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The film that bested Star Wars for the 1977 Best Picture Oscar, Annie Hall
is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking that transcends its simple,
romantic premise to create a stunning portrait of not only 70's pop
but of human nature cumulative. Directed and co-written by Woody Allen,
has since directed other gems such as Hannah and Her Sisters and The
Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall also stars Allen as Alvy Singer, a neurotic,
death-obsessed comedian who seems unlucky in love and life. That is until
he meets Annie, brilliantly played by Diane Keaton, who is beautiful,
fashion-savvy, carefree (she likes using expressions like `la di da'), and
Annie and Alvy's relationship is an unlikely one. She's a Midwestern girl, straight out of white-bread Wisconsin; he's a life-long New York Jew who grew up (literally) under the Coney Island roller coaster. He's been seeing a therapist for the past 16 years; she only `needs' one once she meets him. She's an extroverted aspiring singer; he's an introverted, world-despising imp. Yet Allen and Keaton are so perfect in their roles, they improbably make this couple one of the most memorable ever.
The plot revolves around Alvy's chronicles of loves lost and a retrospective on his relationship with Annie, with whom he has since parted ways. At the end of the film, we see Alvy try his hand at stage-writing-he writes a play about his relationship with Annie, but gives it a happy ending. Yes, Annie and Alvy don't have a fairy tale ending to their relationship, but Alvy certainly wishes they had, even though he learns to live with the acknowledgment it has failed.
The best part of Annie Hall is its incredible screenplay-the best ever to be written. Not a word is wasted nor a line unquotable. Except here, while Allen's early films had thrived on streams of one-liners, Allen doesn't go for cheap laughs-each line is simultaneously hilarious and poignant. Everything is part of a greater whole. We laugh because it's funny, but there's a greater dynamic at work in Annie Hall. This is a story not exclusively about a relationship between two people, but also a musing on 70's politics, drugs, East Coast/West Coast rivalry, narcissism, religion, celebrity, and several other topics with which Allen deals with extraordinary ease.
Yet Annie Hall would not be among my favorite films of all-time if it were just Woody Allen ranting and raving about what he likes and dislikes. There are other Allen films that serve that purpose, i.e. Deconstructing Harry, and they're not nearly as good. What separates Annie Hall is its grace, the believable chemistry between Keaton and Allen, the unique direction (ranging from split-screens to cartoon imagery to on-screen subtitles of what the actors are thinking), but mostly because it's the rare film to find a perfect balance between sheer entertainment, humor, and poignancy.
When the dust had settled, Diane Keaton deservedly won an Academy Award for her performance, Allen took home Oscars for direction and writing, and the film beat out Star Wars for Best Picture, which most people consider a complete sham. Evidently, those people didn't see Annie Hall, for if they had, they'd recognize that the acting, writing, and even the direction in Star Wars can't hold a candle to Annie Hall, one of the best films ever made.
`Annie Hall', long thought to be Woody Allen's opus, is perhaps a perfect
romantic comedy because it not only shows the happy, touching moments of
relationships, but also displays the reality of coupling the occasional
waning of interest in one another, the hypercritical moments, etc. It is
absolutely brilliantly written; Woody Allen exhibits his usual dry humor and
self-deprecation, but also his sensitive, passionate and romantic side. It
was because of this film that I fell in love with Woody Allen at the age of
twelve (take your cheap shot here) and almost twenty years later he still is
that intellectual, bookish and humorous ideal. Diane Keaton was his muse
and co-star for this film, and they are perfect counterparts so much so
that their interaction onscreen doesn't seem like viewing two actors in a
film, but is a much more voyeuristic experience. Watching `Annie Hall' is
like sitting at a bistro table and observing another couple a few tables
away, and that is just one of the elements that make this film so endearing.
Most people can relate to at least some aspects of Alvy and Annie's
relationship, which helps make this film a timeless one.
However, `Annie Hall' is not just a good romantic comedy; it is a film that engages some unusual storytelling techniques. Actors speak directly to the audience, characters interact with strangers on the street who just happen to know the answers to the personal questions posed, there is a brief animation scene, etc. While none of these approaches were new in 1977, their execution was inspired. `Annie Hall' is like a fond memory, or a favorite old song anytime I have discussed this film with others their smiling expressions are usually tinged with a hint of nostalgia, because one can look back on either their past or current relationship and do what precious few films allow us to do relate on a personal level.
Woody Allen never created a more enjoyable film. Annie Hall is as
innovative and clever as any movie has ever been. What makes Annie Hall
such a great film is Allen's carefree screenplay and direction, in which he
breaks all of the rules, giving the viewer the sense that anything can
happen. Allen makes us characters into his story by talking to the camera,
telling us jokes, and sharing his opinions with us.
