The Set of 400: #144 – My Favorite Surprise Poultry

Today! Because guilt is petit-bourgeois crap. An artist creates his own moral universe –

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Directed by Woody Allen (x7)

Starring John Cusack (x3), Dianne Wiest (x3), Chazz Palminteri (x2), Jennifer Tilly (x2), Mary-Louise Parker (x2), Rob Reiner (x2), Tracey Ullman (x2), Jim Broadbent (x3), Jack Warden (x2), Joe Viterelli, Harvey Fierstein (x2), Edie Falco, Debi Mazar, Tony Sirico, John Ventimiglia, Tony Darrow

If you were to take the entire Set of 400 up to this point, feed it into a computer, and have that parse out all the elements that might make up the perfect film geared toward this guy, it may well spit out Bullets Over Broadway. It’s the seventh Woody Allen movie on the list, it’s from a year I proclaim to love more than almost any other in cinema history: 1994, it’s a movie about a play, it’s a movie about gangsters, it’s a movie about writers, it features a ton of future Sopranos actors, it was nominated for and won a slew of awards – Bullets Over Broadway kinda has everything for me.

Ah, theater!

It also lands as a very intriguing Woody Allen movie in the long history of his films. Maybe a case could be made for one or two others, but this is almost without question the last really funny Allen film – after this they would still feature some good performances, and some were decent movies, but the high caliber onslaught of jokes would never be the same after Bullets. Maybe Deconstructing Harry, that’s still pretty funny, or Sweet and Lowdown, which is more amusing with dramatic touches, or Small Time Crooks, I guess. Bullets is a throwback to an earlier style of Allen film, sharing more similarities with his early ’80s comedies than anything, but even then, they didn’t have the comic rhythm and juggernaut plot that this film does.

Not unlike a play itself in design, Bullets features a terrific menagerie of loopy theater characters, mob figures, and intellectuals – headed by Dianne Wiest’s grande dame Helen Sinclair, Jennifer Tilly’s moll-turned-actress Olive, and Chazz Palminteri’s hitman-playwright savant Cheech. Cusack has the more thankless role, as the Woody-esque author David, but carries the story along well despite feeling a bit miscast and boxed in by the swirling lunacy. You’ve also got Tracey Ullman and Jim Broadbent as fellow actors, Joe Viterelli and Tony Sirico as fellow mobsters, and Rob Reiner and Jack Warden as fellow literary figures, making for such a great, giant cast that you can’t help but feel a little cheated in the runtime – a typically tight 98 minutes.

Ah, writing!

Repeatedly, I feel like I’ve promoted 1994, 1975, and 2012 as my possible picks for best year in movie history (suck it, 1939!), but I don’t think I can definitively declare one tops in my estimation. However, now that we’ve started to wind down this list (only seven months to go!), a stat does emerge to back this up somewhat – across the final 143 films, ’94 and ’12 have the most remaining movies, with six apiece, following by ’75 with five. So there! In case you’re wondering, ’08, ’98, ’92, ’84, ’81, ’80, and ’74 are next, with four each.

(Also, the next 1994 movie arrives on March 24th, while we have a 2012 movie next week, and the next 1975 is on April 8th. Stay tuned!)

(Also also – when I’ve given these spoiler-y hints in the past, you may have noticed that the films and dates did not quite match up – I’ll admit, some of this has adjusted on the fly. I don’t believe anything else will change going forward, but hey, maybe!)

If you’re a little turned off by the preponderance of Woody Allen movies so far – and hell, I wouldn’t blame you – know that in the end, I’m like 95% sure he’s not the most represented director on this list. It sure doesn’t seem that way right now – his seven movies are three more than anyone else, currently – but there are some big rallies on the way. Also, if you judge this list’s directors by the percentage of movies they made that were eligible compared to what actually got on the list, Woody’s way low – figure, he made like 30 movies that didn’t make the cut, compared to, say, Paul Thomas Anderson’s one out of six (Apologies again, Hard Eight!).

Bullets Over Broadway adds to the greatness of ’94 but was also stung by the misfortune of being in that cutthroat awards season. Sure, it picked up seven Oscar nominations – including Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Acting for Palminteri, Tilly, and Wiest (who won), but it had virtually no chance at bigger prizes, just due to the sheer crush of competition – which we’ll get to more in the months to come.

Loads of new Two-Timers, but no one advancing beyond the Threes from this group, and that was only Wiest (#180 Hannah and Her Sisters, #203 Purple Rose of Cairo), Cusack (#248 Being John Malkovich, #219 The Player), and Broadbent (#262 The Crying Game, #167 Gangs of New York). Spotlight!

Coming Monday! Nobody has gotten a hand job in cargo shorts since ‘Nam!

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