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Performer Spotlight: The Women of Woody Allen's Oeuvre

What is it about the women of Woody Allen's filmic universe that sets them apart from mere mortals? Few contemporary directors have created such a pantheon of memorable female characters. All this week we celebrate these performances.

Edited by Matt Mazur and Produced by Sarah Zupko

What is it about the women of Woody Allen's filmic universe that sets them apart from mere mortals?

Could it be the way they voraciously consume Ingmar Bergman films and weak-willed men with equal aplomb? Could it be the way they casually toss off erudite one-liners about fidelity and destiny while simultaneously breaking your heart and cracking you up? Could it simply be just because they are vain Broadway legends?

Whatever "it" is, the director is accomplished in rendering memorable female characters, as evidenced by the critical recognition from his peers and awards-voting bodies. Allen has been nominated for the Academy Award a total of 21 times, 14 as a screenwriter, six as a director, and one as an actor. Annie Hall brought him two wins (for Best Screenplay and Director), while 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters brought another win for writing. He has directed four actresses to five Oscar wins: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008); Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, 1977); Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, 1995); and double-winner Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986 and Bullets Over Broadway, 1994). Six more women that he has written and directed have been nominated for the Academy Award: Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives, 1992); Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan, 1979); Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown, 1999); Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton (Interiors, 1978); and Jennifer Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway, 1994). The list of those who didn't make it to the final five on Oscar night could be seen as equally impressive: Mia Farrow, Elaine Stritch, Anjelica Huston, Patricia Clarkson and Scarlett Johannson are among the women have collaborated with the director more than once to striking effect. La-di-da, la-di-da, la la, indeed.

Few contemporary directors have created such a pantheon of memorable female characters. Each year, Allen continues to add new and surprising additions to the already iconic roster of actresses he has created roles for. Next year's Midnight in Paris will add Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Mimi Kennedy and (gasp!) Kathy Bates. But this year, in celebration of four new members of the troupe – Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, and Naomi Watts in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – PopMatters has decided to give the Performer Spotlight treatment to (most of) the amazing woman who appear across Allen's filmography in key roles. Monday through Thursday we will feature short essays on this expansive list of selected performances. For the Friday interview that has traditionally followed both the Performer and Director Spolight series, I was miraculously, memorably able to snag some private interview time with the wonderful Jones, Pinto and Punch, following a press conference during the Toronto International Film Festival. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get an exclusive quote from Allen himself for this series, but that happened as well. His answer to my question about the traits shared by the women across his filmography will also appear in the Friday piece.

It is amazing to think that all of these women we are about to take a trip down memory lane with were created in part by one man; a man who once (self-effacingly?) admitted that he did not know the first thing about women. If there is even a hint of truth to the director's statement, then these women did nothing but bolster his writing where it occasionally fell short and the female characters needed a real woman's touch to make them better. Whether you are a Woody Allen fan or not a Woody Allen fan, there is simply no denying the powerful female talent assembled by the director and the expert performances that are everywhere throughout Allen's ouevre. These are iconic women in iconic roles for almost 40 years! This is a definite cause for celebration.

-- Matt Mazur

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