5 Films (And A TV Show)… A new series where we recommend films referenced, inspired, influenced or generally like a certain Woody Allen film, from his first to his latest. All picks are subjective – let the arguments begin!
Welcome to this new series. We’ve noticed that when you look up recommended films for any Woody Allen films, you get only Woody Allen films. So here’s our attempt to redress that. Feedback is more than welcome.
We wanted to start with Irrational Man because it is out now in cinemas and it is fresh on our minds. This isn’t a film filled with references, nor is it influenced by a particular type of film. We will see more of that as this column progresses, but this edition probably has the most modern selection of films.
Regardless, here are 5 films (and a TV show) to watch after you’ve seen ‘Irrational Man‘.
1. Ace In The Hole (1951)
Billy Wilder was at his most cynical when he made this film. The story of a journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), who is stuck in a rut until he comes across a disaster that gives his life meaning. It is that search for meaning, and a man finding purpose and passion in something cold, sick and cynical that makes it feel like a precursor to ‘Irrational Man‘. Tatum’s actions, and fate, also mirror Joaquín Phoenix‘s Abe.
Wilder, best known for his energetic urbane comedies, also went through a dark streak. And Allen is definitely going through a dark streak, with what seems like his most cynical set of films ever.
2. I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Many films explore a philosophical idea, but ‘Irrational Man‘ is thick with references to many philosophers and their ideas. It is a similar heady mix in David O’Russell‘s ‘I Heart Huckabees‘. A light indie farce, it stars Jason Schwatrzman, and environmental activist trying to stop a new big box chain. But it is when existential detectives played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin (Shadows And Fog) arrive that things get surreal. Every character spouts and argues philosophy, even Mark Wahlberg‘s apparently simple firefighter.
It is the use of philosophy, and the philosophy greats, to colour the film, makes us think of ‘Irrational Man‘. Other Allen alumni include Kevin Dunn (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Richard Jenkins (Hannah And Her Sisters) and Naomi Watts (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). Wouldn’t Schwartzman be perfect for an Allen film?
3. Bernie (2011)
Can killing be justified? Can someone deserve to die? What drives a man to kill. Richard Linklater‘s ‘Bernie‘ looks at murder with a real life killing. Jack Black plays the title character, a kind, timid, but strange soul who is driven to take someone’s life. It is plays out with interviews from real people involved, mixed with the produced film.
Linklater is a director very much obsessed with the personal, and how it can be universal. His grasp of setting is up there with Allen’s – his films can’t just be set anywhere.
4. Liberal Arts (2012)
The world of ‘Irrational Man‘, the closed off college, beautiful leafy buildings, intellectual environment, was one of the film’s more enjoyable aspects. It’s the world also explored in Josh Radnor‘s ‘Liberal Arts‘. A wonderful, quiet film, Radnor also stars as Jesse, who is going through his own search for meaning. He returns to his college life and meets a young student (Elizabeth Olsen) as he finds a new life. Richard Jenkins is also in this one, as is Allison Janney (Celebrity).
Radnor is a professed fan of Allen’s (at least up to mis mid-period stuff) and has spoken about his influence. He’s also one of the few writer/director/stars working in America, running the auteur gauntlet.
5. God Bless America (2011)
Bobcat Goldthwait has been making some of the best American cinema of recent years. His films are visceral, smart, comic and have something to say. His best work to date is ‘God Bless America‘, a small film with big ideas. Sick of popular culture, Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) gives his life meaning by going on a killing spree, to end the likes of ‘American Idol‘, talk back radio and all of life’s bullshit. But it’s never that simple, as Frank questions and justifies who deserves to die and what living is for. A great film.
And… Dexter (2006-2013)
There is so much killing on TV these days, and plenty of anti-heroes. The one who is killing for just cause is ‘Dexter‘, who helped usher in this age of questionable TV heroes. Michael C Hall stars as Dexter, a man who was driven to kill, but was taught to only kill those who deserve it. Is he making the world a better place? And can you kill and live a normal life? Highly philosophical questions that tie it closely to ‘Irrational Man‘. Some Allen alumni came in for guest arcs such as Jonny Lee Miller (Melinda And Melinda), Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories) and Peter Weller (Mighty Aphrodite).
And that’s the first of our new column. Let us know your picks for ‘Irrational Man‘ and if you agree with our picks. We are also looking for picks for Take The Money And Run, which is the next film we will cover. Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.