The 15 Best Performances in The Movies of Woody Allen

8. Mia Farrow in “The Purple Rose of Cairo”

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is a waitress during the Great Depression, who escapes from her sad life with abusive husband Monk (Danny Aiello) into a world of make believe at the movies.

The latest film she is watching is “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, but during one performance one of the characters, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) notices her, breaking the fourth wall and escaping from the movie to be with her.

After a madcap romance, the real life actor Gil Shepard intrudes on Tom’s relationship with Cecilia and professes his love for her also. Confronted with the bizarre love triangle, Cecilia makes a crucial decision that will change the course of her life.

Farrow was Allen’s muse and leading lady for a decade, until problems in their personal life intruded on their filmmaking partnership much in the way Gil Shepard intrudes on Cecilia and Tom in The Purple Rose of Cairo.

This film shows Farrow’s greatest range, as she plays a character who goes from an abused woman living in a fantasy world to the center of a tumultuous love triangle. Farrow plays this sometimes unbelievable part with sincerity and credulity, and her underrated performance went a long way towards helping The Purple Rose of Cairo be remembered as one of Woody Allen’s greatest and most interesting films.


7. Michael Caine in “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Hannah and Her Sisters

Caine plays Elliot, the husband of Hannah (Mia Farrow), one of three sisters whom the story is built around. Elliot falls in love with Hannah’s sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is living with artist Frederick (Max von Sydow), a man many years her senior.

Lee has grown disenchanted in her relationship with Frederick and Elliot blames his infidelity on his resentment of Hannah’s emotional strength. Their affair is eventually uncovered and Lee breaks it off with Frederick, but Elliot is unable to leave Hannah. At the end of the story, Hannah and Elliot have reconciled, while Lee is married to a new man, and the other stories in the family seem to have resolved themselves in various ways.

Caine is part of an ensemble cast in Hannah and her Sisters, although the story of Elliot, Lee and Hannah clearly comprises the central tale of the film. Although his character cheats on Hannah and causes the end of Lee and Frederick’s relationship, Caine’s likable screen persona allowed the audience to continue to view him sympathetically, despite some very questionable conduct.

In the end, the British actor was honored with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Dianne Wiest also won in the actress category) and the film ended up one of Allen’s biggest successes at the time, pulling in over 40 million dollars at the box office.


6. Charlotte Rampling in “Stardust Memories”

Charlotte Rampling in ‘Stardust Memories’

Although it is a problematic part in one of Allen’s most contentious and divisive films, Charlotte Rampling’s performance as Dorrie in Stardust Memories is also one of Woody’s most memorable characters. Woody plays Sandy Bates, a film director who is attending a weekend retrospective of his films at a seaside resort.

While fans and critics try to puzzle out the meaning of Sandy’s films, the director himself attempts to sort out the meaning of his life and his lost relationships, most particularly with the beautiful Dorrie, a woman whom he has loved deeply but apparently lost forever.

Like many of Allen’s most attractive female characters, Dorrie is neurotic and fragile, her mental issues and psychological instability causing problems that are too numerous and severe to overcome. In the end, Sandy loses Dorrie, but her memory haunts him and contributes to his existential angst as he contemplates his life and work.

Stardust Memories is one of Allen’s most complex and challenging films, and it success or failure largely hinges on the audience’s reaction to Rampling’s character and Bates’ inability to love her.


5. Martin Landau in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”

Anjelica Huston in ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’

Martin Landau stars as Judah Rosenthal, a successful doctor engaged in an affair with Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston). When Dolores threatens to reveal the affair to Judah’s wife, he panics and hires a hit man to kill Dolores through his brother, Jack (Jerry Orbach).

After Dolores is murdered, Judah goes to her apartment to retrieve some incriminating letters and sees the dead body. Later, he runs into Cliff (Allen) at a wedding and the two contemplate the meaning of life and the crimes and misdemeanors that sometimes comes with it.

A successful character actor in the 1960’s and 70’s, Landau was making something of a comeback in the late 1980’s when he appeared in Crimes and Misdemeanors. As Judah, Landau had to portray a character who does the dastardly deed of plotting to murder his mistress, while at the same time retaining the sympathies of the audience.

Landau successfully negotiated this difficult part and, as a result, he received an Academy Award nomination for his role, his second in two years (he was nominated in 1988 for Francis Ford Coppola’s film Tucker: The Man and His Dream).


4. Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”

Cate Blanchett in ‘Blue Jasmine’

Like many of Allen’s best female roles, Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Jasmine separates from her wealthy husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a financial investor who has been revealed as a fraud.

Jasmine comes to live with her loyal sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco; it is revealed that Hal had earlier lost the money that Ginger and her husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) had hoped to use to start a business.

Jasmine tries to start over by dating Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) and lying to him about her past life with Hal, but when the two happen to meet Augie and he reveals all, Dwight cannot forgive Jasmine her dishonesty and breaks off his relationship with her.

Cate Blanchett played the delicate part of Jasmine Francis perfectly. When she was wealthy, Jasmine acted like she didn’t want to be around her sister and her husband, whom she clearly regarded as beneath her.

Once she has been brought down by her husband’s deceit, Jasmine’s world falls apart and she must humble herself, relying on the sister she once disregarded. In playing this difficult part so perfectly, Blanchett was honored with the Academy Award for Best Actress, an honor that was well deserved.


3. Geraldine Page in “Interiors”

Geraldine Page in ‘Interiors’

Arthur (E.G. Marshall), a successful attorney, and Eve (Geraldine Page) have three grown daughters. When Arthur suddenly announces that he wants a separation from his wife of many years, Eve responds by attempting suicide. Later, on a trip, Arthur meets the vivacious Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) and they plan to marry at the former summer house of Arthur and Eve.

After the wedding, Eve appears to daughter Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) and then walks out into the ocean, while Joey tries to stop her desperately. Joey is rescued from the waves but Eve perishes, and in the film’s final scene the family gathers again at her funeral.

High strung and tense, seeking perfection, Eve is the classic example of the doomed female in the films of Woody Allen. When her perfect world is shattered by her separation from Arthur, she cannot recover.

The morose Eve is contrasted by the happy and well adjusted Pearl, whom Arthur seeks to start a new life with after his divorce. Page, a well known actress both in films and on the Broadway stage, was nominated for an Academy Award for her brilliant portrayal of Eve, and it will be remembered as one of the greatest performances by an actress in all of Allen’s films.


2. Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall”


It’s hard to believe that an actress could become well known for a part whose signature line is “La de da, la de da…” but that’s exactly what happened to Diane Keaton, who portrays the title character in Allen’s 1977 masterpiece Annie Hall.

The film follows a non-linear storyline in which comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) meets and falls in love with aspiring singer Annie Hall (Keaton). Alvy encourages Annie to perform, despite her shyness, and eventually she becomes a success and moves to California with singer Tony Lacey (Paul Simon).

Alvy is devastated that his good intentioned efforts to encourage Annie have ultimately resulted in her leaving him, but he is heartened later when he meets her again living in New York, and the two get together to reminisce and talk over the good times that they once had.

Keaton was the dominant actress in Allen’s first decade of moviemaking, appearing in virtually all of his films, and Annie Hall is the culmination of this period. Keaton brought everything she could to the somewhat ditzy and goofy part of Annie, and, just like Alvy, audiences ended up falling in love with her.

The character of Annie Hall, with her warm sense of humor and playful sexuality, stands in sharp contrast to the tense, high strung woman that are featured in many of Allen’s other films. The part was a breakthrough for Keaton, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film and went on to a highly successful career in both dramatic and comedic films.


1. Woody Allen…every movie he’s been in!


Allen must be mentioned for the roles that he has played in his own films, from the ‘early, funny films’ to his later more dramatic features. It is difficult enough to write and direct a movie year after year, but when you add in playing the lead character (which Allen did for many years) you can see what a great accomplishment this is.

Although no one will ever mistake Woody Allen for Laurence Olivier, he is in fact an highly skilled actor who can play many parts from comedy to drama.

In Annie Hall and Manhattan, two of Allen’s most successful films, he played parts that were largely biographical but still required a great deal of acting to be believable. Allen has also had great roles in other films of his such as Stardust Memories, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Deconstructing Harry.

In addition to this, Allen has also worked occasionally for other directors, such as his part for Paul Mazursky in Scenes from a Mall, co-starring Bette Midler. While in more recent years as he has aged he has appeared less frequently, we shouldn’t forget that Woody Allen – in addition to being a fine writer and director – is also a talented actor who has graced the screen for many years.

Author Bio: Jim Davidson is a writer and videographer who lives in Martinez, CA. His latest book, Hal Ashby and the Making of Harold and Maude has recently been published by McFarland Publishers and is available at and other leading online retailers.