Today Woody Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine , his 45th directorial effort in as many years, opens in Houston at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre. The living legend's tireless output has led to a hit-or-miss career, but his highs have been so high as to make him one of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers in history. Blue Jasmine looks like no exception, already generating Oscar buzz for Allen and star Cate Blanchett.
As a massive fan, I'll be attending on opening day, but in the meantime I've been making it a point to watch all of Allen's films. It's not small feat considering their number, and I'll be at it well after Blue Jasmine premieres, but it's an endlessly rewarding treasure trove.
It's also intensely gratifying as a music fan, as Allen is a passionate fan and musician himself who inserts all sorts of brilliant musical moments into his films. Thus, I decided to make a small selection of the ones I consider to be his greatest out of a great catalog.
5. Nick Apollo Forte in Broadway Danny Rose Allen's tribute to old Hollywood talent managers begins with this song by Nick Apollo Forte, who co-stars as Lou Canova, a past-his-prime lounge singer who gets a sudden career revival by a nostalgia craze, a story which should be familiar to us all in 2013.
The song pops up in the film, performed by Forte with zest and zeal throughout, along with many covers of classic crooner tunes. Forte is exceptional in his role, but Allen, of course, steals the show as his guilt-ridden, endlessly optimistic manager who will support any artist regardless of his or her marketability, something I wish we heard more about in 2013.
4. The Chameleon Hidden in Allen's oft-overlooked early-'80s period piece, Zelig, is this amazingly accurate look at pop novelty songs of the 1930s. Allen's character in the film, the titular Leonard Zelig, is a literal human chameleon, adapting himself to the mannerisms and even physical traits of anyone he is around as a psychological coping mechanism.
His bizarre condition sets in motion a wave of popularity in America, which inspires many fictional songs that meticulously recreate the sound of such novelty acts of the era. This one, "Chameleon," even features a popular dance to accompany it, another feature of many old novelty tracks.
3. The 39 Steps In 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen takes co-star Dianne Wiest on a legendarily bad date, where neither of them share any interests in common. In particular, Allen, and by proxy his character Mickey, is a fan of jazz and despises rock and roll, so of course Wiest leads him to a punk-rock club where little-known '80s band The 39 Steps are playing.
It's unfortunate that The 39 Steps didn't go much of anywhere, as their song in the film, "Slip Into the Crowd," actually sounds pretty good to this author. Allen hates it though, comparing them to kidnappers and aliens.
2. The Rolling Stone Reporter (Annie Hall) Though it technically doesn't feature music, this classic scene from Annie Hall is a hilarious take on music critics and rock fans who build artists like Bob Dylan up to be "transplendent."
On a date with Houston native Shelley Duvall, who plays a pseudointellectual Rolling Stone reporter, Woody gets to take subtle shots at three of his most-hated subjects: popular music after World War II, faddish religions and philosophies, and the 1970s equivalent of hipsters.
1. Manhattan and Gershwin Though Texas has apparently been recently at war with New York, I'm still in love with NYC, and the iconic opening of Allen's 1979 masterpiece Manhattan symbolizes the sights and sounds of the city perfectly. It brilliantly sets the tone for his feature-length tribute.
Manhattan also features George Gershwin's amazing "Rhapsody in Blue" playing out over the scenes. In a way, there's no better theme song for either New York or a Woody Allen film and it combines with the scenes to make this one of the greatest openings to a film of all time.
BONUS: Woody Performs
I mentioned at the start that Allen is a musician himself. Here's a short video of one of his performances as a clarinetist in a jazz band. He still gigs regularly in New York City when he's not working films. In 1997, a documentary called Wild Man Blues was released about Allen's side career.
Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine, opens today at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre, 2009 W. Gray.
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