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Jeff Daniels in 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' (Image: Orion Pictures)

Every year there’s a new film by Woody Allen, and every year some of our best actors jump at the chance to work with him. Last year it was Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in Irrational Man, and this year it’s Café Society, released today (July 15) and starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg.

The opportunity to work with the acclaimed writer and director has been seized by many actors over the years, all hoping to add to the haul of gongs and statuettes accrued over the years by his 47 movies. Some achieve it: Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Mira Sorvino, and Penélope Cruz have all won Oscars for their performances in Allen’s movies, with more nominated besides. Some, of course, fall flat. And some don’t get the recognition they deserve.

For whatever reason, the following ten performances were overlooked by critics and film buffs alike, despite being some of the most engaging and interesting portrayals to ever hit our screens.

10. John Cusack in Bullets over Broadway (1994)

Bullets Over Broadway was a favorite among the Academy in 1995, with both Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest scoring award nominations for their performances as gangster Cheech and Broadway leading lady Helen (“don’t speak!”) Sinclair. (Wiest won.) Sure, they were dazzling, but John Cusack‘s performance as neurotic, put-upon playwright David holds the whole thing together and yet went comparatively unnoticed.

9. Radha Mitchell in Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Melinda and Melinda is split into two: two stories that start similarly, but events in one take a comic turn, while in the other they turn tragic. Like all Woody Allen films it has an impressive supporting cast: Will Ferrell plays the Allen-esque Hobie alongside Amanda Peet in the comedy, while Chloë Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jonny Lee Miller star in the tragedy.

Finding Neverland‘s Radha Mitchell, however, stars as the troubled Melinda in both narratives, managing to be both impudent in the comedy and touching in the tragedy.

8. Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

The film itself is considered one of Allen’s best—it won both a BAFTA and the César Award for Best Film, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay—and is remembered for its fantastical storyline when a minor character in a frothy Hollywood romance notices Cecilia (Mia Farrow) in the audience and steps out of the screen to be with her.

A young Jeff Daniels portrays the young star with all the earnest manners, stiff gestures, and exaggerated enunciation of a 1930s actor, but without losing any of his humanity: remarkably, at no point does his performance resort to caricature.

7. Robin Williams in Deconstructing Harry (1997)

It may only be a brief cameo, but Robin Williams‘ turn is one of the film’s most memorable moments. He plays Mel, a character invented by screenwriter Harry (Allen), who turns up to filming one day to discover he’s out-of-focus.

In anyone else’s hands this would be played for laughs, but Williams proves what a profoundly sensitive actor he was, by treating the absurdity of the situation with all the gravitas of tragedy.

6. Charlotte Rampling in Stardust Memories (1980)

It may feature in one of Allen’s most contentious and divisive films, but Charlotte Rampling as Dorrie in Stardust Memories is also one of the director’s most memorable characters.

5. Gene Hackman in Another Woman (1988)

If you enjoyed Michael Caine‘s romantic lead role in Hannah and Her Sisters, then Gene Hackman’s role in Another Woman is an equally surprising turn against type.

He, Ian Holm, and Gena Rowlands form the three points in a love triangle imbued with the trademark Allen angst, yet the maturity of the cast and the autumn years nature of the story mark it out from his other works.

4. Hugh Grant in Small Time Crooks (2000)

It can sometimes seem that Hugh Grant is best at playing Hugh Grant, something that can of course be said about Woody Allen as an actor. And yes, in many ways Grant is the British Woody Allen, with all his stammering neuroses.

In this movie he provides wonderfully snobbish support as an art dealer tasked with training small-time crook Ray (Allen) and his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to fit in with the upper class. It’s the perfect role, and he’s the perfect foil to Allen’s nebbish lead.

3. Alan Alda in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

M*A*S*H star Alan Alda is a familiar face in Allen’s movies, and was nominated for various awards for his role in 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Four years later it was Diane Keaton and Angelica Huston who received nods for their roles in this movie: Keaton, for playing Carol Lipton, a woman obsessed with the idea that her next-door neighbor has been murdered, and Huston for her supporting role as Marcia Fox.

Alda, however, got nothing, despite a brilliant performance as mutual friend and fellow sleuth Ted with, as Carol’s husband Larry (Allen) put it, “his elevator shoes and his fake suntan and his capped teeth.”

2. Sydney Pollack in Husbands and Wives (1992)

Sydney Pollack plays Jack, who, along with wife Sally (Judy Davis), announce at the start of this movie that they are splitting up, setting in motion a chain of events between them and best friends Gabe (Woody Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow).

When Jack hooks up with an aerobics instructor several years his junior, Pollack has a job on his hands not to veer into cliché territory. He manages it superbly, treating a midlife crisis with brutal honesty and humor.

1. Mia Farrow

Number one on the list is Allen’s muse of 13 years and 13 films, though it is an association now mired in controversy. The fact remains, however, that Farrow repeatedly turned in stellar performances that were often were often overlooked in favor of a litany of famous co-stars and never acknowledged by the Academy.

It’s hard to choose which role deserves recognition most. She is pitch-perfect as gangster’s moll Tina in 1984’s Broadway Danny Rose, then as a movie-loving waitress in The Purple Rose of Cairo a year later, and as the sensible and much-maligned elder sister in Hannah and Her Sisters a year after that. And then there’s 1990’s Alice, which saw her star as a spoiled Manhattan housewife who finds herself suddenly attracted to a saxophone player (Joe Mantegna), a performance that netted her an overdue Golden Globe nomination.

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Filed Under: Anglophenia, Woody Allen
By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.