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After 42 movies, Woody Allen is a genre all his own.
Over the years, he's taught us a few things through his films: that even a nebbish can be a romantic leading man; that the cinema of ideas can be funny; and that life is nasty, brutish, and over much too quickly. Most of all, even if he's quick to dismiss the value of his own movies compared to those of the masters he loves (Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, the Marx brothers), his work still comprises a passionate defense of the notion that movies can be great art, that cinema is a medium that can achieve greatness on its own terms.
And Allen's cinema is a generous one, making room for absurdity and fantasy, one that sees in art the ability to make anything happen, to resolve impossible contradictions through imaginative leaps of faith.
Maybe that's why, year after year, we keep turning to the newest Allen movie (he's nothing if not prolific, having turned out roughly one movie per year for the last 44 years) in the hopes that he'll reconfirm those aspects of his art that give the most delight. Sometimes we're rewarded in spades (as with "Midnight in Paris," two years ago), and sometimes, we just get sparkling trifles (as with "To Rome With Love," last year). It's too soon to say where his newest, "Blue Jasmine" (opening July 26), will place in his body of work, but even if it's a dud, there's always next year for the seemingly unstoppable filmmaker.
And there's always the old films to revisit, and sometimes, to reevaluate. Allen's pantheon of 1970s classics seems secure, as does his handful of recent gems, while the reputation of everything else remains up for grabs. Here is Moviefone's ranking of the 42 films Allen has released to date, from best to worst.