Siskel, Ebert, and Top 10 Woodys
Woody Allen, with one of the title characters, in “Love and Death.” Gene Siskel recognized the genius before others.
At the end of the 1970s, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did a “Sneak Previews” episode arguing over who was the funnier filmmaker: Woody Allen or Mel Brooks. Siskel went Allen, Ebert went Brooks. I remember back then talking about it with my dad, the film critic for The Minneapolis Tribune. How could anyone choose Mel Brooks over Woody Allen? Sure he was funny, but ... Brooks has made only five movies in the ’70s, almost all parodies of film genres, and the last two, “Silent Movie” and “High Anxiety,” were hardly winners. Allen made a movie a year. He’d won two Academy Awards. His movie, “Annie Hall,” had won the Oscar for best picture. He kept growing. Plus I thought he was just funnier. Mel over Woody? Was Roger nuts?
“They probably flipped a coin,” my father said, “and Ebert lost.”
Looking over Siskel and Ebert’s annual top 10 lists recently, I see now that Siskel was in fact a bigger Allen fan than Ebert. “Annie Hall” was Siskel’s No. 1 movie of 1977. (No. 8 for Ebert.) “Manhattan” was No. 5 for Siskel in ’79. (It didn’t make Ebert’s list.) Siskel included “Annie Hall” among his best films of the decade and Ebert didn’t. Siskel included “The Purple Rose of Cairo” among his best films of 1985 and Ebert didn’t.
From 1975 to 1989, Woody Allen wrote and directed 14 movies, and half of them, seven, made Siskel’s annual top 10 list. My favorite inclusion is probably “Love and Death” as the third-best movie of 1975—ahead of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Barry Lyndon” and “Jaws." That’s still when Woody was doing broad comedy, too. But Gene always liked broad comedy.
Roger included five Allen movies during this period: Three at the end of the ‘80s—“Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Radio Days” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors”—and two from the ‘70s: “Annie Hall” and “Interiors.” Ebert would go on to include one more Allen movie on his top 10 list, “Everyone Says I Love You” from 1996, but Siskel’s list is almost the canon, isn’t it?
|Siskel's Top 10 Woodys||Ebert's Top 10 Woodys|
|Love and Death, 1975 (#3)||Annie Hall, 1977 (#8)|
|Annie Hall, 1977 (#1)||Interiors, 1978 (#6)|
|Manhattan, 1979 (#5)||Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986 (#3)|
|The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985 (#10)||Radio Days, 1987 (#7)|
|Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986 (#1)||Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989 (#8)|
|Radio Days, 1987 (#7)||Everyone Says I Love You, 1996 (#8)|
|Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989 (#7)|
Anyway it's interesting to sort it all out this way. Might do more with other directors soon.