—which debuted at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on September 6, 2008.[172] Of his direction of the opera, Allen said, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” His production of the opera opened the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, in June 2009.[173]

In October 2011 Allen’s one-act play Honeymoon Motel premiered in a series of one-act plays on Broadway titled Relatively Speaking. Also contributing to the plays are Elaine May and Ethan Coen with John Turturro directing. It was announced in February 2012 that Allen would adapt Bullets over Broadway into a Broadway musical. It opened on April 10, 2014, and closed on August 24, 2014.

In March 2014 Allen’s musical Bullets Over Broadway premiered at the St. James Theatre. The cast included Zach Braff, Nick Cordero and Betsy Wolfe. The show was directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, known for directing Mel Brooks’s The Producers. The show drew mixed reviews but received six Tony Award nominations, including one for Allen for Best Book of a Musical.

Music

Allen with Jerry Zigmont and Simon Wettenhall performing at Vienne Jazz Festival, Vienne, France, September 20, 2003.  Allen is a passionate fan of jazz, which appears often in the soundtracks to his films. He began playing clarinet as a child and took his stage name from clarinetist Woody Herman. He has performed publicly at least since the late 1960s, including with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the soundtrack of Sleeper.

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band have been playing each Monday evening at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan for many years specializing in New Orleans jazz from the early 20th century.

He plays songs by Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, and Louis Armstrong.[182] The documentary film Wild Man Blues (directed by Barbara Kopple) chronicles a 1996 European tour by Allen and his band, as well as his relationship with Previn. The band released the albums The Bunk Project (1993) and the soundtrack of Wild Man Blues (1997).

Allen and his band played at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in June 2008.

He has wanted to make a film about the origins of jazz in New Orleans. Tentatively titled American Blues, to follow the different careers of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Allen stated that the film would cost between $80 and $100 million and is therefore unlikely to be made.

Influences
Allen was influenced by comedians Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Mort Sahl, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, playwright George S. Kaufman and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Many comedians have cited Allen as an influence, including Louis C.K., Larry David, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, John Mulaney, Bill Hader,[195] Aziz Ansari,[196] Sarah Silverman,[197] Conan O’Brien,[198] Seth MacFarlane,[199] Seth Meyers,[200] Richard Ayoade,[201] Bill Maher,[202] Albert Brooks,[203] John Cleese[196] and Garry Shandling.[204]

Role Model

Many filmmakers have also cited Allen as influence, including Wes Anderson, Greta Gerwig,[206] Noah Baumbach,[207] Luca Guadagnino, Nora Ephron, Whit Stillman,[210] Mike Mills,[211] Ira Sachs,[212] Richard Linklater,[213] Charlie Kaufman,[214] Nicole Holofcener, Rebecca Miller,[216] Tamara Jenkins,[217] Alex Ross Perry,[218] Greg Mottola, Lynn Shelton,[220] Lena Dunham,[221] Lawrence Michael Levine, and the Safdie brothers.

Directors who admire Allen’s work include Tarantino, who called him “one of the greatest screenwriters of all time”, and Scorsese, who said in Woody Allen: A Documentary, “Woody’s sensibilities of New York City is one of the reasons why I love his work, but they are extremely foreign to me. It’s not another world; it’s another planet.” Spike Lee has called Allen a “great, great filmmaker” and Almodóvar has said he admires Allen’s work.

In 2012, directors Mike Leigh, Asghar Farhadi, and Martin McDonagh respectively included Radio Days (1987), Take the Money and Run (1969), and Manhattan among their Top 10 films for Sight & Sound. Other admirers of his work include Olivia Wilde and Jason Reitman, who staged live readings of Hannah and Her Sisters and Manhattan respectively.

Favorite films

In 2012, Allen participated in the Sight & Sound film polls. Held every ten years to select the greatest films of all time, contemporary directors were asked to select ten films of their choice. Allen’s choices, in alphabetical order, were:

The 400 Blows (France, 1959)
8½ (Italy, 1963)
Amarcord (Italy, 1972)
Bicycle Thieves (Italy, 1948)
Citizen Kane (USA, 1941)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (France, 1972)
La Grande Illusion (France, 1937)
Paths of Glory (USA, 1957)
Rashomon (Japan, 1950)
The Seventh Seal (Sweden, 1957)

In his 2020 autobiography Apropos of Nothing Allen praised Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951): the movie of Streetcar is for me total artistic perfection… It’s the most perfect confluence of script, performance, and direction I’ve ever seen. I agree with Richard Schickel, who calls the play perfect. The characters are so perfectly written, every nuance, every instinct, every line of dialogue is the best choice of all those available in the known universe. All the performances are sensational. Vivien Leigh is incomparable, more real and vivid than real people I know. And Marlon Brando was a living poem. He was an actor who came on the scene and changed the history of acting. The magic, the setting, New Orleans, the French Quarter, the rainy humid afternoons, the poker night. Artistic genius, no holds barred.

Film activism
In 1987, Allen joined Ginger Rogers, Sydney Pollack, and Milos Forman at a Senate Judiciary committee hearing in Washington, D.C., where they each gave testimony against Ted Turner’s and other companies’ colorizing films without the artists’ consent. Only one senator, Patrick Leahy, was present for the testimony.

Allen testified: “If directors had their way, we would not let our films be tampered with in any way—broken up for commercial or shortened or colorized. But we’ve fought the other things without much success, and now colorization—because it’s so horrible and preposterous and more acutely noticeable by audiences—is the straw that broke the camel’s back…The presumption that colorizers are doing him [the director] a favor and bettering his movie is a transparent attempt to justify the mutilation of art for a few extra dollars.

Allen also spoke about his decisions to make films in black and white, such as Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Broadway Danny Rose, and Zelig. Film director John Huston appeared in a pretaped video, and Rogers read a statement by Jimmy Stewart criticizing the colorization of his film It’s a Wonderful Life.

In 1990, Allen and Martin Scorsese created The Film Foundation, a nonprofit film preservation organization that collaborates with film studios to restore prints of old or damaged films. Allen sat on the foundation’s original board of directors alongside Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg.

Woody Allen filmography

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
Take the Money and Run (1969)
Bananas (1971)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
Sleeper (1973)
Love and Death (1975)
Annie Hall (1977)
Interiors (1978)
Manhattan (1979)
Stardust Memories (1980)
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Zelig (1983)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Radio Days (1987)
September (1987)
Another Woman (1988)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Oedipus Wrecks (segment in New York Stories) (1989)
Alice (1990)
Shadows and Fog (1991)
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Bullets over Broadway (1994)
Don’t Drink the Water (1994)
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Celebrity (1998)
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Small Time Crooks (2000)
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
Hollywood Ending (2002)
Anything Else (2003)
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Match Point (2005)
Scoop (2006)
Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Whatever Works (2009)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
To Rome with Love (2012)
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Irrational Man (2015)
Café Society (2016)
Wonder Wheel (2017)
A Rainy Day in New York (2019)
Rifkin’s Festival (2020)
Theatrical works