Woody Allen hasn't missed his movie-a-year pace since 1991, but that's mainly because he released two movies in 1992. That was also the year he broke up with Mia Farrow, and the public perception of him turned sour. He was no longer the charmingly neurotic New York nebbish; he was now a creepy old man who was "dating his own daughter' (which doesn't even deserve comment). No matter what the truth was or is, the public had already decided.

Allen soldiered on, rather bravely, moving through some interesting phases, including an "angry" phase, a "shaky-cam" phase, a "reunited with Diane Keaton" phase, an "English" phase and a "Scarlett Johansson" phase.

Throughout, it became fashionable to bash Allen's films. Even if a few of us stepped up to defend some of them, other critics would complain about these defenders, helpfully reminding us that Allen was a phony and a fraud. It also became fashionable, for an instant, to proclaim 'Match Point' (2005) as a comeback, or a return to form, which seemed rather arbitrary. Made two years later, 'Cassandra's Dream,' was just as good, but received mostly harsh reviews; in the past 10 years, only three of his 11 films have received "Certified Fresh" ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. The truth is, hardly anyone has actually been reviewing Allen's films; they have been reviewing Allen himself.

Take a look at his new film, 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' (29 screens). By any standards, this is a good film. It's not a happy film, and it's not Allen's funniest or most romantic film, but it's extremely well-written and well-directed, with some intuitive cinematography and strong performances. It's rooted in pain and mistakes, and these feelings come through vividly; it's a mature film about immature people. Yet it has a current score of 51 percent on Rotten Tomatoes ("Certified Rotten"). The main reason for this is that everyone has a preconceived notion about who Allen is and what an Allen film should be about.

Consider, also, Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut 'Jack Goes Boating' (78 screens). It's another film about rocky relationships and painful breakups, also with a mix off humor and drama. It has a 68 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes ("Certified Fresh"), with the general impression that it's good, a little stagebound, and that it doesn't really take any chances as a movie. Allen's movie takes many chances, but it appears that risk-taking isn't quite what these critics were looking for. Rather the films were judged on the perception of Hoffman as a great American actor, with his whole career ahead of him, and Allen as an aging comedian who has too much baggage to be amusing anymore.

I prefer to think of Allen in the same vein as the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu ('Tokyo Story'). Not that they have similar styles or themes or anything, but they both have a similar view of their characters; they both eventually reached an age where they realized that nothing much changes. The older generation can talk as much as they want, but the members of the younger generation will never learn any lessons about life or love unless they go through it themselves. All this collective human experience is simply renewed each generation. The trick is that both Ozu and Allen have learned to accept this, and this acceptance has brought them a kind of peace. I usually enjoy this feeling in their work, and it has been interesting and rewarding to stick with Allen through the years and all his films. Perhaps someday, when his filmography is viewed as a single stream of work -- free of expectations -- others can too.
CATEGORIES Columns, Cinematical