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With: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Sigourney Weaver
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 94
Date: 20/04/1977

Annie Hall (1977)

4 Stars (out of 4)

La-de-da, La-de-da

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If Manhattan is Woody Allen's best movie, with its gorgeous black-and-white, widescreen imagery, then Annie Hall has to be his best screenplay.

The movie starts with Woody in front of a plain background, talking to the camera, and the routine from Groucho Marx about how he wouldn't want to belong to any club which would have him as a member. This setup breaks down ordinary movie barriers, tells us that just about anything in the movie is possible, and Allen takes full advantage of that. The screenplay goes all over the place, taking characters back in time -- standing in the room with their past counterparts, and people on the street comment on the story so far. Woody even turns into a cartoon character at one point. A brilliant split-screen scene shows Woody and Diane Keaton at their respective shrinks ("how often do you have sex?" he: "hardly ever -- maybe three times a week", she: "Constantly! I'd say three times a week!").

But Allen also uses his no-holds-barred formula for dramatic scenes as well. Early in the movie, he and Diane Keaton chase live lobsters around their kitchen, trying to put them in a pot of boiling water for dinner. Woody cracks jokes, and both of them are giggling and having a wonderful time. Later, Woody tries the same date with another girl, and she just stands there; "what's the big deal?". The look on Woody's face is heartbreaking.

The movie is also one of the most scathing looks at Hollywood. At a party, a young Jeff Goldblum is on the phone with his psychic; "I forgot my mantra.". Paul Simon (one of the nicest guys in the world?) plays a sleazy Hollywood producer-type, who has dinner with "Jack and Anjelica", and tries to seduce Diane Keaton away from Allen with the promise of stardom. (Allen devotes an entire scene to a song sung by Keaton.)

Annie Hall is refreshing because it showed an astonishing leap in creativity, exploration, and cinematic curiosity from Allen's previous film, the very funny but flat Love and Death. He would continue to grow throughout the 80's and 90's, experimenting with styles, structures, and characters. Unfortunately, Annie Hall was also the last movie before Allen began to experiment with young women characters, which would become an uncomfortable obsession both in his movies and in real life. The comfort that most fans experienced going to Allen films would slowly fade, as he started to become a dirty old man. But Annie Hall is still vital, refreshing, and, above all, funny.

Allen won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Actor. He's not an actor of great range, but he is a very funny, accomplished comedy actor. Annie Hall may be his best performance. (Picture the look on his face driving the car in the L.A. scenes.) Keaton also won for Best Actress, and the movie won for Best Picture (not a normal kind of movie for an Oscar winner. One would have expected Fred Zinnemann's Julia to be the big winner--it was more "serious" and "respectable". But who watches Julia today?)

In 2012, Fox/MGM released a glorious new Blu-Ray with a beautiful color picture transfer that enhances the film grain. The only extra is a trailer.

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