“Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) dir. Woody Allen

My favorite Woody Allen film is the thought-provoking, but despairing and chilling 1989 drama “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” In a modern-day update of “Crime and Punishment,” Allen explores the same themes of Dostoevsky’s classic, but comes to some different conclusions. In the world of Allen’s film, guilt does not always provoke a man to do the right thing, shallowness wins out over earnestness, and tellingly, the film’s most decent character (a rabbi) gradually goes blind by the end of the film.

Martin Landau is arguably the film’s lead, but was nominated for Best Supporting Actor instead of Best Actor that year at the Oscars. As much as “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorite films, Landau should have gotten his Oscar for his role as the morally conflicted doctor in “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” instead of his role as Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood.”

Even Allen doesn’t spare himself. He plays a variation on the sometimes lovable neurotic he’s played in countless other films, but removes the “lovable” part. His character is like someone who never matured beyond his college years and his character’s pathetic stabs at being meaningful are seen as petty and grossly naive and immature.

The scene at the attached clip is one of the pivotal moments of the film, when Landau’s character goes back to the house where he grew up and flashes back to an intense discussion during a seder about faith, the nature of evil, and whether God has any meaning.

While critically acclaimed at the time of its release, it doesn’t get much mention these days. This is one of the best films of the 1980s and is in serious need of rediscovering.

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