The Definitive Guide to Never Watching Woody Allen Again

February 19, 2014 | Adam Katzman

So you’ve probably made up your mind on Woody Allen. You’ve read Dylan Farrow’s sobering accounts of her child abuse at his hands, Vanity Fair’s “10 Undeniable Facts,” and everything else, and now you’re facing a dilemma about what to do with the man’s works. You’d rather not watch Allen’s films and support a person who’s committed such evil acts, but wouldn’t sacrificing him as an artistic and cultural institution be detrimental to the history of cinema?

If you’ve come down on the side of boycotting Allen entirely, we’re here to help. The notion that his films are too great to be weighed down by ethical concerns is bullshit — ask Jonathan Rosenbaum or Joan Didion — and there are plenty of other, better options out there. Treating Allen’s works as the final word on a number of subjects is a disservice to the vast history of cinema and literature, and as such, we’ve compiled a list of alternative options for every single one of the man’s films, from What’s Up, Tiger Lily? to Blue Jasmine. 

What’s up, Tiger Lily? (1966) – Tokyo Drifter (1966): The entire joke of this movie is that Allen and friends found a Japanese cheapie and, for the benefit of Western audiences, recut and re-dubbed it with an endless string of Asian stereotypes. Its sub-Kung Pow: Enter the Fist gags don’t really need saving. That said, Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter takes the Western gangster picture and gives it a psychedelic, Burroughs-esque cut-up that leaves the hard-boiled American gangster yarn in a pile of surreal pixie dust.

Take the Money and Run (1969) – Bottle Rocket (1996): For a charming riff on the heist genre also made up of endearingly bumbling criminals, Bottle Rocket is still great. Works also as a sweet-natured epilogue to Thief, where maybe James Caan’s Frank finally came to peace with his post-prison PTSD and adopted a euro-bohemian openness to life’s left turns.

Bananas (1971) –  Duck Soup (1933): Allen liberally quotes from Groucho on the regular, and Duck Soup is a literal lifesaver in Hannah and Her Sisters. Unlike the condescending cultural tourism of Bananas, the Marx brothers situate their absurdist conflict between European decadents, a necessary reminder that the civilized west is a post-WWII myth. The eventual descent into free-associative nonsense is also one of the greatest critiques of war by way of demonstrating by default the totality of its psychic carnage.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (1972) – In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and Taxi Zum Klo (1981): Both of these films are willing to demonstrate the Everything in Allen’s title and then some. They’re the least restrained of films about endless sexual appetites, and as of yet are unsurpassed in the graphicness of their art and vice versa. Senses has a great feminist kicker to boot and Taxi’s frank, funny and unfiltered autobiographical tale of gay cruising plays like a big, troll-y fuck you to William Friedkin’s nightmare about what the homos are up to.

Play It Again, Sam (1972) – In a Lonely Place (1950): This Humphey Bogart homage pretends to question Bogie’s gender problems, presenting beta-male neuroses as the alternative, while simultaneously dropping one of the most uncomfortable strings of rape jokes ever. One’s better off watching Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, in which Bogart’s abusive screenwriter might as well be a murderer.

Sleeper (1973) – The Futurological Congress (1971): This one isn’t a movie, but Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress is another gag-laden bit of speculative fiction, in which a psychedelic SSRI called the “benignimizer” is used to calm an overflowing population when papal assassinations, student occupiers and so on give revolution more genres than you’d find on SoundCloud.

Love and Death (1975) – Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964): Sergei Paranov’s Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors already toyed with Russian literary history by adapting Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky’s novel into a freewheeling romp of familial rivalries, boisterous cultural celebrations and careening disasters far more enlightening than a series of anachronistic jokes.

Annie Hall (1977) – Modern Romance (1981): Woody Allen’s transition from two-reeler gag-man to serious filmmaker also contains his biggest artistic problem: movies about “smart” nebbishes who can’t drop the “dumb” quirky broads in their life. Allen’s whole career is Nice Guys of OKCupid-style sexism with better jokes. Modern Romance‘s female counterpart, on the other hand, is the rational anchor in the relationship, while Albert Brooks’ hysteria trades one-liners for breaking-point discomfort, leaving a more realistically sour taste than Allen.

Interiors (1978) – 35 Shots of Rum (2008): – Instead of this classic “fuck you mom and dad!” tale of rich kids dealing with their parents’ divorce (in boring Bergman-lite style), try 35 Shots of Rum’s affecting Late Spring riff in whcih a radical student and her widowed train car driver father find themselves drifting apart in the non-white part of France that Allen has never bothered with.

