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Criticwire Classic of the Week: Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’

Criticwire Classic of the Week: Woody Allen's 'Annie Hall'

Every
now and then on the Criticwire Network an older film gets singled out for
attention. This is the Criticwire Classic of the Week.

Annie Hall
Dir: Woody Allen
Criticwire Average: A+

Right now, you could probably bifurcate Woody Allen’s filmography into “The Good Years” (1969-1994) and “The Wildly Uneven, Sometimes Terrible Years” (1995-present), but in the early 80s the split was Early, Funny Woody and Later, Mature Woody. Allen’s 1977 Best Picture-winner “Annie Hall” is seen as either the start of the second period or a transition to more serious-minded fare, and today it still stands as one of the wisest movies ever made about relationships. But for all of its profundity, it’s just as funny as the gag-heavy likes of “Sleeper” and “Bananas,” and while it has some competition for the title of Best Woody Allen Film (#TeamManhattan), few would contest its status as his most beloved.

Allen’s previous films showed his gift for Keaton-esque physical comedy along with his neurotic wit. Here, there are still moments that read as slapstick on paper, but Allen’s touch is more naturalistic, turning the famous lobster chase or cocaine sneeze into fillips, more behavioral than broadly comic (which actually makes them funnier). It helps that Allen recruited “The Godfather” cinematographer Gordon Willis to shoot the film; he gives the film a fly-on-the-wall quality, which grounds the film amidst Allen’s flights of fancy and asks us to lean in and listen closely to Alvy Singer and Annie Hall’s conversations.

What makes “Annie Hall” a film for the ages, however, is how deftly it handles Allen-surrogate Alvy Singer’s neuroses and weaknesses while still remaining empathetic to his problems. He may be too controlling and too inflexible for Annie (Keaton in an impossible-to-not-fall-in-love-with performance), who wants to branch out and try new things, but we still want him to succeed in love and life. The film has none of the bitterness that sours some of Allen’s late-period works (“Celebrity,” “Anything Else”), but instead sees relationships and personal growth as difficult but essential. Relationships are “totally irrational, crazy and absurd, but we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Edward Copeland, Edward Copeland’s Tangents

With “Annie Hall,” he also experimented with the medium, not in any remarkable ways really, but still in ways that impress, from the scene where subtitles translate characters’ inner thoughts, to frequent, contrasting split screens and even an animated sequence. Unlike many films from the 1970s, “Annie Hall” seems fairly timeless (though you do have to gulp when Alvy is outraged to learn that Annie pays $400 a month for a lousy Manhattan apartment. Those were the days…) As Roger Ebert once wrote about “Citizen Kane,” that film’s structure is such that no matter how often you’ve seen it, if you come in after it’s started, you are never quite certain what scene comes next. “Annie Hall” works much the same way. Read more.

Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

It’s easy to see these characters as real people, even during Allen’s more absurd flights of fancy. His surreal exploration of meaning is counterpointed by a series of charming vignettes in which we see the hero, Alvy, and the eponymous Annie attempt to negotiate everyday situations through an awkward overanalysis which belies the clarity of their feelings for one another. Most famous among these is the scene in which live lobsters, destined for the cooking pot, escape onto the floor, causing Alvy to panic. It’s a simple idea, yet easy to relate to. Throughout the film. Allen’s genius is in bringing out the humour in little incidents of this sort, and in using them to provide sharp insights into character – not only that of the protagonists, but also the viewer’s own. Read more.

More thoughts from the web:

Vincent Canby, The New York Times

There will be discussion about what points in the film coincide with the lives of its two stars, but this, I think, is to detract from and trivialize the achievement of the film, which, at last, puts Woody in the league with the best directors we have. Read more.

Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com

Because it is just about everyone’s favorite Woody Allen movie, because it won the Oscar, because it is a romantic comedy, few viewers probably notice how much of it consists of people talking, simply talking. They walk and talk, sit and talk, go to shrinks, go to lunch, make love and talk, talk to the camera, or launch into inspired monologues like Annie’s free-association as she describes her family to Alvy. This speech by Diane Keaton is as close to perfect as such a speech can likely be, climaxing with the memory of her narcoleptic Uncle George falling asleep and dying while waiting in line for a free turkey. It is all done in one take of brilliant brinksmanship, with Keaton (or Annie) right on the edge of losing it. Read more.

Jesse Knight, Movie Mezzanine

Annie Hall” as we know it today was never meant to be. Yet it plays pristinely, a prime lean cut pitched to perfection in which no scene, shot or conversation is a second too long or too short. Its serpentine stream-of-consciousness non-linear narrative conceit is seamlessly integrated, never betraying the emotional integrity of its characters or the central romance. It’s a film that combines so many idiosyncrasies and technical innovations, yet remains so fundamental in its representation of a couple throughout its many stages of growth, resulting in the single most universal film of all time. And it was all by accident. Read more.

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

As the story toggles between punch lines involving Marshall McLuhan and The Sorrow and the Pity and gut punches like Annie’s heartrending rendition of “Seems Like Old Times” or some half-recalled joke about eggs, you delight in the seeming effortlessness of a movie born out of turmoil. This is the link between Allen’s “earlier, funnier” stuff and more probing works like Interiors and Manhattan. Would that we all could build such masterful bridges. Read more.

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