La-Di-Da: Best Movies Ever — Annie Hall

Annie Hall is Woody Allen's masterwork. Released in April, 1977, it won numerous awards, including four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Diane Keaton), and Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman). A love letter of sorts to former girlfriend Diane Keaton, Allen also includes some of his famous New York schtick as well as, for the first time in his films, digging a little deeper. Watching it recently I was struck by how effortless and funny it still is.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall


Allen plays comedian Alvy Singer, who has just turned 40 and can't quite understand why none of his relationships with women have ever worked out. Addressing the audience either directly or via voice-over, he traces the course of his most recent romance, with a woman named Annie Hall. The two meet through friends and are immediately attracted to one another, but the course of true love isn't exactly smooth for this pair. It's full of neuroses and watching "important" movies at New York City revival houses and lots and lots of humor. On their first date, Alvy has an idea on how to break the ice:

Alvy, "Hey listen, gimme a kiss."
Annie, "Really?"
Alvy, "Yeah, why not, because we're just gonna go home later, right, and then there's gonna be all that tension, we've never kissed before and I'll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we'll kiss now and get it over with, and then we'll go eat. We'll digest our food better."

As much as Annie Hall centers around the mismatched lovers, it also includes some classic Allen themes that will recur in his subsequent films, such as his obsession with sex, his fear of death, his love of New York, and his love of cabaret music (Keaton sings "It Had to be You" and "Seems Like Old Times." There is also slapstick, most notably featuring some recalcitrant lobsters. And Christopher Walken does a brief and very funny turn as Annie's creepy brother Duane. Here are some of my favorite, and its most classic, moments:

Annie and Alvy, standing in a line waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, discussing their sex life while trying to avoid the pontificating man behind them. Alvy finally gets so frustrated listening to the man blah-blahing to his date about Federico Fellini and Marshall McLuhan that he steps out of the story and drags in McLuhan himself to set the bore straight.

Diane Keaton's fashion sense. Keaton has always favored men's apparel, but her quirky way of combining men's ties, vests, hats, and jackets with feminine elements like scarves and granny dresses is all her own. She reportedly worked on the look with the film costume designer Ruth Morley, but seeing her through the years with her turtlenecks and gloves and tuxedo jackets have confirmed that the "Annie Hall Look" was totally Keaton. 

The lady makes that vest and tie look good

Woody's love for New York and ... lesser estimation of California. "I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light." When Alvy and Annie go visit Los Angeles he can barely contain his distaste. 

Annie, "It's so clean out here."
Alvy, "That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows."

As funny as Allen is, and as sharp and as observant as the humor can be, what really makes Annie Hall is Diane Keaton. She is a fully rounded person in the film. Not just the girlfriend. Or a pretty face. Or the butt of jokes. She is witty and zany and beautiful. How many female characters, of beauty, humor, and depth are there in movies these days? Annie Hall appreciates her, teases her, caricatures her. It helped to create her persona as an actress, and maybe even, a little bit, as a person. Our experiences mold us, and Keaton's time with Allen and this cinematic Valentine definitely shaped her and her career. It's wonderful performance, still funny after all these years.

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