It seems like kind of a cliche to list Woody Allen's 1977 film, Annie Hall, among my favourites. It's a critically beloved film, recognised by some as one of the great American movies, so I'm hardly breaking new ground. If I was smarter I'd say I enjoyed his earlier, more screwball/insane movies. I like his old stuff better than his new stuff etc. Actually I should be doubly embarassed because the only reason I got into Woody Allen in the first place was a boy: he was smart, bespectacled, older and more or less indifferent to me - with good cause. I was a dorky teenager sporting (at various times and - for a bad year or so - all at once) glasses, braces and orthodics. But he was always sweet to me and would chat about books, music and movies while I daydreamed about what our wedding would be like. So it was because of him (he was hugely into Woody Allen... he actually kinda looked a bit like Woody Allen) that I sat down one sleepy Saturday afternoon to watch Annie Hall.
I'm not sure what I expected: this object of my affection was a lot smarter than me and seemed so serious and bookish that I guess I was bracing myself for two hours of turgid screenplay I didn't understand, no plot and certainly no laughs. Instead I found... oh man, what did I find?
This sounds like an aside but it's not: Antonia Quirke, in her very good novel Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers, said something true about Woody Allen and his ability to write happiness.
"Happiness in movies is a bit like love - the camera's always cutting away. You hardly ever get to see it. All you get those ultra-casual but ever so slightly speeded-up kitchen sequences over breakfast just before Harrison Ford's wife gets murdered by a terrorist or his kid gets crushed by a hit-and-run HGV. Instead we have happy montage sequences, like the one in Manhattan where Woody Allen dangles a hand into Central Park lake and comes up with an armful of muck. Woody was the master of these sequences. So happy they've been playing on the inside of millions of skulls for twenty years."Quirke wasn't writing about Annie Hall in particular but she was so right: is there a better scene of what a happy relationship can look like than when he and Dianne Keaton are in the kitchen with the lobsters? Or any more depressing than when he tries to recreate it with another girl?
2. A Great Hook
Movies (and indeed books) are like relationships: if they're not great at the start I have no faith that they're going to get better and no enthusiasm to see if they do. I love the start of Annie Hall: not so much the flashback stuff but just that stupid joke he tells at the start and the way he rolls it all out there. It still draws me in, even when I know how it's going to end. The only one of his movie's that did it better was Manhattan and that was, you know, pretty fucking amazing.
Before I got into Woody Allen I think I had a vague feeling that movies couldn't be serious AND have jokes. But Annie Hall is a serious movie, or at least it has something serious to say, and yet it's also really funny, just packed with one-liners I mostly missed the first time around and long dopey jokes that shouldn't work but somehow do.
Rom-coms these days are a pretty sad bunch. For every good romantic comedy I've seen I reckon I've seen five bad ones, or maybe two truly bad ones and three that just stopped short of making me want to stick a fork in my eye. For this reason I hesitate to call Annie Hall a romantic comedy but of course it is. And unlike the vast majority of bullshit rom-coms I see these days, Annie Hall makes the stakes feel both real and high. It even kinda made a love interest out of Woody. I... might not have thought that was possible. The scene on the balcony with the subtitles still holds up, I think, pretty damn well.
5. A Perfect Ending
I won't go into details, in case someone who reads this hasn't seen the movie but this is just perfectly done. Just like the starting sequence, it gets me every time.