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52 Movies: Week 3 - Annie Hall

I suppose I should do a better job of trying to write for my audience with my next movie pick, but I instinctively gravitate towards my favorites when asked about the arts. Annie Hall is my favorite movie. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it since I first gave it a go when I was a teen-ager and did not really understand it or find it funny.

Growing up in Miami, Florida in a semi-Jewish part of town you get a feeling for the whole New York sensibility of things and are aware of Philip Roth, Henny Youngman, Simon & Garfunkel, and in movies, Woody Allen. I loved the early films like Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and Sleeper. So naturally I was interested in trying out Annie Hall too, and knew that it had fairly recently won Best Picture at the Oscars.

I watched it and got a few laughs. Enjoyed the breaking of the fourth wall, when Woody’s character Alvy Singer speaks to the audience, the ethnic jokes, the cartoon interlude, and the references to sex that I only understood through reading and movies. But all in all it didn’t do that much for me. The Woody character was a pretty mild everyman, without any outrageous gags or real silliness.

It was only with getting older and having a girlfriend, and a break-up, and then another girlfriend, that Annie Hall not only started to make sense, but really felt like the only movie that understood what relationships were all about to me. It is sort of a romantic comedy taking place in the real world, if Woody Allen’s imagination can be said to inhabit the real world at all.

I realize that Woody Allen will always be associated with the entire “marrying his step-daughter” episode of 20+ years ago. He is also a Jewish secular humanist. I have not heard him describe himself in these terms, but it is what I gather. He did not marry his step-daughter, nor do I think he molested his real daughter. I just mention these issues because I know people simply do not like him based on news headlines.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic, but I feel like I often have the sensibilities of a New York secular Jew. I enjoy humanism in the arts because I feel like these are the artists who are trying to figure out what makes people tick – whether it is literature, or art, or music, or movies, they always seem to me to have a very deep feeling for human nature. Perhaps the lack of real religion in their lives makes them more desperate to find their own answers.

I just re-watched Annie Hall so it would be fresh in my mind for this essay. I didn’t feel like I was in the mood, didn’t know that I would stay awake, didn’t really want to, figured I could just wing it without watching if need be. But I am always astounded at how enjoyable, fun, interesting, and quotable Annie Hall is. The movie is (to me) a perfect little 93 minutes of people trying to understand each other, wondering why it is so hard, and trying to simply learn from each relationship.

It seems a little racy when I think of the Light on Dark Water group, but watching it today I also thought how racy it is not compared to the standards of today’s movies, television, and internet options which young people have access to. Yes, pre-marital sex is a big part of the story line; but there is no nudity and little cursing. It is mainly one of those “adult content due to theme” types of movies.

It is a small miracle that Annie Hall won Best Picture. I am a big Academy Awards buff, and I cannot think of another comedy off the top of my head that won the big prize. Musicals, yes. Movies like Forrest Gump which have funny moments but also intense dramatic themes, yes. But not too many (if any others) that can be compared with Annie Hall. It is enjoyable to watch a young and beautiful Diane Keaton, who won Best Actress; and Woody himself, who somehow writes all of these movies he makes, as a perfect characterization of himself at the right age playing along a woman who is also the correct age for him. Paul Simon has a small part, perhaps because he is the only man Woody could find who is shorter than himself. Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, and Christopher Walken all have small roles. Jeff Goldblum has one that is even smaller (but he does have a short line of dialogue). I just looked for fun to see the other movies nominated for Best Picture that year, and Star Wars was one of them.

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Now that I have apologized and defended the movie I will say a little about plot and structure just in case there is someone out there who has not seen it and might be interested. Though it is hard to really lose a 93 minute bet.

Woody looks into the camera at the very beginning and is just randomly sort of talking and half-joking about things, in his stand-up comic persona. You as the audience are simply laughing and enjoying his riff, and then he says, “Annie and I broke up” and he gets a real pensive and thoughtful look on his face and you know right then that this movie is different from all of his previous ones. Watching it for maybe the 30th or so time I was struck how that one little sentence fragment made sense and is what the movie is all about, and why it is titled Annie Hall. I’m not sure I ever got it before.