Many of Allen's once original tactics have become commonly used techniques. Woody Allen includes flashbacks, vignettes, voice-over commentary, animation, fantasy, putting himself and others into flashbacks, and subtitles, telling what the characters are thinking. Much of Allen's other works has never been so full of priceless innovations and jokes.
The characters themselves are so well defined that they feel real to the viewer. By the time the film ends, we can see exactly why Alvy Singer and Annie Hall broke up in the first place. That's great filmmaking.
Woody Allen's masterpiece will always be "Annie Hall." What is most remarkable today about this film is the way Allen presents it. It's a movie about a relationship. But rather than taking a linear approach, Allen plays with time. We see the middle, the begining, and the end. And not always in that order. Allen also breaks the fourth wall a lot and has many dream sequences and asides which add to the complexity of the characters. This is a highly autobiographical film and Allen pulls no punches. This movie is not about romance in the way that "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is. Rather, "Annie Hall" is a deconstruction of a romance. At times it is funny and heartbreaking and always classic. "Love fades," indeed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the time, no one had done this: tell a story in the manner that
Woody Allen did. Even though many films up until then were talky, with
minimal action, with the exception of CITIZEN KANE, nothing of the sort
prepared the audience at the time for what they were witnessing: scenes
that introduced dialog between two actors much before they actually
showed on screen. Scenes in which actors interacted with the past as if
it were the present. Scenes in which actors who aren't in the same
frame even when they are on screen talk to each other. Scenes in which
what the characters are saying does not match their thought bubbles and
we are privy to their thoughts. The discussion of an intellectual's
work which suddenly produces the said individual, among many more.
ANNIE HALL is a unique film that still looks fresh, even when the style in itself is very 70s. This is a story of a breakup told in a non-linear pattern, showing how these two disparate yet similar people -- Alvy Singer and Annie Hall -- came together, shared their neuroses, went through hilarious times and then went into the slow plateau that became their eventual separation. This is not the kind of story that Hollywood likes to tell and it's quite admirable that Allen was able to not only get away with it but to walk away with the major awards (as well as give then girlfriend Diane Keaton her own Best Actress award) because this being such an intellectual film and not one where the actors all look glamorous, it broke new grounds for a novel way of presenting a film.
Groundbreaking is the definite term here. Had there been no ANNIE HALL, there would have never been ALLY MACBEAL or SEX AND THE CITY, two successful sitcoms that features inner dialog, people talking directly to the camera (and therefore winking at the audience), fantasy sequences, and modern views of how people react to each other. Balancing slapstick with drama, it is also one of the saddest comedies to ever been made and anyone who has seen the final sequence -- which plays out what the film has mentioned all along, that this is their breakup -- knows the heartbreak that unfolds over Diane Keaton's haunting vocals. One of the ten most influential movies of all time.
Woody Allen's seminal 1977 romantic comedy "Annie Hall" is not only
laugh-out-loud funny (with some of the most quotable dialogue ever
written for the screen...this is the "Casablanca" of comedies, folks)
but also sweet and charming (due in large part because of Diane
Keaton's smashing performance as the title character, the flighty
singer from Wisconsin with a quirky fashion sense and "neat" outlook on
life) without ever turning trite or sappy like so many romantic
comedies tend to do. Allen wisely deconstructed the genre with his
non-linear story-line (something that was later done to even greater
effect with a more recent and profound look at relationships, "Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and charming little theatrical tricks
like talking to the audience or pulling extras into the scene for their
opinions on what's been going on. It keeps the viewer off guard and
allows for a free flow of comedic and philosophical ideas that might
otherwise not have found their way into a more traditional film.
In his latter years, Allen's best work has been when he is not part of the cast (my personal favorites being "Bulletts over Broadway," "Sweet and Lowdown," and the recent "Match Point"). "Annie Hall" was made in his heyday when he could still pull off playing a neurotic New York Jewish comedienne with charm and panache. There's something innocent and benign about his obsessions here, as this was long before the Woody/Soon-Yi fiasco and the days of grossly miscasting himself against younger female co-stars. Yes, Mr. Allen has been artsier (witness "Manhattan") and more satirical (witness "Zelig") but here, with Diane Keaton as his muse, he was never more charming or funnier.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes I wish Woody Allen was cool and self confident, and not
always nervous, unsure and geeky all the time. But you can't deny that
he's a very intelligent person. His best film, the quiet and
understated masterpiece "Annie Hall", is so full of jokes and inventive
style it can make your head spin. Actually, this is one film I wish I
had a script of so I could slowly read all those dialogs which are
being said too fast. In 1978 "Annie Hall" beat "Star Wars" and won 4
Oscars ( Best picture, director, screenplay, actress Diane Keaton ) and
one Golden Globe ( Best actress Diane Keaton ).
