Instant Classic

Paramount Theatre's Summer 2000 Series

Instant Classic

ANNIE HALL (1977)

D: Woody Allen; with Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Christopher Walken. (R, 94 min.)

MANHATTAN (1979)

D: Woody Allen; with Allen, Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, Marshall Brickman, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne. (R, 96 min.)

Choosing your favorite Woody Allen film is like picking your favorite Beatle -- it says something about a person. Of course, the guy has made over 30 films, so fans tend to glom onto motifs -- think of them like Paul, Ringo, and George. There are the "cute" Allen films (Bananas, Sleeper), the ones too bashful to toot their own horn (Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose), and the mysterious, often misunderstood work (Shadows and Fog, Interiors). There's also, most visibly, Annie Hall and Manhattan -- Allen's most roundly acclaimed pair of films, the ones critics settle on when compiling their top 100 movies list. For me, they not only represent Allen's greatest work, but also two of my all-time favorite movies: the perfect balance of the filmmaker's humor, artfulness, and insight. Annie Hall is the thinly veiled account of Allen's own faded love affair with Diane Keaton -- although it wasn't intended to be. Instead, he envisioned a caper about a couple investigating a murder (an idea which popped up decades later when the pair reunited for Manhattan Murder Mystery). Allen called it Anhedonia, the term for an inability to experience pleasure, but he soon realized the romantic subplot was the film's true heart. So, using bits from his stand-up comedy act as connecting devices, he created a loving, thoroughly absorbing tale about the way people fall in and out of love, one of the first things in the VCR when a soured relationship has sent me, all puffy-eyed, to bury myself under blankets and used Kleenexes on the couch. Manhattan is a love story, too -- but a valentine to New York City, whose glorious cityscapes cinematographer Gordon Willis captures in black and white, backed by the swelling strings of George Gershwin. The story itself is about a recently divorced writer named Isaac (Allen), trying to balance his relationships with a successful, cynical woman (Keaton) and a youthful beauty full of promise (Hemingway). These days, the film is also eerie in the way it foreshadows Allen's Soon-Yi/Mia Farrow debacle of the mid-Nineties. "She's 17," Isaac bemoans. "I'm 42 and she's 17. I'm older than her father, can you believe that?" But Manhattan is also a cutting portrait of the New York literati; the sad tale of a narcissist who thinks the grass is always greener; and it is, with every shot, a gorgeous motion picture. I know the brilliance of Love and Death; I agree that Zelig is out-and-out hilarious. But I can't resist these films -- crafted with romance, biting wit, and laced with hope. Conventional, perhaps. But then again, John's my favorite Beatle, too. (6/18-19)

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