Because then for the rest of the movie you sort of jump back and forth between comic interludes with Alvy Singer (the Woody character) and friends; Alvy with Annie; Alvy with previous wives and girlfriends; Alvy as a young boy (I love the red-headed kid he cast as himself!); Woody on the Dick Cavett show; Woody as a cartoon character. Then at the end for the final five minutes or so, probably less, there is a wonderful New York City shot with voice-over by Woody and his take on relationships. You get to that point and after the previous 90 minutes, it is just wonderful and sweet and you sort of want to cry over people, and who they are, and how they are not happy until they have found that right person. So they keep looking until they do.

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Alvy as a rabbi in Annie’s grandmother’s imagination.

 [My only other comment is that if you like this and want more, the second best Woody Allen movie to me is Hannah and Her Sisters. Which has a bravura Oscar winning performance by Michael Caine.]

—Stu Moore inexplicably moved from New Mexico to Mobile, Alabama thirteen years ago. He remains there surrounded by books, which concerns his wife.


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I'll have to see if they have this in the local library. Sleeper and Broadway Danny Rose are the only ones I've seen. They both have very funny moments, but neither left me wanting to hunt out more.

I hadn't seen AH since I saw it in a theater on its initial release. But a couple of months or so ago I had recorded it off the Sundance channel, so having read Stu's review I watched it last night. I think my reaction is more or less that same as it was in 1977: enjoyable, very funny in places, touching in others. But I don't like it nearly as much as Stu does. One reaction I think is more negative than it was back then: I found Annie herself kind of annoying.

There are a few lines and scenes that I remembered pretty clearly, and are just as good as I remembered: Alvy's terror in the car with Annie's brother and his general reaction to her family, "When I mellow, I ripen and rot", and several others.

And the Marshall McLuhan scene is classic!

"I cannot think of another comedy off the top of my head that won the big prize"

The one I remember is 'Shakespeare in Love,' mainly because everyone made a big deal at the time about a comedy winning best picture!

I haven't seen AH in ages, probably the early 80s. I should revisit it.

Very long time ago, but Frank Capra's comedy It Happened One Night got a best picture Oscar in 1934.

The only two scenes in Annie Hall that I can recall right now are the one with the spider and the one with the lobster. Played right into my phobias, but made me laugh.

It Happened One Night. Now there's a great movie.


I have not seen AH since it came out. I want to see it now I've read Stu's review. I'm a fan of Woody Allen for fairy the same reasons as Stu mentions.

I predict you would enjoy it. Now that I think about it, it's a little surprising that the humor mostly doesn't seem very dated, even though it's very much of its time. I guess that suggests that the times have not changed so very much. Not as much as they changed between, say, 1950 and 1970.

The lobster and spider and Marshall McLuhan scenes are all very funny. I remembered the lobster scene from the first time, but not the other two.

I've never seen It Happened One Night. Probably ought to.

There have been lots of comedies nominated, but they seldom win. Last year, for instance, Grand Budapest Hotel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was nominated.

I like the scene where Woody and Tony Roberts are walking towards the camera talking about New York City and people being prejudice, and you don't even see them for a while. I guess that might be the first time I had seen a director do that, let the scene unfold naturally. He is one of those old-fashioned really good film makers who doesn't feel the need to do anything quick and frenetic with the cameras. Eastwood is the same way. I enjoy that style of direction.

So many of the episodes still make me laugh out loud. The entire one with Shelley Duvall always cracks me up, though it is kind of raunchy. Alvy's parents arguing about the maid stealing money is classic Jewish humor.

Oh, and something else I noticed for the first time with this viewing is the doctor that Alvy's mother takes him to in the very beginning ... what he says becomes an oft-repeated Woody Allen mantra for many movies to come; to enjoy the time we have in life. That struck me when he said it.

My favourite scene is the one with Marshall McLuhan. Yes, I have often wished that like were like that!

