In today’s world, even with the knowledge of the Academy Awards that we have, it still seems surprising that Star Wars would lose Best Picture. Considering how iconic it has become and the impact it has had, you would think that, when it came out and was seen as revolutionary in 1977, the Academy Awards would’ve forgone their usual tastes and let it win Best Picture. But they didn’t. The winner was instead a very talkative romantic comedy about a neurotic writer and a ditz that was written and directed by a 40-year-old Jewish comedian. But that is what happened, and while Star Wars is a much larger part of my life than any other film, Annie Hall won that year for more than the Academy’s tastes.
Director, writer, and lead actor Woody Allen plays Alvie Singer (or Woody Allen), a neurotic Jewish writer who has had two failed marriages and just ended a failed relationship with Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton, a ditz who meets him through a friend and begins seeing him. The film is about that relationship, specifically about why it failed. The use of nonlinear storytelling to show a relationship falling apart is a common idea now, but it was revolutionary at the time. Without this film, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind may have never came into existence.
Despite the seemingly drama-sounding premise, the important thing to remember is that Woody Allen is a comedian. Portions of the film are based on his material and a portion of the film is legitimately funny. The opening scene of Woody Allen describing his childhood has some really good moments (especially the children saying what they grew up into), the movie theater scene is the best description of how we all want to deal with someone who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else not shutting up, and then there’s the memorable scene with Christopher Walken (“I see the headlights and I want to drive right into it”). We should remember that this is a comedy, since it is not only some of Woody Allen’s best material, but also some of the best mid-to-high-brow humor ever (more mid than high, though).
The challenge, especially for most modern viewers, would be the lack of action. The film is mostly people talking. The shots last for longer than most films either at it’s time or today. Watching this film does require an attention span. For as well shot as the film is, Woody Allen has little to no interest to give us a purely visual story. He needs to has dialogue, which makes sense given his influences and his own interests. After all, how could he praise Ingmar Bergman without his dialogue?
For many, Diane Keaton makes this film what it is. She successfully portrays Annie Hall as she needs to be to work. Compared to Woody Allen, Annie is a free-spirit, bright and friendly, and with her head somewhere in the clouds. She gives the film the the much needed levity so that it doesn’t drown under all of Woody Allen’s neurosis.
The film won Best Picture not only because of the tastes of the Academy Awards, but also because it truly earned it. There is a mysterious X factor that makes the template for most modern indie romantic comedies work. Some, like 500 Days Of Summer and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind recapture the spirit of why this film works, but it has never been bettered. It is a classic because it is charming in it’s odd nature.
Directed by Woody Allen
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton