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In Praise of Woody Allen

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Let us now praise Woody Allen.

I know how unfashionable that seems. Once upon a time, a Woody Allen film was an occasion, an event, even -- something to be longed for and anticipated and, once it arrived, to be seen more than once and savored.

These days, however, Allen has fallen into something approximating critical disfavor. My impression is that this is particularly true among younger critics, whose own youthful senses of humor weren't shaped by the anarchic comedy -- that Allen offered in his days as a stand-up comic in the 1960s, and then with early films such as Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death.

But even among colleagues closer to my age, I detect a certain weariness with Allen's perpetual output. Since Take the Money and Run in 1969, he has averaged a movie a year. About to turn 75, he seems to have no less energy or imagination than he did in his 30s. Where his films once excited a certain keenness, I often read reviews of a new Woody Allen film these days that convey the attitude of, "Oh, give it a rest already."

Yet, to me, his films just get better and richer: funny, certainly, but with an increasing sense of melancholy and emotional depth. While he continues to explore the subjects that have always fascinated him -- the ephemeral nature of love, the meaning and absurdity and randomness of life -- he also finds new and innovative ways to tell his stories and different styles in which to work.

Indeed, I would maintain that Woody Allen is the most significant independent filmmaker of his generation. While Allen himself often tells interviewers that only a tiny fraction of his own films satisfy him, I can't think of anyone as prolific and profound at the same time, someone whose filmography contains as many memorable and significant films.

Click here: This commentary continues on my website.