Woody’s Oscar-winning form

WOODY Allen joins Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese as the most Oscar-nominated American film directors actively making movies today – they all have seven directing nominations, with Spielberg winning twice and Allen and Scorsese once.

Allen’s best director win was for Annie Hall in 1977, but when it comes to Academy Award nominations for best original screenplay, Allen’s 15 nominations and three wins puts him among Tinseltown’s elite.

His writing Oscars for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sisters and Annie Hall place him in the league of Billy Wilder and Paddy Chayefsky (both Jewish), as well as Francis Ford Coppola and Charles Brackett, all of whom have received three screenplay Oscars.

One reason is due to longevity. At 77, Allen has directed an average of one film a year since beginning his movie career in 1965 with What’s New Pussycat?

Allen is well-known for writing memorable film characters. His actors have gained 15 Oscar nominations, with five wins: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Dianne Wiest (twice, for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) and Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters).

Other Allen nominations include Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan), Sean Penn and Samantha Morton (both for Sweet and Lowdown), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanours), Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Palminteri (both for Bullets Over Broadway), Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), and Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton (both for Interiors).

Of these 15 acting Oscar nominations, 11 have been for female characters. Despite Allen’s notorious personal history with former partner Mia Farrow (having an affair and then marrying her adopted child, Soon-Yi Previn), he writes and directs great female screen roles.

In Blue Jasmine, which opens in Australia on September 12, Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine, a down-on-her-luck former socialite forced to seek refuge with her working class sister (played by British actress Sally Hawkins).

Blanchett has impressed critics with her role and is tipped to win another Oscar nomination: she already has five, including a win for playing Katharine Hepburn in Scorsese’s The Aviator.

Blue Jasmine also marks another milestone: it is only Allen’s second film set in the United States since Melinda and Melinda in 2004.

He effectively “moved” to Europe for a quartet of films shot in London: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream.

Allen then went to Spain for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to Paris for Midnight in Paris and finally to Rome for last year’s To Rome with Love.

The French, Italians and Spaniards love him. In fact To Rome with Love was financed by Italians, with the only condition being that he shoot the film in Rome. Two-thirds of the total ticket sales from Midnight in Paris came from outside North America, particularly Europe.

Its popularity there boosted that film to become Allen’s top theatrical grosser, although with price inflation, the ticket sales were roughly equal to his classic New York films Annie Hall and Manhattan.

The San Francisco setting of Blue Jasmine is unusual for life-long New York resident Allen. His first film as director – Take the Money and Run, in which he played a small-time and incompetent crook, was also shot there, with prison scenes filmed inside the nearby high-security San Quentin jail.

Allen already knew the city well from his early days as a touring comic. Locals recall the 1960s when Allen was the opening act for Barbra Streisand at “The Hungry I” nightclub.

Although Allen’s original stage play for Play It Again, Sam was located in New York City, the 1971 film version moved to San Francisco. Although Herbert Ross directed the film, Allen wrote and starred as a nerdy film critic haunted by a determined and tough Humphrey Bogart fantasy mentor.

Many notable San Francisco area landmarks appear in Blue Jasmine: Allen’s character lives in North Beach, rides the cable car with actress Diane Keaton, and travels across the Bay to eat at a waterfront restaurant in Sausalito and holiday at Stinson Beach.

In the film Allen again uses the San Francisco locations: Jasmine’s sister lives on South Van Ness Avenue in a seedy section of the Mission District; a number of scenes are shot near the Golden Gate Bridge; and the scenic water-side Marin County suburbs of Tiburon, Larkspur and Belvedere all feature prominently.

Now the focus is on Allen’s next film, an untitled project that started production in the south of France in July and stars Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver.

Blue Jasmine is in cinemas from September 12.

REPORT by Don Perlgut

PHOTO of director Woody Allen (centre) discussing a scene with Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard during the filming of Blue Jasmine.