The 10 Most Underrated Movies of Woody Allen

6. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Manhattan Murder Mystery

Though often sidelined and dismissed somewhat by the man himself, Woody die hards see Manhattan Murder Mystery as one of his most entertaining, funny, rich and endearing movies. Light and fluffy it may be, it’s also a relief from the heavyweight material and is a laugh riot from start to finish. However, he still gets a few stark allusions to death in there along the way; after all, this is a murder mystery.

Many fans will no doubt have been overjoyed to see Woody paired up with the wonderful Diane Keaton once again. Apart from her brief cameo in Radio Days, it was her first Allen role since 1979’s Manhattan. In truth, her return was overdue. As great as Farrow had been in her run of Woody pictures, it was considered by some to be the right time for a change. But Keaton’s return wasn’t totally a creative choice. In the wake of the Mia/Woody split, he asked his old friend to step in, and she obliged without hesitation. With a plot lifted from an early draft of Annie Hall (which was dropped from the 1977 classic early on in favour of the romantic elements), Allen weaves a wonderfully winding mystery around the premise of middle aged married couple Allen and Keaton, who become intrigued by the death of a neighbour. Allen wants to mind his own business, but Keaton’s Carol is desperate to get to the bottom of it, and learn more about the deceased woman’s husband, Paul, played by Jerry Adler.

Performance-wise, the film is flawless. Woody is on classic neurotic form from the start, and walks away with a lot of the best lines. Keaton is wonderful too and she hadn’t been this good since the 1970s, embodying that middle aged woman with more get-up-and-go than someone half her age, ever curious and full of wonder. Allen is the opposite, loving his “deep sleeps” and happy in his own enclosed bubble. The dynamic between the pair is the main spark of the film, and as good as Mia Farrow had been in some of the previous movies, she can’t really compete with the on screen chemistry Woody and Diane have. Though Woody saw this as a soufflé, many see it as a 90s highlight.


7. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

In Deconstructing Harry, Woody plays a writer who gets in trouble when he bases his writing on real people he knows. Cleverly constructed in flashbacks and bizarre fantasies, as Allen makes his way to a University he was once ejected from to receive an honorary doctorate, it’s one of Woody’s most imaginative films from the 1990s.

There are some wonderful supporting turns too, from Kirstie Alley to Demi Moore. Sitting right in the middle of Woody’s phase when he seemed to be able to cast everyone who ever passed through Hollywood, he somehow steals the movie from every big name who steps on to the screen, effortlessly so in fact. Often unfairly overlooked these days – again, this is inevitable given the sheer amount of Woody’s output – it’s a little out of the usual Woody box.

Harry Block has to be one of Woody’s most memorable screen characters, a man, as Woody essentially sees him, unable to succeed in anything in life apart from his work. Again, though the comparisons to the real man would be inevitable, Woody the hard working, highly disciplined man of words could not be more different.

Deconstructing Harry could very well be seen as an update on some of the ideas in Stardust Memories, but here he’s a writer venturing to a university, rather than the filmmaker on his way to an imaginary festival. This fact highlights the consistency of Woody through the ages, his on going concerns and themes; ego, self doubt, etc. While not as solid as Stardust Memories, it was still one of his meatiest pictures from the whole of the 1990s. It did underwhelming box office at the time and these days rarely gets singled out.


8. Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

Maybe there was something in the water, but the turn of the century and the new millennium heralded a new phase in Woody Allen’s career. The talk of death and mortality seemed to vanish, and the often stuffy seriousness of his late 80s drama was nowhere to be seen. It was as if that, in his mid sixties, he somehow subconsciously channelled the Woody Allen of the early seventies, and began putting more neurotic energy into his performances and farcical plots into his movies. Following on from Small Time Crooks, he came up with the lovely and vastly undervalued The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, a delightful and undemanding Allen comedy treat.

The plot concerns Woody as an insurance salesman who gets hypnotised into becoming a jewel thief. Cue plenty of excuses for Woody to be hilarious and pack as many classic gags in as possible. It’s a very enjoyable film, and its uncluttered simplicity is what makes it so much fun. Woody himself is on top form and a fine supporting cast comprised of Dan Aykroyd, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron and old Woody favourite Wallace Shawn are great to watch.

Despite my fondness, some felt it to be a huge disappointment and it only managed to make back half of its huge 33 million budget, clearly disappointing DreamWorks Pictures. Hard to find on DVD, it takes a bit of detective work to track down, though it’s definitely worth the hard work.


9. Hollywood Ending (2002)

Hollywood Ending

In Hollywood Ending Woody plays a once respected filmmaker now working in the world of futile TV commercials – his worst nightmare I am sure. Then a movie offer comes his way, but it’s instigated by his ex wife (Tea Leoni) and her new partner (Treat Williams), the man she left Woody for! Worse still, he is stricken blind halfway through filming. Cue plenty of opportunities for Woody to be neurotic and awkwardly hilarious, and a rather jarring “Hollywood Ending”, purposely cheesy I am sure.

Again, Woody uses the eyes as a metaphor, as he had in Crimes and Misdemeanours. Here, the duality of a filmmaker’s vision and a more literal vision is cleverly toyed with. Woody is great in his role, undoubtedly the strongest cast member, and though playing a filmmaker, it is not autobiographical. Another one hard to get on a decent DVD release, it’s out there if you look hard enough.


10. To Rome With Love (2012)

To Rome with Love, released in 2012, was reminiscent of the recent wave of conceptual films comprised of themed shorts, only with Woody Allen’s hyper wit intact to lift it above the limitations of that loose format. Woody appears as Jerry, the father of Hayley, the newly wed bride in “Hayley’s Story”, and is superb, walking away with all the best lines and subtly stealing the picture from a very talented cast.

A massive box office hit, it soon became one of Allen’s most successful pictures, alongside Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Critically however, it was mauled savagely, though I cannot see why. The muddled structure might not have helped, but this is a hugely enjoyable and consistently sharp little film, with each story as inviting and appealing as the next.