Crimes and Misdemeanors, USA, 1989
Dir: Woody Allen
Cast: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Anjelica Huston
Scoop, USA, 2006
Dir: Woody Allen
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen
The other two films that I happened to (re)watch were Crimes and Misdemeanors, from 1989, and Scoop from 2006. Interestingly enough, both films also shared many similarities. By 1989, Mr. Allen was already one of the most famous movie directors in the world. He was a three-time Oscar winner, and Crimes and Misdemeanors was a very curious way to cap another successful decade of work for him. Throughout the 1980s, Mr. Allen wrote and directed a lot of silly films, from the Shakespeare spoof A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, to the mock-documentary Zelig. Allen would occasionally make a serious film like 1988’s Another Woman, but never did he approach the subject of morality and murder until 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The film was really a portmanteau of two short stories. One, about a wealthy eye doctor, played by Martin Landau who orders the killing of his mistress, a neurotic, unstable woman who threatens to ruin his marriage and career by revealing the truth about their affair. The second story centers on a failed documentary filmmaker, played by Mr. Allen, who falls in love with a producer, portrayed by Mr. Allen’s longtime girlfriend, Mia Farrow. The two stories are loosely connected, and the two characters only share one scene together, at the very end.
The film is an extreme change of pace for Mr. Allen. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a morose, depressing film. It features moments of comic relief, I’m sure Mr. Allen simply couldn’t resist, because after all, he made a successful living as a comedian for years before turning to movies. But the heart of the film stays on the subject of murder, greed, God, and punishment. Inspired by Dostoyevsky and the Italian Neo-realists, Mr. Allen concocts a brilliant satire, not only of contemporary high society, but of the choices we make in order to hide our secrets and bury our past.
In 2006, after the success of the British-set thriller Match Point, Woody paired up with Scarlett Johansson in a very quirky but satisfying comedy-thriller, Scoop. Johansson played Sondra Pransky, a journalism student who meets a bumbling magician, known as Splendini. The film also stars Ian McShane as a recently deceased reporter, and Hugh Jackman as a wealthy socialite who may or not be a serial killer called the Tarot Card Killer. It was Mr. Allen's last role on-screen before this year’s To Rome With Love.
The two films share a striking resemblance, like a person you meet on the street who gives you déjà vu. They both deal with the theme of moral choices, and murder as an opportunity to erase illicit relationships. Crimes and Misdemeanors managed to receive three Academy Award Nominations. Scoop, on other hand, was not as successful. The film was met with antagonizing reviews, perhaps because Mr. Allen was coming fresh off the hugely positive reaction to Match Point, a much darker thriller that lacked any of Allen's trademark humor. Both Crimes and Misdemeanors and Scoop, made 17 years apart, share a dynamic that has been prevalent throughout Mr. Allen's illustrious career that has spanned nearly 50 years now. They are smart films, well-written, funny and clever.
Woody Allen will turn 77 on December 1st, and shows no signs of putting a pause on his film career. He is already filming his next project with a host of actors including Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, and comedian Louis C.K. Mr. Allen often talks about his fear of death, and it is not surprising that death is a common theme in most of his films from the 70s classics like Love and Death, and Annie Hall to more darker fare like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Scoop. Perhaps Mr. Allen, who has directed a film every year since 1982, is a catch-22 unto himself. He will not stop directing until he passes away, and he will not pass away until he stops directing. As a long-time admirer of his films, here's hoping he never stops working.