Manhattan (1979) – The Landlord (1970): Allen’s WASPirational tendencies crystallized here, completely leaving behind his ethnic conundrums in favor of whitebread foibles that whitewash New York in their essentialism. Watch The Landlord instead, a New York comedy whose central conceit about Park Slope gentrification and race/class discord is as relevant to Brooklyn now as it was then.

Stardust Memories (1980) – 8 ½ (1963): Given that this was just a shameless 8 ½ rip, stick with 8 ½.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) – Together (2000): Lukas Moodysson’s Together is another period piece with various couples in retreat getting their sexual standards in a twist. This one’s getaway is a utopian hippie commune in 70’s Sweden where gender and class on multiple sides of the political divide are left upended. Less a one night stand than a seasonal affective disorder whose chaos reorganizes into delightfully comedic praxis.

Zelig (1983) – Chameleon Street (1989): Instead of Allen’s shy nebbish adapting to strong personalities, Wendel B. Harris Jr.’s chameleon, based on a real person, demonstrates black intelligence worming past the barriers of white American condescension.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) – 24 Hour Party People (2002): 24 Hour Party People is also about a talent agent (of sorts) whose work is prey to the whims of local opinion, but the cheekily self-deprecating mythology here steps out of Allen’s oldies comfort zone and into what was actually happening when Broadway was made.

Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) – Last Action Hero (1993): Hero, a much-maligned blockbuster trying to question the connection between bloodlust and box-office returns while offering both, is the closest we’ll get to heyday-Grant Morrison‘s meta-reflexive humanism on film.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – Born in Flames (1983): It soon becomes apparent that Allen has a limited number of topics. Though not about sisters per se, Born in Flames’ exploration of a diverse sisterhood in the aftermath of a peaceful socialist revolution screams for an intersectionality nowhere to be found in Allen’s work.

Radio Days (1987) – Turtles Can Fly (2004): Bhaman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly is a wartime drama (this time Iraq) from a (sage) child’s perspective in which a community (in this case a Kurdish refugee camp) is heavily reliant on a technological medium (here satellite instead of a radio) for understanding an outside world that would rather see them dead.

September (1987) –  Morvern Callar (2002): Instead of Allen’s recycled usage of the frail and unstable woman archetype, Morvern Callar‘s title character dumps the suicide onto the boyfriend’s part as a misguided martyrdom that sets the stage for “woman as subject” to reclaim agency over her own narrative.

Another Woman (1988) – A Single Man (2009): For an existential meditation on aging, death and academia, A Single Man’s tale of a gay professor’s diminishing returns after his loved one’s departure bolsters its Vogue-spread stylistics with genuinely emotional subtext.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) – The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2001): The Trials of Henry Kissinger is another comedy-drama about a white man that gets away with murder — and this time, he gets a Nobel Peace Prize for it.

Alice (1990) – I Am Love (2009): I Am Love turns rich white woman feminism into a superheroic origin story. Tilda Swinton flying the coop is one of the most epic “my man ain’t shit, peace out y’all” sequences in the history of film.

Shadows and Fog (1991) – Night and Fog (1955): While watching Allen’s tribute to German expressionism, you may realize none of his works actually deal with that other German mark on society, the Holocaust, even if his title borrows from one of the most powerful and succinct examinations of it on film.

Husbands and Wives (1992) – Why Does Herr R Run Amok? (1970): Since one of Allen’s main themes is bourgeois marital discord, why not leave it to the king, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose Why Does Herr R Run Amok? presents as wry a dismantling of the hetero-nuclear familial dream as there is.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) – Wild Grass (2009): Alain Resnais, a true innovator from the french new wave, continues in old age to break ground instead of settling into consistent mediocrity with this philosophical caper about old people and weed.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – The Last Dragon (1985): Another comedy about a gangster trying to get his moll into show business, The Last Dragon also deals with white gentrification of black culture that’s relevant to the current Macklemore-led takeover of rap radio.

Mighty Aphrodite (1995) – Frankenhooker (1990): Frankenhooker, a horror-comedy that retools Re-Animator to critique the threat of “domestic bliss” to the innocent sex workers stuck with living out its secret fantasies.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996) – Car Wash (1976): Car Wash, a disco musical of sorts, is true to its genre’s roots in that its black, latino, queer, and working class characters turn to disco’s multicultural uplift as a soothing mechanism for their societal frustrations.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) – Sullivan’s Travels (1941): For a good take on exploiting people to get over writer’s block, there’s Sullivan’s Travel,s in which a privileged director leaves his mansion to play hobo better than your average trust-punk and learn about “the other side” for his next movie.

