Movies We Like
"What’s your favorite movie of all time?" Anyone ever ask you that? In my world (Hollywood, movie nerds, Rocket Video, Amoeba, etc.) it’s not unusual to be asked. Matter of fact, it’s almost expected. Though not as fluctuating as "what’s your favorite song of all time?" It is helpful to have an answer ready for the question. I have mine. Annie Hall.
"What’s your second favorite movie of all time?" is a little harder. The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In The West, Rosemary’s Baby, To Kill A Mockingbird, Blue Velvet, The Road Warrior, Vertigo, Apocalypse Now, Out Of The Past, I mean the list could go on and on. Maybe my number two is Woody Allen's follow up to Annie Hall, his black & white Manhattan.
But I do know, my favorite movie of all time is Annie Hall. Everyone loves Annie Hall, right? There are some doubters out there. Every once in a while a person will say, "Oh I don’t like Woody Allen." Myself, I must admit I haven't cared for Woody's film much in the last 15-20 years (Husbands and Wives is his last great one). The other group that tends to pooh pooh Annie Hall are Sci-Fi Nerds because their favorite movie of all time, Star Wars, lost the Best Picture Oscar to Annie Hall in 1977. I wonder if Lillian Hellmen fans get mad because the Jane Fonda, Hellmen bio, Julia, also lost that year.
Of course the Oscars that year are a fascinating part of Annie Hall’s lore. After a decade of Woody Allen making slapstick comedies, which got progressively better, peaking with his Russian literature epic Love and Death in '75, Annie Hall was a cosmic jump combining the relationship comedy and observational humor that he had been harvesting on film and in his plays, in his books and articles he had written, and in his stand-up comedy. The evolutionary jump was the meshing of all his styles, as well as in his direction of himself and his cast, and his maturing visual style. The film became one of the rare straight-on comedies to win the Best Picture Oscar. Woody would win two Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay. And in maybe the biggest coup, after years of playing "himself," Woody would be nominated for Best Actor as well. I like that the Academy recognized that just playing Woody Allen required some acting chops. (The winner that year? Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl. Which performance has lasted the test of time? Actually, in retrospect, the winner that year should have been John Travolta for Saturday Night Fever.)
Woody plays stand-up comic, Alvy Singer, a neurotic romantic. He's too pessimistic about the world around him to actually fall in love. Or, as he quotes Groucho Marx, "I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." The films jumps back and forth in time to show the failures of his two past marriages and examines in detail his current relationship with the equally neurotic Annie (Diane Keaton in the Oscar-winning performance). They meet, fall in love, move in together, doubt their decisions, break up, and get back together, etc. As I've gotten older I've discovered just how much Allen knew about the dynamics in couples. With repeat viewings over the years, Annie Hall always seems to have more and more wisdom about relationships. What can appear to be lightweight on the outside is actually loaded with insight.
Annie Hall has become the standard for the modern romantic comedy. How many lame Nora Ephron films have borrowed the old Jazz standards used as the soundtracks for Allen’s films? The character of Alvy Singer also set the groundwork for decades of movies about men who can't grow up and can't get over their own insecurities to find love. And though many of these characters may appear to be schmucks or nerds they always seem to attract beautiful younger women.
If nothing else 1977 was a banner year in film - besides the technical wonder of Star Wars, it marked the year America could see Woody Allen as a sex symbol. And besides the growth in Woody Allen's career, it may mark some growth in the American movie going public as well.
Annie Hall won four Oscars: Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Actor.