What sets Woody Allen movies apart is the prerequisite.
You must be a certain age to truly appreciate them. I think you need at least two decades under your belt before you can grasp the implications behind the character interactions, the political banter and all the cultural references.
Annie Hall is only the third Woody film I’ve seen besides Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. And I like it just as much.
The plot is basically a self-narrated character study of Alvy Singer (played by Woody) during the time in his life when he loved Annie Hall (played by Diane Keaton).
This thirty-six year old movie holds up! I watched it with my Dad yesterday and we were both having a laugh.
It took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 1977 as well as three others: two for Woody himself (Best Director, Best Screenplay) and one for Diane (Best Actress).
Christopher Walken must be bummed because he was in two best pictures in back to back years (Deer Hunter nabbed the Oscar in ’78) and hasn’t been in one since.
What makes this film great is the humor and the style. I get the feeling that every beat, every complete thought contains some sort of joke. It’s all about subtlety, nuance, irony and implication when it comes to the funny.
At times I’m consciously deciphering the wording of a dialogue exchange, and will give up because the discussion’s moving ahead without me.
For example, there is a scene in which Annie and Alvy are talking on a rooftop, and subtitles translate the implications of each statement. I try to digest each sentence and corresponding subtitle, but can’t keep up.
And that’s how all of Annie Hall is: Packed with material and moving along at a lightning-fast pace.
The subtitles are only one example of the many occurrences in which the characters break the fourth wall. Alvy, Annie and Rob (Alvy’s best friend) revisit the scenes of his memories in a number of ways.
Rob, played by Tony Roberts, is great. There’s a scene where Alvy watches along disgusted as Rob orchestrates the laugh track for an episode of his sitcom. And, again, this is exemplary of the entire film, which keeps the audience chuckling ironically from a distance.
One narrative quirk that confuses me is an interaction between Rob and Alvy. Early on in the film, Alvy says, “Don’t call me Max,” and Rob replies, “Why? It’s a good name for you.” For the remainder of the movie, Alvy and Rob refer to each other as Max. It’s hilarious, and I’m sure it’s written that way for a reason, but these types of stylistic oddities are scattered throughout.
The plot revolves around the settings of New York and Los Angeles, and compares/contrasts the traditional Jewish and Christian families of the main characters.
I love how Alvy grew up beneath a roller coaster, and the scene where he’s introduced into the psychotherapy that never seems to work out.
There’s a smart scene in which the frame is split in two and the main characters conduct therapy sessions concurrently. In this dichotomy the monetary, sexual, emotional and psychotherapeutic health of each individual becomes a form of currency in their relationship. It’s a fascinating, not to mention pessimistic, method of breaking things down.
The discussion with his elementary school classmates, whose hair is similar to his adult self, is nothing short of brilliant. They remain children in his mind, but morphed slightly over time to better reflect himself.
I bet that sounds complicated. What’s not complicated is Jeff Goldblum’s cameo. He’s on the telephone at a party and says, “I forgot my mantra.”
Larry David pays homage to the Wagner joke in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. And that animation scene was probably very original filmmaking for its time, but if I hadn’t heard about it previous to viewing, it would have blown past me.
The ending is fantastic. Like the rest of the film, it’s nothing short of brilliant.
Hopefully Woody’s got a couple good ones left.