You could probably find many people to agree that AH is Allen's best film, but there are quite a few candidates for second best. Stu, you voted for Hannah and her Sisters. My own vote would go to Match Point, which I really liked, but it's in tough against Manhattan and Midnight in Paris.

Life, not like.

I've never seen It Happened One Night. Probably ought to.

Oh, Maclin.


Those area all good ones, Craig! I need to re-watch Match Point. I love when the main character is shown reading Crime & Punishment. :)

Crimes and Misdemeanors also deserves a mention as one in the top tier of Allen's films.

I did enjoy Midnight in Paris quite a bit, but it is more for laughs and not as serious as others mentioned. My favorite part of it was the beginning when Allen shows all of the scenes in Paris ... before there are any characters or story.

I saw AH and Manhatten when they came out and I think AH has disappeared into Manhatten in my mind. I look forward to seeing it again

Others I've seen:

Manhattan: Liked it a lot first time, saw it 20-30 years later and was sort of repulsed by the Allen character's liason with a too-young girl--17 iirc.

Hannah and Her Sisters: Liked it at the time but now recall almost nothing at all about it.

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Was unenthused, can't remember exactly why.

Shadows and Fog: Did not like, thought it was overly-artsy, whether homage or parody wasn't clear.

Sleeper: recently re-watched this and thought it was amusing but not as funny as I remembered.

Love and Death: ditto.

What's Up Tiger Lily?: Watched this with a couple of my children 20 or so years ago and thought some bits were extremely funny.

Nobody has mentioned Bergman yet, who is a big influence on W Allen. Several of his non-comedies that I have probably paid little attention to other than one cursory watch are supposedly a direct influence - September and Another Woman come to mind.

Broadway Danny Rose is my favorite of all his films. It's quite unlike his others in that it’s got a love of humanity shining through in the Danny character. The scene with the frozen Thanksgiving dinners is one of the most touching I've ever seen.

I really liked Woody Allen when I was younger. For one thing, my husband looked enough like WA that people commented on it all the time. He doesn't look at all like him now.

Anyway, I thought the movies were really funny. I don't think I thought much about any serious side to them. I know we saw Annie Hall in the theater, at that time we had been married for 6 years and had 2 children, so a lot more grown up than you were when you first saw it Stu.

At some point, though, I think it was during Hannah and Her Sisters, I realized that every character in the movie was really Woody Allen and that every character in everyone of his movies was really Woody Allen--or most of them, and I just couldn't listen to it anymore.

However, I liked Midnight in Paris, except I think he really missed with Zelda, and I really like Magic in the Moonlight.

It's funny, the one thing my husband remembers from Annie Hall is the Marshall McLuhan scene.

I think your references to the kind of thing we might like here are funny, Stu.


I think the older one that I liked best is Purple Rose of Cairo, at least it's the only one I remember much about except Sleeper. I KNOW I saw Bananas and I could not tell you one thing about it.


Annie Hall is my favorite Woody Allen movie. After that I would rank Sleeper, Take the Money and Run, and Play It Again, Sam (ok - he didn't direct it, but he wrote and starred in it, so it's a Woody Allen movie in my book). The last of his movies I saw was Hannah and Her Sisters - I liked the scenes with him, but the rest didn't really do that much for me (of course, that was when it came out, and I was 17, so I should probably watch it again). I lost interest when he started to get more serious.

I just watched Annie Hall on amazon. I laughed all the way through. It's hilarious! Woody Allen is so inventive. He invented the mockumentary years before 'This was Spinal Tap'. Thanks so much Stu, I had forgotten how good this film is. It had merged in my mind with Manhatten and Play it Again Sam.

Glad you enjoyed it, Grumpy! Yes Janet, I know. I am here to amuse. It's just that Mac puts these dire warnings when something has violence, and I'll have read or seen it and I think "there was violence?"

Purple Rose of Cairo is a really great movie and also ground-breaking in what it did. At the time I was just amazed with the whole coming out of the movie into the real world idea.

