Actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, and keynote speaker, Woody Allen redefined film comedy during the 1970s, bringing a new measure of sophistication and personal complexity to the form. His movies put a knowing, confessional spin on the anxieties of contemporary audiences. Allen established himself both as a comic Everyman and one of American filmmaking's true authors, writing and directing features that infused the screen-comedy form with unprecedented substance and depth.
In 1953, Allen enrolled in New York University's film program, then dropped out of school. Two years later, he began writing for television, working on the staff of the legendary Your Show of Shows, as well as penning material for Pat Boone. During his five-year tenure in television, his efforts won him an Emmy nomination, but Allen found his writing career stifling, and he eventually decided to try his hand as a standup performer. After slowly gaining a reputation on the New York-club circuit, he became a frequent talk show guest and in 1964 issued his self-titled debut comedy LP.
In 1965, Allen made his film debut, writing and starring in the farce What's New, Pussycat? with What's Up, Tiger Lily?, he made his directorial debut. After appearing in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, his rise to fame continued when his play Don't Drink the Water was produced on Broadway. However, Allen's career as a filmmaker fully took flight with the gangster send-up Take the Money and Run, in which he starred, co-wrote, and directed. His status as an author was further solidified with Bananas and the following year's episodic Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Allen next appeared in Herbert Ross' feature Play It Again, Sam, followed by his own return to the director's chair for the futuristic comedy Sleeper. While remaining as outlandish as his previous work, the comedy Love and Death signaled Allen's desire for respect as a serious filmmaker.
Allen's breakthrough was Academy Award-winning Annie Hall; bittersweet and deeply personal, it established a new kind of comedy. Allen himself then turned away from humor completely with Interiors, a brooding drama. While earning a pair of Oscar nominations, the feature received wildly mixed reviews. With Manhattan, Allen's comic impulses and his desire for respect met halfway with remarkable results. Its follow-up, Stardust Memories, depicts a filmmaker torn between his audience's desire for comedy and his own aspirations toward more fulfilling work.
After Broadway Danny Rose, Allen mounted the superb The Purple Rose of Cairo, a tribute to Buster Keaton's landmark Sherlock, Jr. The next year's brilliant Hannah and Her Sisters earned Allen his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The following year, he released Radio Days, his most sweetly comic effort in years. The penetrating Crimes and Misdemeanors ended the decade on a high note, with three Academy Award nominations.
In the wake of personal turmoil, Allen returned to filmmaking, enlisting Diane Keaton for Manhattan Murder Mystery. He returned to critics' good graces with the period comedy Bullets Over Broadway, which garnered an impressive seven Oscar nominations, while Mighty Aphrodite scored two more Academy nods. Allen directed his first-ever musical comedy, Everyone Says I Love You. However, Deconstructing Harry followed in to mixed reviews, as did Celebrity.
Almost in direct response to these sentiments, Allen released a string of lighthearted films, beginning with the critically acclaimed Sweet and Lowdown. He then entered into a multi-picture deal with DreamWorks Pictures. Small Time Crooks was the first of these pictures, enjoying a healthy run at the box office and decent reviews.
Allen's pair of films, Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda, continued his trend mixed-reviewed comedies, but in 2005, he delivered what many considered his best work in years with the dark drama Match Point. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the picture netted an Oscar nod for best original screenplay, Allen's first nomination in nearly a decade. Perhaps hoping she might be his lucky charm, the filmmaker cast Johansson again in the following year's mystery-comedy Scoop, to be followed by the movie Cassandra’s Dreams.
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