A Brief Guide to Woody Allen’s Favorite Things

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Like every good neurotic, obsessive, or perfectionist (and sometimes all of the above), director Woody Allen is a lover of lists. Over the span of his career, the iconic filmmaker has shared his likes, dislikes, and absolute favorites of just about everything that highlights his eclectic tastes. In honor of his birthday, we’ve collected some of those lists — and they deserve a bookmark in your browser for eternal reference.

Favorite books

Woody Allen’s films are littered with cultural references, including a number of literary influences — as his 1975 film Love and Death demonstrates, with never-ending nods to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. When speaking with Five Books last year, the filmmaker discussed the titles that have stuck with him throughout his lifetime:

Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

Catcher in the Rye has always had special meaning for me because I read it when I was young — 18 or so. It resonated with my fantasies about Manhattan, the Upper East Side, and New York City in general.”

Really the Blues, Mezz Mezzrow

“The story, while probably just a lot of junk, was compelling for me because it was about many musicians whose work I knew and admired and the ins and outs of jazz joints that I knew about and the legendary songs that were played in the legendary nightclubs. So I had a great time reading it when my own jazz passion was forming. But I know it’s not a very good or even a very honest book.”

The World of S. J. Perelman, S. J. Perelman

“The funniest human being in my lifetime, in any medium — whether it’s stand-up, television, theater, prose, or movies — is S. J. Perelman. There is nobody funnier than S.J. Perelman.”

Epitaph of a Small Winner, Machado de Assis

“I was shocked by how charming and amusing it was. I couldn’t believe he lived as long ago as he did. You would’ve thought he wrote it yesterday. It’s so modern and so amusing. It’s a very, very original piece of work.”

Richard Schickel’s biography of Elia Kazan

“It’s the best show business book that I’ve read. It’s brilliantly written and it’s about a brilliant director who was very meaningful to me when I was growing up and becoming a filmmaker.”

Read the full interview.

Favorite films he’s directed

“There are a few better than others, half a dozen, but it’s a surprising paucity of worthwhile celluloid,” Allen said of his own movies in a maudlin interview for The Times. “I didn’t compromise or sell out, but I’ve never achieved what I hoped to.” Allen does, however, value his work on these six films:

The Purple Rose of Cairo

“Some of the reviews have said Purple Rose is about the movies. I don’t agree with that. To me, the film is strictly about reality and fantasy. Cecilia could have had fantasies about radio, or books, or those popular magazines. To use the movies is merely a visual convenience. The movie is about the fact that fantasy life is very beautiful and seductive, but you must eventually choose between the real and the fantasy. And if you choose reality, you’re submitting yourself to be hurt. But that’s what makes you human. Choice is the most human attribute, according to Van Johnson in the movie.”

Match Point

“I had an idea about wanting to do something about the role that luck plays in life, and that we’re all terrified to face up to that. Everyone wants to think that they, you know, control their lives, or at least have some control. You like to think, you know, well, if I exercise and eat right and don’t smoke, I’m going to… But that doesn’t do it. And no amount of planning can account for the big part that luck plays. I wanted to write a story that would illustrate that.”

Bullets Over Broadway

The Purple Rose of Cairo, I thought that hit right on the nose. Bullets Over Broadway did. Husbands and Wives did. Midnight in Paris did. They were just what I wanted to make. They were what I conceived in my bedroom, where I write. I’ve always worked in my bedroom. I get up in the morning, have breakfast, do the treadmill, get the kids off to school, and then I go back into the bedroom and lay down on the bed and write. That’s how it works.”

Zelig

“Beyond the cleverness in Allen’s script, this is a film that’s wonderful to watch from a technical standpoint. The cinematography (Gordon Willis) and optical effects (Joel Hynick and Stuart Robinson) used to inject Allen’s Zelig into the original news footage is amazing. There’s a seamlessness to the process and the way Allen weaves those segments with the interviews and re-creations of Zelig’s life.”

Husbands and Wives

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

“Javier and Penelope are very serious actors. I always found that amusing. They are so great, and like most serious actors like Robert De Niro, they think they are great because they do all that work. They are born great. They are great when they wake up in the morning. They don’t have to do all that work and they would still be great. I never rehearsed with any of the actors. I never talked to them about the plot or anything. I just show up and do it. I get a lot of great performances simply by hiring great people.”

Favorite films of all time

Allen chose these movies as the greatest films of all time when voting in the Sight and Sound poll. Many of these titles pop up on Allen’s other lists, but their resonance can’t be understated.

“Someone else might list ten comedies. It’s simply that I enjoy more serious films. When I have the option to see films, I’ll go and see Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, The Grand Illusion, The Seventh Seal, and those kind of pictures.”