The simple comedy about a romance between the New York comedian Alvy and Annie is enriched by tons of emotions and inventive film techniques which even Jean-Luc Godard would be jealous of. In one scene Alvy is talking to Annie about art while the subtitles are presenting his *real* words, about how he wants to take her out! In the other they are having intercourse in bed while Annie's ghost/mind is absent and sitting on a chair! Alvy is walking down the street and saying how he watched the animated movie "Snow White and the seven dwarfs" and fell in love with the witch and presto, in the next scene he is drawn in animation in the middle of that film, having an argument with his lover, the witch. The list goes on and on.
I remember that I couldn't watch this film when I was a kid. I found it to be too boring. But today I completely understand it. You just have to think about it. Like when Alvy is so happy he says to Annie that he doesn't just love her, but that he "luurves her, loaves her and luuf's her." Also, some of the gags are simply quietly hilarious, like when the hero is narrating his society as a child, commenting on everything ( "Those who don't know nothing, teach. Those who don't know how to teach, teach gym. And those don't know even that, teach at our school." ).
Annie Hall is a movie about life. In recent films, there are fairly predictable endings. (i.e. guy gets girl after chase scene in Manhattan). Annie Hall goes against the grain of movies. There is definite chemistry between Allen and Keaton. That is one of the main reasons this movie is successful. Alvy and Annie do not have high wage jobs, they do not go clubbing, nor are they incredibly attractive. Why does a movie character relationship have to be so extreme it's unconvincing? These days movie producers create plots that are unbelievable. They don't have any depth and usually have shallow intentions. You can sense that the two leads care for each other. The situations in this movie resemble real life and that is why it is so critically acclaimed and remembered. Sure Woody talked into the camera, but that, in a sense is real life as well. It reminds me of my usual thought process and how when I think; I feel as though I'm presenting my thoughts to myself. Only he is, presenting it to us. This movie is clever and thought provoking. If you're looking for the opposite of a yearly run of the mill movie, this is for you.
Woody is an intelligent man who worries about the issues of
film-making. The primary concern, the very first problem, is always to
decide what the relationships are among the audience, the camera, the
narrator if any, and the characters.
Woody was on his way to making a murder mystery, which is the purest form of messing about with these relationships. In a much studied decision, they decided to cut out all the mystery and just focus on the context. In this case, that context is a richly layered evocation of a relationship. I really wish I could see the original film to discover the mysteries Woody intended to hide in the folds.
And the folds are as numerous and complex as they can get. We have a framing device where Woody speaks to us partly as a conversation which blends into a standup, which is mirrored as a part of the story. We have timeshifting where we move back and forth in time in a simple 'Tarantino' way; but we go way past: characters from the 'present' enter the past as Dickensian ghosts, then they talk to characters in the past. we have characters in different pasts talking to each other via split screen. We have a layering of Woody and Diane's relationship in real life, then the film, then TWO films within: a play which is part of the action and a cartoon which is the action itself.
More: we have Woody talking to the audience as if we were shifted into the play -- early in that play we are introduced to Bergman and Fellini: in both cases while they are waiting outside. These are the two inventors of folded narrative. Even more: while some bozo perfessor spouts off about Fellini and McLuhan, Woody enlists the audience to challenge him and drags out McLuhan himself! The joke of course is that McLuhan himself was a vapid weaver of lowbrow theories.
And more and more with the constant weaving of 'analysis' and other film-like activities: singers, photographers, TeeVee stars, models...
This period was when he was first exposed to Wallace Shawn who was hanging out with Terrence Malick, two other innovators in narrative folding. All the 'New Yorker' stuff means more when you know Shawn's father was the long-time editor of that publication and defined the self-absorbed reflection that characterizes the city and this film.
Keaton's manner was essential to pulling this off, someone who could pull off the story about her uncle dying while waiting for a Turkey. Watch her.. she is clued in to simultaneously being in herself (Keaton), herself (Hall), inside the story she is telling and inside the story Woody is telling. She shifts and guffaws just as if she were stoned and moving among realities, just as her character.
Just amazing and intelligent. Will we ever see this the way it was written and shot? Or is that mystery too intelligent for us, who prefer to think of this as a funny, endearing love story.
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is something of a hopeless romantic. A
cynical, death-obsessed New York Jewish comedian, Singer has never been
able to maintain a steady relationship with a woman. He has been
married twice, and divorced twice. He broke up with one woman because
of their disagreements over the "second shooter" conspiracy of John F.
