Yes, you love Annie Hall, we get it; it's Woody Allen's most mainstream/palatable/relatable work, but there is so much more to this director than the 1977 masterpiece. And, because it's his seventy-eighth birthday, here are some undervalued efforts that prove Allen is one of the few people in film who can make whatever kind of movie he wants in the face of underwhelming audience responses and lackluster box office receipts.
11) Interiors: A probing, unforgiving account of family life and the spreading of psychological damage throughout each generation, Interiors is, in many ways, a precursor to Cassandra's Dream with regard to its unapologetically depressing content.
10) The Purple Rose of Cairo: Escapism, blurred lines between fantasy and reality and a general dissatisfaction with real life existence are the primary themes of this 1985 gem. Set during Great Depression-era New Jersey (two very bleak descriptors), Cecilia (Mia Farrow, who Allen favored heavily in the 80s) is a woman who can only find comfort in watching the same movie repeatedly to flee into an alternate world separate from her own drab life.
9) Another Woman: One of the few Allen films that heavily emphasizes the theme of voyeurism, Another Woman stars Gena Rowlands as Marion Post, a philosophy professor who rents an apartment for the purpose of getting some peace and quiet from her own building, which is undergoing construction. While working, she overhears the therapy sessions of Hope (Mia Farrow, naturally), whose own concerns with life, Marion starts to realize, heavily mirror her own. Learning to accept the mistakes she's made, Marion resolves to improve the things that have caused her to stagnate--which makes it uncharacteristically cheesy for an Allen movie (or at least cheesy by Allen standards). Naming the character that prompts Marion to change "Hope" is also atypical in terms of how sentimental Allen generally allows himself to get.
8) Mighty Aphrodite: A combination of Pygmalion and Greek tragedy, Mighty Aphrodite might have been too far-fetched for audiences to believe. Granted, Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for her performance as Linda, a trashy prostitute/porn star, but this film still rarely seems to be brought up when discussing Allen's oeuvre.
7) Anything Else: On the heels of poorly received movies like The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending, Anything Else remained largely under the radar during the time of its release in 2003. Jason Biggs plays the nebbish role of Jerry Falk, a comedy writer who falls into a friendship with fellow comic/crackpot, David Dobel (Allen). Jerry's relationship issues with his girlfriend, Amanda (Christina Ricci), reach incongruous heights that Dobel tries uselessly to counsel him through as the plot progresses. And the fact that Stockard Channing is also in the movie as a deranged mother trying to put together a lounge singer act makes it well-worth watching.
6) Deconstructing Harry: Among one of Allen's most delightfully neurotic roles, Deconstructing Harry explores the allure of prostitutes, the displeasure of Judaic practices and the annoyances of bolstering family ties. This film is also distinct for transitioning Allen from his early and mid-90s style, during which he favored a far more New York-centric plotline.
5) Cassandra's Dream: Allen's equivalent of The Telltale Heart, Cassandra's Dream is a candid look at the depths of human depravity and how far a person will go to maintain a dark secret. What differentiates this particular Allen movie from all the rest is that there isn't even a hint of a high note at the conclusion of the third act.
4) Everyone Says I Love You: Perhaps no one in the mid-90s was prepared for a musical in which Goldie Hawn flies.
3) Vicky Cristina Barcelona: The fourth in a series of films that would favor a European setting, Vicky Cristina Barcelona takes on one of Allen's favorite motifs: The absurdity of love and the lengths people will go to sustain it. Moreover, Scarlett Johansson as Cristina continues as a muse for Allen after Match Point and Scoop, but in a manner that allows her to convey the message of the script through more than just her body. Paired with the one-two punch of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, this film trumps Midnight in Paris any day.
2) Sweet and Lowdown: In spite of Sean Penn being an audience favorite, it may be the jazz-heavy plot of the film that keeps people from appreciating or returning to this particular work. Or maybe the portrayal of a romance with a mute is still something no one is ready for.
1) Small Time Crooks: Allen's only genuine screwball comedy, Small Time Crooks stands out not only for its slapstick zaniness, but also for favoring a more cliche theme--always choose love over money--as opposed to a more existential one.