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Woody’s Women

'Blue Jasmine''s Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins join an impressive list of female stars who've earned Oscar nods for Woody Allen films

Image credit: Merrick Morton

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

In nearly half century of writing and directing movies, Woody Allen has conjured some of cinema's most vivid female characters. With nominations this year for Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, the Academy has recognized 18 performances in Allen films — and all but five are by women. Allen hasn't directed the most actress nominees — William Wyler has him beat — but unlike Wyler, Allen wrote all of his characters into existence. What's more impressive is just how varied his female roles are.

Woody's women are singular creations, from comedic figures like Bullets Over Broadway's grandiose Helen Sinclair (for which Dianne Wiest won an Oscar) to the high-pitched harlot in Mighty Aphrodite (for which Mira Sorvino also won), from Diane Keaton's bespoke, brainy beauty in Best Picture winner Annie Hall to Penélope Cruz's hot-tempered painter in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Whatever you may think of how he has treated the women in his real life, you can't deny that he has treated the women in his movies like queens. ''My concept of Manhattan is one that I gleaned from Hollywood movies,'' he once said. ''And it's the same with the women in my films: I see them all through rose-colored glasses.'' Here's a look back at his most memorable, and Oscar-honored, female roles.

Diane Keaton
Annie Hall - 1977
Date with Oscar: Won for Best Actress.
The Role: The love affair between Keaton's necktie-wearing Annie Hall and Woody's Alvy Singer is one of differences: West Coast vs. East Coast, overfeeling vs. overthinking, Wonder Bread vs. rye. Keaton was Allen's first muse and Annie one of his best creations: a semi-articulate goofball who still comes across as a complex woman and not just a bundle of quirks.
In a line: ''La-di-da, la-di-da, la la.''

Geraldine Page
Interiors - 1978
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Actress.
The Role: Page played Eve, an interior decorator and materfamilias who spirals into depression when her husband, Arthur (E.G. Marshall), asks for a separation. Interiors was Allen's first stab at straight drama, a Bergmanesque tale of icy family relations, and Page's performance was one of perfectly crafted frailty. She lost to Jane Fonda that year but eventually won an Oscar in 1986 for Peter Masterson's The Trip to Bountiful with her eighth nomination.
In a line: ''You've discussed this with Dr. Lobel behind my back. It's so humiliating.''


Maureen Stapleton
Interiors - 1978
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: Arthur describes his replacement wife, Pearl, as ''full of energy and demonstrative and open'' — in other words, everything Eve is not. As Pearl, Stapleton brought the only real streak of emotional color to a film of muted grays, a vibrancy that's even more pronounced in contrast. Still, Maggie Smith took the prize for California Suite.
In a line: ''You only live once, but once is enough if you play it right.''

Mariel Hemingway
Manhattan - 1979
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: Allen's classic contains the elements that would come to define him: a love of NYC, a disdain for much of its intellectual set, beautiful black-and-white cinematography courtesy of Gordon Willis, and a relationship with a girl many years his junior. Hemingway was only 16 when she played Tracy, the high school naïf dating Allen's 42-year-old writer. She breathed life and tangibility into a difficult role, though Meryl Streep took home the gold for Kramer vs. Kramer.
In a line: ''Six months isn't so long. Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.''

Dianne Wiest
Hannah And Her Sisters - 1986
Date with Oscar: Won for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: Holly is a neurotic would-be actress, caterer, and former coke addict. She's the black sheep of the film's titular siblings, begrudgingly borrowing money from Hannah (Mia Farrow) and fighting with a friend (Carrie Fisher) over the affections of an architect (Sam Waterston). Thanks to Wiest's brilliant portrayal of long-bubbling resentments and petty jealousies, she ended up gathering up the accolades, alongside fellow Oscar winner Michael Caine as Hannah's adulterous husband.
In a line: ''Of course I was so tongue-tied all night. I can't believe I said that about the Guggenheim. My stupid little roller-skating joke. I should never tell jokes. Mom can tell 'em, and Hannah, but I kill 'em.''

Judy Davis
Husbands And Wives - 1992
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: Sally is an intelligent, acerbic New Yorker with a failing marriage and a riposte perpetually on deck. Allen's examination of rocky couplings came out immediately after his own very public domestic falling-out with Mia Farrow. But it was Davis' riveting performance that helped turn people's attention away from the film's art-imitating-life implications. Though she lost the Oscar to Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny, Davis achieved a perfectly controlled tornado of emotions when she was on the phone with her estranged husband (Sydney Pollack) and learned he was seeing someone new.
In a line: ''It's the second law of thermodynamics: Sooner or later everything turns to s---. That's my phrasing, not the Encyclopedia Britannica.''

Dianne Wiest
Bullets Over Broadway - 1994
Date with Oscar: Won for Best Supporting Actress (again!).
The Role: Wiest earned her second Oscar for a Woody Allen film with a very different performance, as a manipulative, alcoholic, and larger-than-life star of the Great White Way named Helen Sinclair. Replacing Holly's insecurity with Norma Desmond levels of thespian grandeur and arrogance, she crafted one of the great comedic roles, which is exactly as broad as it needs to be.
In a line: ''You stand on the brink of greatness. The world will open to you like an oyster. No, no, not like an oyster. The world will open to you like a magnificent vagina.''

Jennifer Tilly
Bullets Over Broadway - 1994
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: While she lost to her costar, Tilly, as a gun moll named Olive, hilariously channeled the helium-voiced ditziness of Judy Holliday's Oscar-winning turn in 1950's Born Yesterday. Thanks to the connections of her gangster sugar daddy (Joe Viterelli), Olive lands a gig in a new Broadway play that gets much-needed rewrites from her Mobbed-up bodyguard (Chazz Palminteri, who earned an Oscar nomination of his own).
In a line: ''Hey, didn't I tell you to make horse durves?''

Mira Sorvino
Mighty Aphrodite - 1995
Date with Oscar: Won for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: With her first nomination, Sorvino earned an Oscar as Linda Ash, the wayward biological mother of Allen's adopted son. She's a prostitute and occasional porn star with a heart of gold (or at least gold plating) and the voice of Mickey Mouse. Her blasé attitude toward her profession provides many of the movie's best punchlines.
In a line: ''You didn't want a bl--job, so the least I could do is get you a tie.''

Samantha Morton
Sweet And Lowdown - 1999
Date with Oscar: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: Without uttering a word, Morton lit up the screen as Hattie, a mute who falls into a relationship with a colorful but disillusioned jazz guitarist played by Best Actor nominee Sean Penn. It's as if she were giving a performance in a silent movie all her own. (She lost to Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted.)
In a line: ''...''

Penélope Cruz
Vicky Cristina Barcelona - 2008
Date with Oscar: Won for Best Supporting Actress.
The Role: In a film filled with fiery dispositions, Cruz's flame burned the hottest as mercurial artist Maria Elena, who ends up in a polyamorous living situation with her ex-husband (Javier Bardem) and a traveling American (Scarlett Johansson). She's also the least stable leg of the relationship's tripod, and Cruz imbued her with a genuine manic insanity.
In a line: ''¡Niñata de mierda! ¡Niññata de mierda!''

Originally posted Jan 22, 2014 Published in issue #1296-1297 Jan 31, 2014 Order article reprints