The Set of 400: #10 – My Favorite Waste of Cocaine

Today! Because Max is a good name for you, Max –

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen (x12)

Starring: Woody Allen (x9), Diane Keaton (x6), Tony Roberts (x3), Paul Simon, Carol Kane (x5), Shelley Duvall (x4), Christopher Walken (x3), Colleen Dewhurst, Janet Margolin (x2), Marshall McLuhan, John Glover (x5), Truman Capote (x2), Jeff Goldblum (x6), Johnny Haymer, Beverly D’Angelo (x2), Tracey Walter (x4), Sigourney Weaver (x8), Hy Anzell

The twelfth and final Woody Allen film on this list, Annie Hall has experienced the most precipitous fall of any movie on this continually updated countdown in recent years. Sure, it is still clinging to a spot in the top ten, almost out of sheer memory for how much and how long I’ve enjoyed it, but as I’ve mentioned many times on this list, my relationship with Woody has changed dramatically in recent years, and this beloved classic is taking the biggest hits.

You may wonder how that can be, considering it’s still in 10th – well, for the longest time, this was a top four movie of mine, maybe three on occasion. If the wife and I could be said to “have a movie” – like normal couples have songs or, I don’t know, pizza toppings – our movie for over a decade was definitely Annie Hall. It was something we could both agree on, and became a sort of de facto Valentine’s Day thing to watch. This extended to a lesser degree to other Allen films of the era – Manhattan most notably – and being that I was already a big fan of the director, I could bring up his movies as something to watch without worry. We were working on watching them all at one point, working backwards from the present, when this new round of allegations really took hold and the wife checked out for good.

Our standard pizza toppings are half pepperoni/half green peppers, incidentally

So while I’ve tried to treat this list honestly, and keep my enjoyment of the movies themselves separate from other swirling factors, the manner in which Annie Hall has fallen out the regular rotation of movies we watch directly impacts where it sits on this evaluation. I can’t tell you for sure the last time I saw this movie – again, it’s clinging on almost strictly from nostalgia at this point. Plus the fact that it is undoubtedly Woody’s masterpiece, and so a list featuring a dozen of his movies was bound to still place his lone Best Picture winner fairly high.

The movie itself? Still holding up. Do you really need me to verify this? If you don’t like other Woody Allen movies – or can no longer tolerate watching them – then no, you’re not going to enjoy it. Annie Hall is the most Woody Allen a movie can be. It is the only film that lands squarely between his earlier, zanier movies and his later, more accomplished cinematic efforts. I’m not sure what is even the next best example. After Annie, he immediately was making Interiors (100% Bergman-esque drama) and Manhattan (more dramatic, plus B&W). Immediately before ’77 was Love and Death (zany!) and Sleeper (super time travel zany!). And while he’d have movies wander into goofy territory in the future, this Annie Hall (plus Interiors) transition would forever impact the depth his films would aspire to – even all out comedies like, say, Hollywood Ending or Deconstructing Harry.

Woody’s hysterical blindness in Hollywood Ending is a pretty great bit

This isn’t a bad thing – Woody’s ’80s movies are an arguably better collection of films than his ’70s group – it just shows he managed to grow as a filmmaker, which is something pure comedy directors have a hard time with, in general. Adam McKay has transformed his game nicely in recent years – even if The Big Short and Vice still lean a little into wild comedic interludes – and Peter Farrelly just directed a Best Picture winner of his own, even if Green Book isn’t the greatest movie ever made. And I’m not saying all comedy directors need to transition into making dramas or more high-brow comedies – did you ever yearn for a somber, heartfelt Mel Brooks effort? – I just find it impressive when this evolution takes place.

Before I elaborately wrap up Woody’s time on this list, I want to hand out a quick film MVP – there are a ton of candidates, from fun cameos by Marshall McLuhan in the movie theater line to Truman Capote himself winning the people-watching Best Truman Capote Lookalike contest to Shelley Duvall’s repeated use of the word transplendent to Jeff Goldblum forgetting his mantra. But I’m going with the very brief role of one Hy Anzell, playing the wacky family flashback friend Joey Nichols.

“You can always remember my name. Just think of Joey Five Cents!” “What an asshole.”

Oh, or maybe this kid. Probably this kid:

Also, and this can’t be stated more emphatically – this is Diane Keaton’s movie. It’s her best Woody Allen film, best film performance, best everything – she makes this movie work. As great as Woody is in this slightly enhanced variation on the Woody film persona, without Keaton the movie wouldn’t have been any more exceptional than a half dozen of his later films. It doesn’t hurt that the part was written for her (like most of her Allen films of the time) and the character is named after her (Keaton’s real name being Diane Hall).

This movie is also famously a gigantic triumph of editing, as the original cut ran nearly an hour longer and focused more widely on Alvy Singer’s relationships, instead of having the plot revolve around Annie. The film was originally titled Anhedonia  – an inability to enjoy things or feel pleasure –  placing the focus solely on Alvy.

Named the 4th funniest movie ever made by the AFI, Annie Hall was the rare comedy Best Picture Oscar winner in 1977, also taking home Director, Actress for Keaton, and Screenplay. It won the same set of awards from the BAFTAs, plus Best Editing, while it weirdly and amazingly was defeated for all but Actress at the Golden Globes in the Comedy/Musical categories, by Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl (Keaton was tied for the Actress award by Goodbye Girl’s Marsha Mason, too).

So the final rank of Allen films on this list is: #10 Annie Hall, #87 Manhattan, #99 Zelig, #101 Midnight in Paris, #107 Love and Death, #144 Bullets Over Broadway, #168 Sleeper, #180 Hannah and Her Sisters, #203 Purple Rose of Cairo, #304 Take the Money and Run, #320 Match Point, and #349 Broadway Danny Rose. Bananas was the only other movie strongly in contention, as it still sits out there at #404 (in case I decided to expand this list upward), but beyond that – while I like some of his later movies – nothing else came particularly close.

I don’t think any of his movies would make a Least Favorite list (which I’m reserving the right to actually put together, if I ever need a way to jump start writing again down the road), but the Allen films that I really don’t care for are mostly 21st century efforts – Irrational Man is terrible, just below Melinda and Melinda, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works, and Cafe Society. The ’90s had some lousy entries too – Shadows and Fog was my go-to awful Allen film until the past few years, and Celebrity isn’t a whole lot better. Hey, when you’ve made 50 movies, some are bound to stink! I just wanted to give a quick shout out to the garbage!

Look, I love Emma Stone, but seriously, Irrational Man just sucks so hard

This is the ninth film Allen appears in on the list – only the sixth member of that club – while Sigourney Weaver’s brief, wordless role at the end manages to tie her for the actress lead, joining Madeline Kahn and Carrie Fisher in the Eight-Timers!

Coming tomorrow! I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know his name –

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