Another vote for Purple Rose of Cairo, which I saw just a few months ago. Very entertaining.

I've never heard of some of the films people are recommending: Take the Money and Run? Sleeper? I'm making notes.

Janet, I've been wanting to see Magic in the Moonlight. I'm happy to hear you say it is good.

Has anyone seen the most recent one? I think it was called Irrational Man.

I have a funny story about Irrational Man. I showed up at the theater to see it and bought my ticket. My wife generally abstains from comedies and it goes without saying that the kids were not interested, so I was alone. The teen-ager selling me the ticket asked, "Why are you going to see this movie?" I looked at her kind of funny, she wasn't sounding like it was a smart remark. She then told me that they had sold 4 tickets so far that weekend for the movie. Not sure if I was four, or five, suppose I should have clarified. I was the only one in the theater and was sitting there thinking that if a shooter comes in I will be the only target. It was mildly enjoyable, nothing great.

Magic in the Moonlight I enjoyed a lot more, and I'm not exactly sure why, because there wasn't much to it either. Probably just that Colin Firth is so fun and charismatic to watch. He was way too old for the Emma Stone character, but that is par for the course in Woody Allen movies...

"Look, there's 'God' coming out of the men's room!"

Being the only guy in a theatre when a shooter comes in is a very Woody Allen thing.

Craig, like Stu, I don't know why I like the move so much. I just found it enjoyable.


Broadway Danny Rose is my favorite of all his films. It's quite unlike his others in that it's got a love of humanity shining through in the Danny character.

Yeah, a "loser" theatrical agent who puts himself out 200% for those he represents--and often gets kicked in the teeth for his troubles. I never would have guessed Mia Farrow could play a hard-boiled, ex-wife of a mafia "juice man," but she did a very good, comical job of it.

I often feel a lesser-known film from a director is his best. BDR is a good example of this. To me, BDR is also one of Allen's funniest movies.

... every character in everyone of his movies was really Woody Allen--or most of them...

It seems to me there's almost always one "Woody Allen" character in his movies (can't think of any in Cassandra's Dreams or Match Point, for example). I'll have to look closer at the other characters for similarities. It seemed to me that Owen Wilson did a pretty good immitation of "Woody Allen" in Midnight in Paris, down to Allen-like stammering and other verbal tics.

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Was unenthused, can't remember exactly why.

Maybe you didn't appreciate the serious dose of nihilism in the story.

Quite possible. I do recall feeling a sort of distaste but I can't remember anything specific.

"Mac puts these dire warnings when something has violence"

Heh. I think maybe I still operate in parental mode, or maybe now it's grandparental mode. I'm a good bit less sensitive to violence in movies now than I used to be, which is not necessarily a good thing. I remember being pretty disturbed by The Godfather when I saw it on its initial release.

"Being the only guy in a theatre when a shooter comes in is a very Woody Allen thing."


I forgot to mention this when I first posted Stu's review. When he first sent it to me and I read this:

"I enjoy humanism in the arts because I feel like these are the artists who are trying to figure out what makes people tick – whether it is literature, or art, or music, or movies, they always seem to me to have a very deep feeling for human nature. Perhaps the lack of real religion in their lives makes them more desperate to find their own answers."

I thought "There's something we should really take note of in the comments." Then I forgot about it. But I remembered it today. I think it's really an important and significant point. Janet made a very similar one in an email to me some time ago. I forget what work of art had prompted it, but she noted pretty much the same thing, and speculated further that maybe one reason why Christian artists are sometimes less effective than secular ones at expressing some of these things is that, having an answer, we are too eager to make sure it's formulated and emphasized correctly, and are liable to restrain the imagination. Or something to that effect.

I distinctly remember writing that email in the condo where we stayed when the tree fell on the house, and that means it was two and a half years ago. The scary thing is that it doesn't seem very long ago.

That's pretty much what I said only more eloquent.


Is that so long ago already? I suppose it must be ten years ago I had the pleasure of enjoying your hospitality. It doesn't seem so long.

Where the heck were we talking about The Fairie Queen?


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