The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959) (Federico Fellini, 1963) Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1972) The Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, 1948) Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972) Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937) Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957) Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

Favorite Criterion films

Amarcord

“I loved The White Sheik and I Vitelloni and La Strada, and of course 8 ½. But Amarcord is one, for me, that I could see every year. He so clearly recreates his childhood in Rimini, and you’re there in that world, with his mother and his father, with his relatives, with local people, with the local stores, the local rituals of marching around the town square and things that everybody’s done: looking at strangers and seeing that they look like movie stars, and hanging out at the cinema, and ogling particular women who are the heartthrobs of the neighborhood. You are in a world that he recreated, and he recreated it not in a literal, photographic way — he did it in an exaggerated, cartoonlike way — and still, you’re there. You understand all those memories and experiences.”

Bicycle Thieves The Seventh Seal The 400 Blows Rashomon The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Paths of Glory Grand Illusion Throne of Blood Wild Strawberries Scenes from a Marriage Smiles of a Summer Night Nights of Cabiria The Exterminating Angel

Favorite Italian films

Allen’s love letter to Rome, To Rome With Love, inspired the director to shower his favorite Italian films with praise and admiration:

Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica

“This, to me, was the supreme Italian film and one of the greatest films in the world.”

Shoeshine, Vittorio De Sica

“The poetry of the piece for me was the relationship of those two boys. It went from such simple, mutual excitement, affection, to where they are finally and violently opposed.”

Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni

“It’s so beautifully photographed by Carlo Di Palma, and the story was so interesting, even though it unravels in certain ways. Here’s a life that’s fully vital, full of music and beautiful women and open sex and swinging London at its height. But if you take a moment in that life and stop for a second, and blow it up and blow it up, what you see is death.”

Amarcord, Federico Fellini

Favorite jazz music

“I’ve been a great jazz fan my whole life,” Allen told the Village Voice in 2010. “I certainly like modern jazz as well, but my favorite kind is New Orleans jazz. Something about the primitive quality, the simplicity of it, the directness. It is the one style of jazz that stays with me the most.” For more on Allen’s jazz proclivities, Barbara Kopple’s 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues — chronicling Allen’s European tour with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band — is required viewing. And if you haven’t seen Woody sing or throw it down with his clarinet, the above clip should fix that.

Favorite font

“Windsor is an unusual design cut by Stephenson Blake in 1905. Windsor is a bold face with heavy rounded serifs and strong diagonal stress,” Linotype.com says of Allen’s favorite typeface. “The overall effect is one of friendliness and warmth.” The filmmaker’s signature white type, Windsor Light Condensed, on a black background has become a staple of his movies. One of the many websites dedicated to Allen’s typography quirks shared this story about his origin with Windsor:

“I’m currently taking a typeface design course with Ed Benguiat, and just last night he described a time when he would have breakfast at the same New Jersey diner every morning. Among the other that would dine there was Woody Allen. On one occasion [between 1975 and 1977], referring to Benguiat as a ‘printer,’ Allen asked him what a good typeface was. Benguiat had an affinity for Windsor and suggested it to him that morning. He’s used it in every film since.”

Favorite Ingmar Bergman films

Allen’s love affair with the work of Ingmar Bergman has been well documented, and one only needs to watch movies like Love and Death and Another Woman, or Allen’s play Death Knocks, to see Bergman’s influence. “For me it was Wild Strawberries. Then The Seventh Seal and The Magician. That whole group of films that came out then told us that Bergman was a magical filmmaker,” Allen told Time. “There had never been anything like it, this combination of intellectual artist and film technician. His technique was sensational.”

And when Bergman died in 2007, Allen discussed his legacy in an article he penned for the New York Times , humbling himself to the Swedish master:

“Because I sang his praises so enthusiastically over the decades, when he died many newspapers and magazines called me for comments or interviews. As if I had anything of real value to add to the grim news besides once again simply extolling his greatness. How had he influenced me, they asked? He couldn’t have influenced me, I said, he was a genius and I am not a genius and genius cannot be learned or its magic passed on.”

The Seventh Seal Wild Strawberries The Magician Cries and Whispers Persona

Favorite comedians

“I love Mel Brooks. And I’ve had wonderful times working with him. But I don’t see any similarities between Mel and myself except, you know, we’re both short Jews. That’s where it ends. His style of humor is completely different. But Bob Hope? I’m practically a plagiarist.”

For more Allen/Hope fun, check out this SCTV sketch, “Play It Again, Bob,” starring Rick Moranis as Allen and Dave Thomas as Hope (an impression that has been hard to top).

Favorite restaurant

“It was unique and amazing. I would eat my dinner there every single night for maybe 10 years. It was like a home away from home,” Allen said of Elaine’s — an iconic restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side that closed its doors in 2011. “One great thing was that you were completely undisturbed. Nobody asked you for autographs and made a fuss over you; you were just part of the wallpaper.”