A Month of Movies: When Annie Met Harry

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So, the Oscars are nearly here and, as usual, I haven't had the time to see most of the front-runners. It wasn't always like this; somewhere, in pre-children galaxy far, far away, I went to the movies. All the time.

And yet, just because I never (as in, maybe twice a year) get out there anymore, I still consider myself a film buff. And most of that comes from watching some of my favorites, time and time again.

We all have that short list, right? And many of the polls I've seen have women talking about their tried and true romantic comedies -- their go-to repeat movie of choice. I'm here to tell you two things: 1) They don't make good romantic comedies anymore (you probably knew that, unless you are a saint who is willing to repeatedly give Jennifer Aniston yet another chance) and 2) One of your favorites is probably based on my all-time top movie.

Do you like "When Harry Met Sally?" It always seems to top women's lists. And it's a modern classic, no doubt. But did you know that it borrows *heavily* from "Annie Hall" -- my very favorite movie of all time?

Annie Hall
Image courtesy United Artists

Now some of you are shuddering because your mind is jumping to Woody Allen's personal life and the whole I-married-my stepdaughter-thing. Yeah, I know. Creepy. But, in the spirit of the movies, let's get some suspension of disbelief going and focus on the man behind some of our best American films.

No, you say. That darling Billy Crystal character bears no resemblance to Woody Allen.

Really? Did you know both Harry and Alvy were obsessed with death and had a self-confessed dark side? Do they not share the same penchant for charming neuroticism? (OK, perhaps director Rob Reiner wisely had Crystal focus on the charming part more -- but, still). A distinct love of Manhattan and its women? Friends who only seem to run in literary/publishing circles? Hmm.

And our precious Meg Ryan -- America's Sweetheart of the 80s and 90s. Sorry, folks, but she's Annie. Right down to the androgynous-inspired outfit she wears in Central Park -- you know, the scene with when they discuss their sex fantasies ("My mother, disguised as a German judge, gives me a 6"). The complex food orders. The rambly, slightly dippy banter. It's all in there -- subtle differences, yes -- but a page from the same screenplay overall.

Manhattan as a central character, almost in love letter fashion. The music, even the opening credits (Allen always uses a very distinct white font on black screen look). The use of split screens. If only "When Harry Met Sally" had a Christopher Walken-type sibling character to complete the homage.

So, if you like "When Harry Met Sally," I ask you to revisit "Annie Hall." It was made in 1977 and won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen). In many ways, it was ahead of its time. Today, you take for granted the comedic angle of an actor talking right to the camera. In 1977, this was unheard of. Animated scenes? Completely out of the ordinary. Not to mention taking psychiatric visits out of the closet and casting Manhattan as an island of neurotic intellectuals.

{Fun Oscar fact: "When Harry Met Sally" was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1992, and went up against Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" in the same category [another fabulous movie, by the way]. Both lost to "Dead Poets Society" writer Tom Schulman, who penned other, uh, greats like "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "What About Bob?"}

Still not sold on my favorite movie? Try the first scene. Best opening of a movie. Ever. (Here's the YouTube link, since I can't find a clip that will embed in the post -- sorry!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrxlfvI17oY

And few quotes for the road:

--"I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable."

--"I remember the staff at our public school. You know, we had a saying, uh, that those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym. And, uh, those who couldn't do anything, I think, were assigned to our school."

--"Hey, don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love."

--"I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me."

--"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."

Don't get me wrong. I like "When Harry Met Sally" -- I really do. For eternity, my good friend Jen and will use "Oh, I've been looking for a red suede pump" to get out of any boring conversation. Or cry "Baby Fish Mouth!" during any sort of game night activity. And I like Harry and Sally's chemistry, and their happy ending.

But I just want to give their inspiration its due credit. Without "Annie Hall," you'd never have Bruno Kirby ask Billy Crystal: "Mr. Zero knew you were getting a divorce before you did?"

And you'd never hear Diane Keaton say one of the trademark lines of her career -- "Well, La Di Da."

 



 

 

 

 

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