Celebrity (1998) – The Nutty Professor (1963): For a far more caustic take on celebrity, try Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor. Though not directly about fame, its central autocritique of Lewis’s IRL schmuckness puts a lot more at stake than this masturbatory exercise, even if Lewis eventually devolved into Buddy Love for his later years.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999) – Round Midnight (1986): Of course Allen’s one movie about jazz would be about a shitty white guitar player. Round Midnight boasts saxophonist Dexter Gordon as a fictional composite of Lester Young and Bud Powell in a film with more at stake than cheap, sullied nostalgia.

Small Time Crooks (2000) – Crimson Gold (2003): Jafar Panahi’s Crimson Gold, also concerning a jewelry store robbery, is a much grimmer affair, but within its realism are a few almost comically biting set pieces that display how class inequality and systemic frustrations are as criminal as small time crime.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) – Querelle (1982): Fassbinder’s Querelle, in its own way, is also a magical movie about thieves and cursed trajectories, one awash in phallic set designs, lush colored backdrops, homoerotic yearning and spilled blood.

Hollywood Ending (2002) – Hooper (1978): A film about filmmaking that actually has a point and some heart, Hooper is like Truffaut’s Day for Night but southern-fried, with bar fights, car stunts and explosions for the hell and the love of it.

Anything Else (2003) – The Monkey Hustle (1976): You know what’s a great movie about an old man mentoring a kid or two? The Monkey Hustle (with a script co-written by Odie Hawkins!), where Yaphet Kotto shows youngins the ropes of the “flim flam, scoot and scam” plus a whole Chicago neighborhood fights corrupt development.

Melinda and Melinda (2004) – The Double Life of Veronique (1991): The Double Life of Veronique is an artfully elusive Kieslowski feature, with Irene Jacob playing two performers, the titular Veronique and her mysteriously linked other Veronika, the latter’s death leaving a bewitching crater in the former’s existence.

Match Point (2005) – Snake Eyes (1998): For a movie about sports and murder that shamelessly rips off its influence (in this case Hitchcock instead of Dostoyevsky), Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes doesn’t pretend to be above the camp that it actually is, and as such has fun with the proceedings.

Scoop (2006) – The Ruling Class (1972): For a film about an aristocrat going full Jack the Ripper, The Ruling Class has Peter O’Toole’s heir to the House of Lords conflating wealth and power with divinity to the point of killing to keep it that way. Overtly satirical and actually committed to a subversive vision.

Cassandra’s Dream (2007) – Twin Dragons (1992):  Twin Dragons is another film about two brothers embroiled in conflict after one of them sinks in debt to the mob. Jackie Chan plays both brothers, and this one has a factory sequence to rival Chaplin’s in Modern Times.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) – Two Lovers (2008): An understated look at the “is she jewish?” conundrum in which Moni Moshonov’s Russian immigrant laundromat owner wants a depressed Joaquin Phoenix to keep it within the tribe even while he’s bent on the “shiksa” next door.

Whatever Works (2009) – Arab Labor (2007- ): This one’s an Israeli TV series. Instead of trying (and failing) to situate Larry David as a Woody surrogate, Arab Labor’s Palestinian main character tragicomically demonstrates the limitations of assimilatory concession when your surrounding environment doesn’t even register you as human.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) – Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962): In which a fortune teller’s false prediction looms over a singer awaiting her medical results. In the meantime, she wanders around Paris, meeting multiple strangers as Agnes Varda carves out a subtle manifesto on feminism, existentialism and war.

Midnight in Paris (2011) – I Shot Andy Warhol (1996): For a series of half-sketched caricatures and drab period recreations gathered together to denostalgize the past, go with Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol. It partially endears one to Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto while also critiquing its essentialist transphobia. Either way, it leaves you with no desire to go back in time.

To Rome With Love (2012) – Teorema (1968): Watch Teorema, in which Pier Paolo Pasolini sent Terence Stamp to Italy with loins, having him play an angel of destruction whose seductive presence tears apart an Italian family’s bourgois bubble and causes self-reflection to the point of disrepair.

Blue Jasmine (2013) – Wanda (1970): Skip Elia Kaza’s Streetcar adaptation (Woody’s source here) because dude was a snitch, but check his wife Barbara Loden’s Wanda, a great movie about an ambling, working class woman whose elliptical wanderings wrest her narrative from us with Morvern Callar-ish obfuscation.