Annie Hall and
Shockingly enough, just this past year, Woody Allen had the highest grossing
film in his career with Midnight in Paris. That was a fine movie and
deserving of its accolades, however it really is a minor jewel in the
prolific director’s body of work. So, perhaps it is fitting that on the
heels of that renaissance of Woody love, arguably two of his finest films –
certainly two of his most acclaimed – make their Blu-Ray bow.
In fact, one of them is indeed the epitome of Allen’s work – his finest
moment. Annie Hall won Allen his first and only Best Picture Oscar
and it was completely and utterly deserved. (Even though as a young teen in
1977 I thought the original Star Wars should have beaten it – but
that was before I had ever seen Annie Hall, and probably before I
could have appreciated it.)
was advertised at the time as “a nervous romance,” and that is exactly what
it was. An aging, neurotic, liberal, intellectual, balding New York Jewish
stand-up comedian falls in and out and back in love with a beautiful,
just-as-neurotic, small-town Midwestern shiksah wannabe nightclub singer.
The movie floats back and forth in time through their lives and their
relationship, illustrating the highs and the lows of their love.
(And, sadly, just like real life, there are more lows than highs.)
The structure of the film (or lack thereof) was rather radical at the time
(for example, this was 17 years before Quentin Tarantino used a similar time
structure in Pulp Fiction.) It would seem that it would be a mess,
but it somehow snaps all into place.
More importantly, in a way that all too rarely occurs anymore in Allen’s
films, Annie Hall was damned funny. There are more classic jokes in
the hour-and-a-half running time than just about any comedy of the
seventies. If you can’t find a classic line to steal from this movie, you
just aren’t trying.
while a very good film, is not on the same level. It’s certainly not even
Allen’s second best film. Hell, even Allen himself has apparently suggested
that the film was a bit overrated. Hannah & Her Sisters and
Crimes & Misdemeanors are definitely on a higher plane. You could also
make arguments for Love & Death, Mighty Aphrodite, Vicki Cristina
Barcelona, Bullets over Broadway, Match Point and even Midnight in
Paris being at a similar height of quality. That is not meant as a
slight on Manhattan, it’s just acknowledging the high level of craft
that Allen has reached over a career that has spanned over four decades.
However, it does show a fascinating progression in Allen’s writing,
therefore it is a hugely important step in his career. Annie Hall
was sort of the bridge between Allen the comedian and Allen the auteur.
While Manhattan was his next comedy after Annie Hall (he also
made Interiors between them, but that was very much meant to
be a desolate drama) the difference in joke content is stark. Manhattan
is a comedy, but it is never laugh out loud funny like Annie Hall.
The humor, what is there, is more character-driven. The jokes always
play second fiddle to the situations. This is a style which Allen has
mostly settled on in the years since then. He even mocked it slightly a few
years later in a highly autobiographical scene in Stardust Memories
when Allen was playing a director at a film festival where everyone would
point out that they preferred his “early, funny films.”
is a very good film, just not as classic as its reputation suggests. Still,
with its striking black and white cinematography, New York City has never
looked more magical on film. The opening
montage alone – in which many of the city’s sights are shown to the backing
of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” – is a better sales job for the
beauty of the city than anything any Chamber of
Commerce could come up with.
The story itself is more by-the-books for Allen. He plays an aging comedy
writer (again) who falls for the woman that his best friend is having an
affair with. At the same time, he is dating a high school student and
dreading his now-lesbian ex-wife’s tell-all book about their lives.
Of course, these roles are played by Keaton, Michael Murphy and the mostly
unknown at the time Meryl Streep and Mariel Hemingway, so it goes without
saying the acting is superb. And the dialogue is certainly interesting, but
the film does not quite captivate like Annie did.
In fact, Allen’s talent in casting is stunning, future stars like Sigourney
Weaver, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Karen Allen, Mark Linn Baker,
Frances Conroy, Beverly D’Angelo, David Rasche, Shelley Hack and Wallace
Shawn pop up in these films in tiny roles (some, like Weaver, don’t even get
any lines or close-ups).
Speaking of these actors, I noticed something odd. In the end credits to
each movie, an actor who would later become a relatively big star's name was
misspelled. In Annie Hall, Christopher Walken's name is spelled
"Christopher Wlaken" and in Manhattan Mark Linn Baker apparently gets
a sex change operation to become "Mary Linn Baker." That's so weird, you
don't expect to see something like that in a movie's credits, and doubly so
for such artistic and well-respected titles as these.
However, those are two tiny glitches in films which run the gamut from very
good to nearly perfect. Annie Hall and Manhattan are
necessary viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in Woody Allen,
New York or fine filmmaking.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: February 1, 2012.