Forty-plus films over the span of fourty-plus years. That’s the pace with which the career of iconic funny man, jazz enthusiast, writer, stand-up comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen has set. And one would imagine that throughout this long and prolific career, the canon would be filled with far more failures than successes. However, while there are a few clunkers here his classics are not only brilliant, but they may be some of the best films ever put to celluloid.
Annie Hall is exactly that type of film.
Arguably Allen’s most notable and beloved piece of work, Hall stars Allen and one of his many muses, Diane Keaton, and follows the story of nebbish Alvy Singer, a neurotic comic trying his damndest to work on his relationship with the beautiful Annie. Set primarily in New York while also finding our leads stuck in Wisconsin and LA, the film uses a cavalcade of flashbacks, cuts and visual gags to tell this story of love, existential angst and just why we exist on this planet.
Recently released on Blu-ray, the film is going on its 35th year of existence, and has, over that three and a half decade span, proven to be Allen’s most beloved feature. As a filmmaker, it’s rare to see Allen work at this high a clip. Using various visual cues, be it the existence within the frame of a public figure mentioned within the dialogue or the viewer finding that the current iteration of the character is actually living within the shown flashback, Allen gives an extremely fast pace to this otherwise mundane and standard romantic comedy. Woody’s frame has never look so lush, this film being Allen’s strongest visual work, second only to a film like the stunningly black and white Manhattan. The camera tracks conversations ever so beautifully, ‘fighting to keep the characters in frame,’ as Allen once described his shooting style when talking about Interiors. Very few filmmakers give such a depth to a given frame, Allen being one of them. Giving the film a bit of a play feel, each frame in Annie Hall is used to its fullest extent, making this one hell of a true ‘3-D’ film.
Shot by Gordon Willis (one of many films the pair worked together on), the film lacks the visceral widescreen black and white that Manhattan, shot two years later, had, but makes up for it with some evocative costume design, and a naturalistic feel that is often a staple of Allen’s work, but not that of Willis truly. The Prince Of Darkness is hard at work here, but allows the film’s natural light to really seep in. There are some all-time great sequences, particularly the widescreen sunrise sequence between Singer and Annie, that will forever be burned into the mind of whoever lays their eyes upon the film.
Performance wise, the film is one of, if not Allen’s very best. Keaton has rarely been better, playing the slightly ditzy by ungodly appealing Annie, a young country woman in the big city for really the first time. She is absolutely magnetic here, and she offers not only some great comedic beats, but she plays perfect opposing Allen in the film’s more emotional moments. Allen, who at least in interviews is very unlike his characters, seems perfectly fit for this role, offering some really great insights into the man-woman relationship, and his own relationship with romance. His films have always seemed intensely personal while holding the viewer at a distance with its humor, and here, while subversive, there is very much a Bergman-esque sense of comedy, particularly when looking at the Swedish icon’s underrated comedic gems, such as All These Women, itself an ode to 8 ½. The supporting cast here is equally great though. With supporting turns from the likes of Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Sigourney Weaver and cameos from likes of Truman Capote (one needs to keep his eye peeled for this one as it’s uncredited) and Marshall McLuhan (in possibly one of the funniest sequences in any of Allen’s features), you have a cast that top to bottom is one of the best Allen has ever assembled.
That said, this film’s Blu-ray is an odd one. Aesthetically, the film has rarely looked better. The beautiful soundtrack is aurally pitch perfect, and visually, the transfer is top notch. However, the supplements here are sadly lacking. Only including a trailer, the release could have really done itself a favor by grabbing up a few extra supplements, be it the discussion of the film from the recently released Allen documentary Woody Allen: A Documentary, or a making of documentary here and there. A commentary would have also really added to the film’s re-watchability. However, as we have it, at a relatively low price point, this thing is an absolute steal.
While I prefer an Allen drama, something as my personal favorite Hannah And Her Sisters, Annie Hall is not only one of Allen’s best films, but it may very well be one of the greatest comedies ever put to celluloid. Featuring brilliant performances and some of his strongest direction to date, this is a must own Blu-ray for Allen hounds or, frankly, anyone for that matter.