May 26, 2010

Comparing Woody Allen and Mike Leigh...

...two auteurs with very different methods. Here's the article from indieWire:

At this stage of the game, there’s no point in interviewing Woody Allen (age 74) or Mike Leigh (age 67) about their movies, because we know exactly what they’re doing.

Woody Allen writes a screenplay, and because he’s Woody Allen, he casts it with the best actors available, who make it possible for him to raise foreign coin—and to shoot in exotic locations like London, Paris and Barcelona. Allen was one of many filmmakers showing films at Cannes (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts) who is in his declining years as a major auteur. During the press festival press conference—Allen was on and funny, despite looking droopy—he talked about how he wrote his characters and then cast them with the best actors he could find.

It hit me that especially these days, his ability to do that is what makes the movies work. Check out the final ensemble for Allen’s latest romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, about a family traveling on business: Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams and Alison Pill. Put Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and sparks will fly. Imagine that movie without them, or Match Point without Scarlett Johansson, and what have you got? What keeps these films fresh and watchable? The actors bring fresh life to Allen’s worn ideas.

Leigh, on the other hand, is neither in decline nor reworking anything: with Another Year (picked up by Sony Pictures Classics) he is at the height of his powers. That’s because his process remains the same. And it works every time. He’s like Pixar. Each new movie is original, entertaining, masterful and emotionally moving. That’s really hard to do consistently, every time. It means that Pixar and Leigh have their process down: they know how to make their films really good.

Leigh starts with no script but a story idea. He works with his actors individually and in different groups for improvisatory workshops where they explore his basic premise and research and define their characters until they become them. They work out the story, often not knowing key plot elements that come as a surprise on set, and Leigh eventually writes it up and they shoot it. It’s so organic that the resulting movie rings true. And the extraordinary performances of Lesley Manville in Another Year, Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake, David Thewlis in Naked, or Jim Broadbent in Topsy Turvy are the inevitable end result.

-I'm probably in the minority of preferring Woody still, but it's a really interesting article...thoughts?


  1. Both are great, just Woody Allen has the X factor to me...

  2. I can't completely weigh in on the issue (since I have only seen one film by Mike Leigh), but I would agree that Allen has been on quite a decline in recent years, and would argue that he really hasn't made anything extremely original since "Annie Hall". However, that doesn't mean that I haven't enjoyed a number of his films before or since that peak of his career...

  3. Understandable, but there's a comfort level to Woody's work that I just really enjoy.

  4. I wouldn't say that you would be in the minority of prefering Allen to Leigh, but that's coming from a BIG fan of the Woodman so I'm obviously biased. But, I don't know that many people who even know who Mike Leigh is, but everybody knows Woody Allen. If you are looking at people who are well versed in both men's recent work, you may have an argument.


  5. i have watched Secrets and lies, and Vera Drake and i liked both, but i preffer Woody Allen filmography. Annie Hall, Hannah and her sisters, Radio days, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Manhattan murder mistery, Manhattan, The purple rose of Cairo, Husbands and wives, Bullets over Broadway, etc. 10 films by Allen, 2 or 3 by Leigh.
    There´s no comparison.

  6. As a fan of both auteurs, I find this an interesting question. I love Allen's films, particularly his stuff from the 70s and 80s, but I don't think he's made a quality film since Deconstructing Harry (which is over 10 years old). Leigh's films are all high quality (and as different from each other as Allen's are similar), but they're not always enjoyable (as Allen's are). I love Secrets and Lies and Topsy-Turvy, but I would be content to never see Happy-Go-Lucky again and Naked about drove me crazy. But, in his defense, both ring true (as was already mentioned).
    I would definitely agree that Allen is in decline, though.

  7. tzp1974- Well, the output would favor Woody of course, due to sheer volume.

  8. pmasd- I still think Allen is making good films, they just aren't great anymore. Nothing wrong with that, though...