Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Woody Allen Film Ever. That’s four Oscars . . . and the general consensus.
“Annie Hall” remains as glib, intellectual, self-deprecating, postmodernly self-conscious, insightful, and just plain funny now as it was when it was released in 1977. And some women still embrace the Annie Hall style of women-wearing-men’s clothes that started a trend—make that a full-blown FAD—back then.
Woody Allen—who wrote, directed, and starred in the film—is at the top of his game as Alvy Singer, a successful stand-up comic who was apparently born an existentialist and sees life as meaningless and himself as a kind of Sisyphus schlepping large weights around, all of which get in the way of normalcy and happiness. Twice married and twice divorced, Alvy came close to attaining something special in a relationship he had with free spirit and would-be nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).
In an opening monologue, Alvy breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly, informing us that Hall is past tense in his life and indirectly letting us know that what follows will be a kind of reconsideration of their relationship. It’s the ever-obsessive Alvy going over things in his mind, turning them over, looking for answers. After years of analysis, he’s gotten quite good at self-analysis. He knows his flaws, and he knows the things about him that drive women away. We get the feeling that Annie Hall holds the record for staying with him or connecting with him, so in large part the look back that shapes the narrative is one enormous fond memory.
That’s all but confirmed later in the film when Alvy tries to re-enact the famous lobster scene, in which chaos reigned in the kitchen as lobsters were all over the floor, Alvy was freaking out and making jokes, and Annie was trying to take pictures, both of them laughing through the entire episode. But trying to cook lobsters with another woman, and having them crawl and sprawl across the floor? Nothing. No energy, no magic.
“Annie Hall” is characterized by long takes, long walks, and long monologues, but the film never, surprisingly, feels long. That’s because everything that’s said is in some way witty, clever, insightful, or funny. And Alvy doesn’t just tell his story in voiceover. At times he even inserts himself into the past.
Tony Roberts appears as Alvy’s best friend, while other familiar faces turn up: Christopher Walken and Colleen Dewhurst as Annie’s family, Sigourney Weaver and Shelley Duvall as two of Alvy’s dates, Carol Kane as one of his ex-wives, and Paul Simon and Jeff Goldblum as Hollywood types.
But the casting that’s inspired comes from two cameos integrated seamlessly into the comic narrative. In one scene, as Alvy and Annie people watch, Alvy makes jokes about everyone who walks their way, including a man he laughingly says “Oh, there’s the winner of the Truman Capote Look-Alike Contest” . . . who was, in fact, Capote. In an even funnier scene, as Alvy and Annie stand in a theater line and he has to endure a professorial bore behind him talking loudly about Samuel Beckett and Marshall McLuhan in an attempt to impress his date, Allen steps toward the camera to address the audience directly. Then the man steps into the camera to defend his reading of McLuhan, saying he teaches a course on media and culture and should know what he’s talking about. What to do when the man plays his “authority” card? Appeal to a higher authority. Alvy walks to an area in the lobby and pulls the real McLuhan into the picture in order to pronounce the man’s interpretation completely bogus.
There are plenty of other moments in which Allen/Alvy breaks that fourth wall, but it’s never overdone, and the gags are different enough that they never seem repetitive.
Movie Met’s John J. Puccio isn’t alone in pronouncing “Annie Hall” a “genuine classic.” It’s an impressive film, and on Blu-ray it’s even more special. I’m not sure why everyone keeps giving it an 8 or 9 out of 10, or three-and-a-half stars out of four. Seeing it again for the first time in many years, I’m struck by how perfect it seems.
Despite a worn-looking title card, once the movie starts rolling “Annie Hall” looks terrific in 1080p. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is a significant step up from previous DVD releases, with genuine-looking skin tones and a nice 3D effect as characters and objects have a little more “pop” to them than they do in standard definition. But this is a catalog title from the ‘70s, which is notorious for color film stock not surviving much beyond the fashions. Some of the scenes have a little too much grain, some of the scenes appear a little soft, and some of the scenes seem as if the colors have slightly de-saturated over time. But it’s a clean-looking print, with no visible artifacts, and overall it’s a very nice-looking video presentation in 1.85:1 widescreen.
The audio is an English DTS-HD MA Mono, and since there’s very little in the way of ambient sound, the original soundstage Mono seems good enough. To give you an example, we hear Alvy talking in voiceover as a stationary camera records the action in a park. Soon we realize that Alvy and his best friend are walking into the background of the frame and continue to walk towards the camera. But the volume doesn’t increase, nor do we hear anything but a hint of park sounds. It’s Alvy/Allen talking pretty near constantly, and when he isn’t talking, he’s reacting with asides and audience address to someone else’s talking.
Bonus features? On a Woody Allen film? Allen thinks the film ought to stand on its own merits and sell itself.
“Annie Hall” is a sophisticated comedy that’s written for adults, but because it’s rated PG and there’s enough humor here that’s universal, it’s the perfect choice for parents to introduce their children to classic, art-house style films. It’s also the perfect film for Valentine’s Day, because it’s going to seem just as funny to people who are jaded about love as it is to happy couples.