The Set of 400: #87 – My Favorite Planetarium Date

Today! Because not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people –

Manhattan (1979)

Directed by Woody Allen (x11)

Starring Woody Allen (x8), Diane Keaton (x3), Michael Murphy (x6), Mariel Hemingway (x2), Meryl Streep (x2), Anne Byrne, Michael O’Donoghue, Wallace Shawn (x6), Karen Allen (x3), David Rasche (x3), Mark Linn-Baker (x2), Frances Conroy, Charles Levin, Karen Ludwig

Well, here we are again, folks. The 11th – eleventh! – Woody Allen movie on the list. When I was first putting this thing together, compiling a long list to select from, I didn’t really pay attention to things like how many movies from so-and-so made it, how many movies from what year, etc. That shouldn’t matter when just straight evaluating what your favorites are – but the fact that this is the second-to-last Allen film here at #87 leads me to believe that I probably packed too many of his films in the far reaches of this list. Not only is he far and away the most frequent director as of today, he also is now tied for the most frequent actor, hitting number eight today. And, while I firmly believe this is one of his two or three best movies, it’s also the creepiest, by way of foreshadowing his real life.

This isn’t something that is overly prevalent in Woody’s films as time went on. Sure, there are a lot of films where older men are romantically involved with far younger women, but come on, this is Hollywood! It’s hardly an exclusive problem to this filmmaker. But considering the first round of scandalous issues Woody ran into, this movie stands out as the stark example of his perhaps icky predilections. Mariel Hemingway is, like, really young in this movie – her character is still in high school and all of seventeen, as they are quick to repeat throughout. And it all works for the movie – this isn’t just an indictment of this version of Woody’s writer character – but in retrospect, well, it’s a little glaring.

Sure, she’s seventeen, but she looks fucking twelve

Manhattan is still a great movie, no matter how it can be viewed through the lens of history. It also marks the definitive end to the first and/or beginning of the second period of Woody’s career – it being the end of the decade, the zaniness of his early films behind him (the last gasps of which are evident two years earlier in Annie Hall), and his last movie from this stretch with Diane Keaton. They would reunite in the early ’90s for one film – the pretty decent Manhattan Murder Mystery – but the Mia Farrow years begin pretty quickly after this. It’s a rare modern setting filmed in black & white – and the second such movie from Woody on this list, after Broadway Danny Rose, also set present day. And it’s gorgeous – featuring one of my absolute favorite opening sequences ever – the New York City montage underscored by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Woody’s “Chapter One” narration of his character Isaac’s in-development book.

Again, I’ve tried to avoid putting videos into this countdown, but I do love this scene:

So if you’re having a hard time stomaching Woody’s films in later years, and are forcing yourself to be super selective when it comes to his catalog, keep Manhattan in the rotation, despite some of the kinda gross things it brushes up against. It might be tough to separate, but again, it’s one of the best looking movies ever made, and an absolute gem of a screenplay. This was the third year in a row Woody picked up a writing Oscar nomination, following Annie Hall and Interiors, and was the least nominated film from this three year stretch – Annie of course winning four of its five nominations including Best Picture, Interiors picking up five nods as well including directing. It was included in the AFI’s Comedy (#46) and Romance (#66) lists, and entered the National Film Registry in 2001.

For film MVP – even with Woody and Diane doing great business, and Mariel Hemingway’s Oscar nominated turn – I’m going with one of my personal all-time favorites, and new Six-Timer Wallace Shawn! Best known for #237 Princess Bride, and the voice of the T-Rex in the Toy Story (#137, #240, #152movies, and his great guest shots as Stuart Best on Murphy Brown, Shawn has also appeared on the list as Bob’s boss in #97 The Incredibles. MVP!

Gives Woody a run for his money in the ’70s balding hairdo department too!

And yes, Woody joins John Candy, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Jackson, and Michael Keaton in the Eight-Timers club, but I don’t think he’s got enough left to run away with the acting crown. Directing is gonna be closer. Deserving of the Spotlight today though is Shawn’s fellow new Six-Timer, the great Michael Murphy (#396 MASH, #125 Brewster McCloud, #217 Magnolia, #270 The Front, #205 Batman Returns)!

I only recently saw the crazy fun horror-ish movie Shocker, and Murphy is terrific

Coming tomorrow! Instead of a big dark blur, I see a big light blur –

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