This week, Woody Allen‘s 2016 title (for as we all know, there’s one each year), “Cafe Society,” starring Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively and Anna Camp, opens after a warm reception as the opening film at the most recent Cannes Film Festival. You can read our take from Cannes here, or hang on to scroll through and see where it lands on the list below, but we thought this would be a good time to gussy up our previous sprawling two-part Allen retrospective, and because we’ve been a little harmonious around here of late and miss the sounds of sobbing and breaking crockery, to rank it.
Weathering personal scandal and coming in and out of fashion like flares, Allen’s been at constant work as a director for five decades now, and “Cafe Society” marks his 47th theatrically-released feature. Which means we have a lot to get through, so let’s get straight to it, shall we? Here, ranked worst to best, are all of Woody Allen’s theatrical features —with any list this long, there’s bound to be massive disagreement, so remember, the comments section awaits your ire. Or your congratulations, on the slim chance you agree with all of it.
47. “Anything Else” (2003)
There are a lot of things wrong with “Anything Else.” Jason Biggs halts his speech more than Jerry Stiller after root canal surgery and often looks blankly off-camera like he’s after a batch of pastries to hump. His girlfriend, played by Christina Ricci, seemingly cast to type as a pathological neurotic with body dysmorphia and an “offbeat sexual quality,” is largely awful too. Only Stockard Channing‘s Paula —an outrageously volatile former interior designer desperate for Biggs to write her new “nightclub act”— can inject this leaden affair with any life. A couple of one-liners fly by (“I should have known something was wrong on the wedding night when her family danced around my table chanting, ‘We will make him one of us!’”), but Allen miscasts himself as reckless, apocalyptic grouch who drops in for random rants about rampant anti-Semitism and the meaninglessness of our daily existence and who is prone to increasing acts of violence. The film’s unrelenting and mirthless post-911 anhedonia is oddly car-crash compelling, but just because it’s one of Allen’s angriest films doesn’t mean it’s any good.
46. “Cassandra’s Dream” (2007)
Certainly the nadir of Woody’s recent “European period” and vying for the title of the worst film of his entire career, “Cassandra’s Dream” is a slow, on-the-nose, plodding, wholly unconvincing crime caper that doesn’t even crack a smile, let alone inspire any laughs. The tale of two brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) who agree to kill a man for their rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson), the movie is clumsily paced and lacks even the most minimal action required for a thriller to actually, you know, thrill. Even with some stellar behind-the-scenes talent (Vilmos Zsigmond shot it and Philip Glass provided a rare original score) and notable supporting performances (eternally undervalued MVP Sally Hawkins), the movie falls unbelievably flat. It’s not a spoiler to say that in the final scene, a detective describes a double murder that’s central to the plot… and which happens completely off-screen. The film was released in the U.S. at the beginning of 2008, and the only silver lining was that later that same summer, Allen redeemed himself with the much, much better “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
45. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001)
Every year brings us a new Woody Allen picture, bringing with it either grousing about how the creator of Alvy Singer is tarnishing his cinematic legacy, or that this new film marks a stunning return to form and everything’s going to be okay forever. It’s a pattern critics have slid lazily into at least as far as “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” 15 years ago. But even with the best will in the world, you can see why: the film’s period setting, slight plot (a magician hypnotizes Woody into becoming a jewel thief against his will) and Allen’s subsequent inability to find funding for his films to be made in America affirm the now-orthodox decline thesis. Allen is pretty terrible in the lead role of C.W Briggs, “a shallow, skirt-chasing egomaniac” and “myopic insurance clerk” displaying not one whit of sexual tension with co-star Helen Hunt, the ‘saucy’ efficiency expert with feminine wiles up the yin-yang. And he was frankly far too old at the time of this film to be hit on by an earthen, breast-exposing Charlize Theron.
44. “Hollywood Ending” (2002)
When you shoot a movie a year, there’s no level of genius that can keep inspiration consistent every time out. And so you get the occasional “Hollywood Ending,” a remarkably tone-deaf Hollywood satire that’s both too inside-baseball and too overwhelmingly broad. Allen plays a celebrated director well past his prime (hmm…) who gets back into the film business by teaming with his ex-wife in a high-pressure situation that causes him to become psychosomatically blind. Did you guess that the punchline involves him directing the film anyway? “Hollywood Ending” isn’t helped by the fact that Allen is working with one of his least-exceptional casts, giving major screen time to the manic Tea Leoni and the bronzed, oblivious George Hamilton, resulting in a film that wants to take advantage of the lower standards of recent yuckfests while maintaining a classic Hollywood vibe, but which falls between each.
43. “Irrational Man” (2015)
No one was more taken aback than we were by the depth of our dislike of Allen’s last film before “Café Society.” Starring Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix, two actors we’re preternaturally fond of, and supported by ringer Parker Posey, the picture marks a return to contemporary America after the frou-frou period fluffiness of “Magic in the Moonlight” and seems a return to a particularly Allen-esque murder-and-infidelity plot that had yielded decent results in the past. But “Irrational Man” is one of Allen’s nastiest and most troubling films, a sourhearted laughless “comedy” in which the female lead is only present to talk about how tortured and interesting the male lead is, while that male lead has some sort of self-absorbed existential crisis that we’re apparently supposed to care about. Around the time Stone delivers the wack line “I love that you order for me” in a restaurant scene, and long before the signposted pseudo-intellectual namedropping has stopped (she discovers he’s plotting a crime because of notes in the margin of “Crime and Punishment”), it’s clear that “Irrational Man” represents all of Allen’s late-period worst tendencies regarding sexism and self-indulgence, but with none of the jokes that made it all worthwhile in the past.
Of all the filmmaker’s surrogates in his canon throughout the years, none was a weirder choice than British thesp/director Kenneth Branagh playing a novelist-turned-tabloid journalist (following, of course, a disastrous divorce) in “Celebrity.” The casting is bizarre in and of itself, especially since “Celebrity” was released at the tail end of Branagh’s impressive Shakespeare run, and yet the way Branagh almost perfectly mimics Allen’s jerks, tics and stuttering speech patternsit may be the most impressive aspect of “Celebrity.” The problems are everywhere else, in a film that is less a coherent story than a series of vignettes in which Branagh bumps into various celebrities (usually playing exaggerated versions of themselves). The best cameo goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, upending his then-badboy image, but as a satire on the vacuity of Hollywood, which would you think the famously reticent and celebrity-averse Allen would be in a perfect position to deliver, “Celebrity” is almost entirely toothless, In fact, the period-set “Cafe Society” does the price-of-fame stuff much better.
41. “Scoop” (2006)
Coming after what many considered a late-career triumph in “Match Point,” there were those who were disheartened to see Allen return to madcap slapstick. And even those who were happy he wasn’t revisiting damp thriller territory with his next London-set, Scarlett Johansson-starring film were dismayed by “Scoop.” Involving a beleaguered junior reporter tailing a handsome potential serial killer thanks to clues from a ghost, this film is exactly as silly as that sounds, and there’s little the attractive pairing of Johansson and Hugh Jackman can do to save it. Without a clean balance between the chaotic supernatural elements of the story and the main serial killer narrative, the film feels wildly uneven in plotting as well as tone. It’s the sort of diversion that, if it had gone right, its formulaic tendencies and thin plotting would have been disguised with catchall terms like “effortless” and “breezy.” But since it doesn’t, the film feels more involuntary and rote, a supremely uninspired entry from Allen that shows all of his laziest late-period impulses.