Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Familiar Faces: The Woody Allen Hierarchy.

Woody Allen's newest feature You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger opens today in movie theaters. It's currently confusing me with its Curse of The Jade Scorpion or The Purple Rose of Cairo -like silhouette poster. With this move the marketing department has made me recall both the worst and the best from Woody Allen's filmography simultaneously. It's very schizo... maybe this means the new feature will be right smack dab in the middle, neither essential nor embarrassing?

American Poster (left), a European treatment (right)

Why couldn't they have gone with the European poster treatment? European posters are always better. It's a law of Hollywood's nature.

To celebrate its release -- I haven't had time to see it yet -- I wanted to revamp an old list I started years ago. When Vicky Cristina Barcelona was cast in 2007, numerous media outlets were making ridiculously inaccurate claims about Scarlett Johansson being Woody's third most consistent muse (talk about A list tunnel vision!). Those inaccuracies of reporting died down as soon as Scarlett missed a movie. But this list I found interesting in the creation nonetheless and I hope you will in the reading. I've attempted a comprehensive list of collaborations but there are bound to be a few mistakes -- particularly in the area of tiny character actor roles so do note any omissions should you spot them in the comments.

For this ranking, I'm counting only the feature films he directed (plus his third of New York Stories and his one telefilm Don't Drink the Water). The actors, male and female, who've logged the most time with the prolific writer/director are...

Woody Players ... Quantitatively Speaking

01 26 Times. Woody Allen himself. Well you do have to direct yourself if you're also acting. It's 27 if you count a film he didn't direct but wrote & starred in: Play it Again, Sam.

13 Times. Mia Farrow is the queen. Remarkably and horrifically, despite the plentiful acting nominations earned by Woody Allen films, she's still never been nominated for an Oscar.

Keaton in Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan,
Radio Days
and Manhattan Murder Mystery

03 7 and 7.5 Times. Diane Keaton is the runner up woman. Her most famous appearance was for her Oscar win as Annie Hall but she returned to the fold rather blissfully as his wife in Manhattan Murder Mystery and proved that the two of them hadn't lost an ounce of their chemistry. One wonders why they haven't tried an eighth time... (or ninth time if you could Play it Again, Sam which Woody did not direct so we gave her a half point there). Fred Melamed, who so recently nailed his supporting role in the Coen Bros' A Serious Man as huggy Sy Ableman, probably looked familiar to you. That's because he's all over the place in the Woody filmography albeit in small roles. And finally, there's Julie Kavner. Her most memorable part was as Woody's co-worker in Hannah and Her Sisters. Yes that's "Marge Simpson" we're talking about.

04 6 Times. Maurice Sonnenberg and Peter Catellotti have roles like "Movie Theater Patron" in Anything Else or "Sound Recordist" in Celebrity. But since they're in six movies each, one assumes they're either spectacular extras or friends with Woody or the casting director.

Stiers in Jade Scorpion; Wiest in Bullets; Shawn in Radio Days

5 Times. Dianne Wiest Wiest won both of her very deserved Oscars for Allen pictures (Hannah and Her Sisters & Bullets Over Broadway). If you've ever wondered why actors are so obviously desperate to work with him, consider this: He's guided thespians to 15 nominations with 6 wins among them - one of the best records of all time.) The instantly recognizable Wallace Shawn has also been in a whole handful of Woody film albeit in smaller roles. You may remember him as The Masked Avenger in Radio Days. David Ogden Stiers (of TV's MASH fame) was another regular.

4.5 Times. Louise Lasser has appeared in 4 films but she also does voice work in his first film What's Up Tiger Lily (1966) so let's allow for that with this special designation. Same goes for Tony Roberts, who appeared most famously in Annie Hall. His count would be 5 if you allowed for Play it Again, Sam but Woody only wrote that film and didn't direct it, so we'll give him a half credit there.

[clockwise from top left: Lasser in Bananas; Roberts in Annie Hall;
Waterston in September; Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives

07 4 Films.
Judy Davis nearly won an Oscar for Husbands and Wives. Sam Waterston also appears in four films. His most significant role is, if I'm remembering correctly, in September but this was notoriously not a happy film, having been reshot and delayed and not causing much of a stir when it opened despite Woody's semi-popularity at the time.

08 3 Films. Scarlett Johansson has the leading role in three of his films, winning the most mileage from their first outing, Match Point. Alan Alda has also worked three characters in the Woody gallery, most notably in Crimes and Misdemeanors. The following actors have also been in three Woodys: Danny Aiello,
Philip Bosco (a familiar TV face last seen on Damages), Frances Conroy (all of her roles predate the Six Feet Under career peak), Blythe Danner (Gwynnie's mom!) Julie Halston, Annie Joe Edwards and Camille Saviola and Jack Warden.

Theron in Celebrity; Daniels in Purple Rose; Hemingway in Manhattan; Huston
in Manhattan Murder Mystery; Balaban in Deconstructing Harry; Ullman in
Small Time Crooks; Clarkson in Whatever Works

09 2 Films. I'm sure to forget someone here but well over a dozen actors have done double duty including: Bob Balaban, Ewen Bremner (yes, that's "Spud" from Trainspotting), Josh Brolin, Patricia Clarkson, Lynn Cohen, Jeff Daniels (who deserved an Oscar nomination for The Purple Rose of Cairo), Larry David, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gregg Edelman, director Nora Ephron (only cameos), Stephanie Farrow, Rupert Frazer, Joanna Gleason, Jessica Harper, Mariel Hemingway (Oscar nominated for Manhattan), Anjelica Huston, Erica Leerhsen, Debra Messing, Gretchen Mol, Zak Orth, Michael Rapaport, Deborah Rush, Marian Seldes, Tina Sloan, Charlize Theron, Michael Tucker, Loretta Tupper and Tracey Ullman.

10 1.5 Films. Christopher Evan Welch, pictured left, Vicky Cristina Barcelona's omniscient narrator, actually appears physically in Whatever Works. (He can currently be seen as "Grant Test" on AMC's new series Rubicon.) Great speaking voice, eh?

1 Film. Everyone with a SAG card... or thereabouts. Though when you look at people who made very strong impressions in their sole appearance, you do wonder why there wasn't another film. I'm thinking of Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors - Oscar nom), Elaine May (Small Time Crooks -NSFC Best Supporting Actress) and Goldie Hawn (Everyone Says I Love You) in particular, who all seemed like natural fits in the Woody-verse. Most of the members of the You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger ensemble are newbies save for Brolin and Bremner making their second films. Midnight in Paris, which recently completed shooting, is entirely Allen virgins but for Kathy Bates who was last seen as a prostitute in his experimental black and white picture Shadows and Fog (1991).

Who do you wish he would work with again?

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