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In Woody Allen’s vast catalog, gems get neglected

Woody Allen plays one of his least-likable self-referential characters in 1997’s “Deconstructing Harry.”
Woody Allen plays one of his least-likable self-referential characters in 1997’s “Deconstructing Harry.”

Woody Allen has written and directed a new film every year since 1982, and he shows no signs of slowing down. His latest, “Blue Jasmine,” hits town this weekend, and he’s already working on a film for release in 2014.

When considering a filmmaker as prolific as Allen, there are the titles that just about everyone agrees are essential – “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” at the very least. But there are the few gems that have fallen through the cracks, that are rarely mentioned in the same breath as his most iconic work and perhaps deserve to be.

There are dozens of lists online that rank Allen’s films, but sifting through them is a fool’s errand. They’re erratic and contradictory – one might name “The Purple Rose of Cairo” as Allen’s undisputed best, while another labels it as his most overrated. Allen’s films are so diverse that picking favorites will depend on whether you prefer his early slapstick stuff or his darker, more personal dramas.

I’ve sifted through Allen’s extensive résumé and picked five films that I think have been overlooked, underrated or forgotten altogether. This isn’t a definitive list by any means (I could have easily mentioned five more titles), but rather a brief look at some of the great director’s films due for reconsideration.

I’ll go chronologically:

• “Stardust Memories” (1980) . Inspired by the lukewarm financial earnings of his first drama, “Interiors,” Allen turned out this strange, beautifully photographed reverie that’s both a riff on Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” and a cynical jab at Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. Allen stars as a popular comedian turned frustrated filmmaker who, during a festival celebrating his career, battles with studio executives about the ending of his newest movie and endures fawning crowds that wish he’d stop taking himself so seriously. Critics at the time reviled Allen for his apparent contemptuousness, and although it’s fairly disjointed, “Stardust Memories” remains one of his most rebellious, experimental works.

• “Broadway Danny Rose” (1984). A throwback to the screwball farces that jumpstarted Allen’s career, “Broadway Danny Rose” is one of his funniest and warmest comedies, a quick-witted showbiz satire about a legendary talent agent who represents New York’s worst nightclub acts. Shot in lustrous black and white, the film has the feel of a classic studio comedy from the ’40s or ’50s. It features great character work from Allen as the tireless Danny Rose and Mia Farrow, nearly unrecognizable behind huge sunglasses and a blonde beehive wig, as the mistress of both a suicidal mobster and an alcoholic, womanizing lounge singer.

• “Another Woman” (1988). The incomparable Gena Rowlands stars as a writer who, while working on her new book in her office, becomes consumed by eavesdropping on the sessions from a neighboring therapist’s office, overheard through the building’s ventilation system. She retreats into her own dreams and memories, recalling past loves and examining her many fractured relationships, and she discovers that she isn’t as content as she previously thought. It’s a subdued film, which might be why it’s often overlooked as one of Allen’s best dramas, but it’s also painful, honest and incredibly perceptive.

• “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996). Here we have a typical Allen plot of romantic entanglements and midlife crises, except the characters tend to break out in song. In his first and (so far) only musical, Allen takes standards from the ’20s and ’30s and has his cast, including Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and Edward Norton, belt them out in their real (and sometimes unflattering) voices. It’s a trifle, but it’s an enormously charming movie. The dance number in which Goldie Hawn floats above the Seine is one of the best scenes in any of Allen’s films.

• “Deconstructing Harry” (1997). Many of Allen’s films carry traces of autobiography, but the acidic “Deconstructing Harry” features perhaps the most unflattering personal likeness he’s ever written for himself. Allen’s alter ego here is Harry Block, a foul-mouthed, misanthropic novelist who has alienated everyone in his life after turning them into unflattering caricatures in his books. His attitudes toward women, religion and sex are all unhealthy, and Allen examines Harry’s psyche by way of his sardonic stories. It’s a strange movie, sometimes shrill and episodic, but it’s also bitingly funny, and Allen doesn’t so much deconstruct his own image as he does eviscerate it.