Kennedy's assassination, or perhaps that was just his excuse. To
paraphrase Freud, possibly Groucho Marx, he simply "would never want to
belong to any club that would accept someone like him for a member." He
doesn't drive because he is paranoid about driving; he has been seeing
a psychiatrist for the past fifteen years, though these appointments
were long ago reduced to simple "whining" sessions. There is an
inherent uncertainty in everything that Singer says as though he
really knows what he's talking about, but he can't convince himself
that he's got it right.
When he accompanies a friend (Tony Roberts) to a tennis game, Singer's first and foremost concern is that the club will deny him entry because he's a Jew. However, that fateful game serves forth something so much more significant and life-changing he comes to meet the ditsy and exuberant Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Despite clearly having very little in common, something clicks between the two eligibles, and they embark on a tumultuous years-long relationship that will inevitably fail to materialise into anything further. Erupting with clever dialogue and witty cultural references, 'Annie Hall's' script is one of the best you'll ever see. Not only is the conversation entertaining to listen to, but even with all the talking to the camera and interacting with random extras it actually manages to seem startlingly realistic. This is no small thanks, of course, to the main actors, who embody their characters so perfectly that we're unsure if they are acting or merely playing themselves.
Though he had previously released a few well-received, light-hearted affairs, it was 'Annie Hall' that blasted writer/actor/director Woody Allen into the realms of super-stardom. In an uncharacteristic move for the Academy, Allen's film won four 1978 Oscars, including Best Actress (Keaton), Best Original Screenplay (Allen, Marshall Brickman), Best Director (Allen) and Best Picture not undeservedly, though millions of 'Star Wars' fans would, I'm sure, disagree. Having revisited 'Annie Hall' for the first time in a year, having since enjoyed many of Allen's other films, I am genuinely amazed at his transition from silly comedian to insightful observer on human relationships. Of course, a noticeable evolution in his film-making style is evident in both the science-fiction 'Sleeper (1973)' and the Russian historical spoof 'Love and Death (1975),' but neither boasts the the intelligence nor the sophistication of this film, which wholly discards the Chaplin-like slapstick of Allen's previous films and adopts the Tracy-Hepburn screwball comedy of a decade later.
Originally slated and filmed, in fact as a New York murder mystery with a romantic sub-plot, 'Annie Hall' was taken by editor Ralph Rosenbaum and cut down (massacred, if you will) into the modern, witty 1970s screwball comedy that we still enjoy today. It is truly amazing that such an extensive post-production reshaping had no obvious ill effects upon the general flow of the film, though the structure in itself is so hectic that we probably wouldn't notice it, anyway: Allen frequently cuts forwards and backwards in time, his modern characters are able to revisit and discuss the past, characters in split screens interact, Allen regularly breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the audience directly. Some of the discarded murder mystery elements from 'Annie Hall' were later incorporated into another Allen film, 'Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993),' which also co-starred Keaton.
Aside from Allen and Keaton, numerous smaller roles provide a crucial framework for the overall structure of the film. Tony Roberts is Rob, Singer's old friend and confidant. Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel) plays a record producer who takes a keen interest in both Annie and her singing. Shelley Duvall is a reporter for 'The Rolling Stone' magazine, and a one-time girlfriend of Singer. There are also tiny early roles for Christopher Walken (as Annie's somewhat disturbed brother), Jeff Goldblum (who speaks one memorable line at a party "Hello? I forgot my mantra") and Sigourney Weaver (who can be briefly glimpsed as Singer's date outside a theatre). Two slightly more unusual cameos come from Truman Capote (as a Truman Capote-lookalike, no less) and scholar Marshall McLuhan (whom Singer suddenly procures from behind a movie poster to declare to a talkative film-goer that "you know nothing of my work!").
Easily the most innovative and energetic of the films I've so far seen from Woody Allen, 'Annie Hall' is a spirited glimpse at the incompatibility of human beings, and a cynical yet bittersweet meditation on the falsity of the perfect romantic Hollywood ending. It is also a considerable comedic achievement, and Allen would repeatedly recycle his trademark neurotic New Yorker screen persona, most notably in 'Manhattan (1979),' but never with more success than this premium outing in excellence. The engagingly-convoluted storyline moves with such briskness that you don't realise just how very little happens, and that, by the film's end, our characters are exactly where they were at the beginning. Nevertheless, Allen manages to say something significant about human relationships they're totally irrational, crazy and absurd, but we keep attempting them because of what they give us in return. Or, at least, what we think they give us.
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