“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.”
When Woody Allen entered the film making world, he was already a successful stand comic and talk show guest. So kicking off his career with a string of zany, goofball comedies probably seemed like no surprise. These days, a new Woody Allen movie can swing anywhere between zany comedy, art house experiment, dark thriller, rich character study and a million other things in between. But in the mid 70s, the first sign of that evolution from zany, goofball comedies to his wildly swinging approach to story and film making began, with Annie Hall.
Alvy Singer is the kind of Woody Allen character that people think of when they think of a Woody Allen character. He’s stutteringly neurotic, and overthinking every aspect of his life. Including his relationship with the titular Annie (Diane Keaton). Addressing the camera, Alvy lets us know that this is the story of how he and Annie got together. But it’s also the story of how they drifted apart. From the get go, we know they won’t live happily ever after.
Jumping back and forth in time, we get glimpses of Alvy’s girl obsessed childhood, his two failed marriages, his meeting, courting, honeymoon period and decline of happiness with Annie. Along the way we meet Alvy’s best friend and sounding board, Rob (Tony Roberts) and the movie drifts in and out of traditional and less traditional story telling.
Spoiling the fate of the relationship between Alvy and Annie should take all of the air out of Annie Hall. If we know it’s going to end badly, why should we get invested in it? Well, we get invested in it because Allen uses this doomed story to deconstruct the concept of love and relationships. He exploits the universal fears and paranoia that come for most people when they’re in an intense relationship. It might be heightened to Woody Allen levels of fear and paranoia, but the roots of it are still real.
Annie Hall is also a great example of breaking conventional rules of film making, but never letting that become too showy. Alvy addresses the camera every now and again, other characters are allowed to address the camera every now and again, random people in the street have insight into Alvy’s story that only him and the audience should be able to offer. They’re the kind of clever little touches that never seem like they’re there just for the sake of being clever.
Woody Allen has made plenty of movies more emotionally ambitious in the years since Annie Hall. He’s made plenty of movies more technically ambitious in the years since Annie Hall. He’s even made a few movies funnier than Annie Hall in the years since. But I can’t think of a single Woody Allen movie that combines all of those elements, and a few more, as perfectly as Annie Hall.
Best Actor (Allen nominated, lost to Richard Dreyfus for The Goodbye Girl)
Best Actress – Keaton
Best Original Screenplay