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Annie Hall

Next up in our tour through Oscar winners we have the Best Picture of 1977, Annie Hall, also known as "not Star Wars." Woody Allen wrote, directed, and stars in this movie. He plays Alvy, a neurotic Jewish New Yorker (I know, I know, what a stretch for him) who manages to wind up in a relationship with someone more screwed up than him.

They walk through New York, doing New Yorker type things, and having conversations about their therapist and their sex life, laced with references to Kafka, Capote, and Freud. I know, in a Woody Allen movie. How weird.

There is some good physical comedy, like Alvy trying to kill a spider with a tennis racket and sneezing away enough cocaine for George W. Bushís weekend with his frat buddies. However in Woody Allen tradition, most of the comedy is through great one-liners. When his wife tells him that party guests include a chair of Philosophy and a chair of history, Alvy quips that two more and theyíll have a dinner set. When Annie botches parking the car, he quips that itís close enough to walk to the curb. Thatís the other recurring theme in Woody Allen movies. The one-liners come with a hint on condescension. Alvy looks down on pretty much everyone here, from Ivy League professors, to the television industry in Los Angeles, to the guy behind him in line at the movies, to the rest of the country for failing to bail out a poorly run New York in the 70ís.

Speaking of the scene in line at the movie theater, there is an excellent conceit here that we see through out the movie. The man behind Alvy in line mentions an obscure Canadian scholar named Marshall McLuhan and then Alvy argues with him about McLuhan for a few moments before pulling McLuhan himself out from behind a sign and having McLuhan shoot down the manís theories. This works on a couple of different levels. First of all, Alvy is not only being condescending to the guy behind him in line for being wrong about McLuhan, but we also have Allen being condescending to you because, letís face it, you have no clue who McLuhan even is. But this is also a scene in which Alvy breaks the fourth wall, which happens quite a bit. He is also able to hold conversations as the grown up Alvy with people in the flashbacks of his youth. The classroom flashback scene ends with a good joke when Alvy wonders what all his classmates are up to now, and the little kids one by one tell the camera where their lives have taken them, culminating in one student who is a meth-head. One top of all of that, in a scene that takes place early in Alvy and Annieís relationship the two have a conversation essentially about artistry involved in photography, but through subtitles we see what each character is thinking. Alvy thinks Annie is hot. Annie hopes Alvy doesnít think sheís stupid.

There are wonderful performances by almost everyone here. Allen of course is just playing the same character he always plays, but we have Paul Simon as a sleazy record producer, Tony Roberts as Alvyís far more rational best friend, Shelley Duvall as a one night stand whoís into eastern religions, and Christopher Walken as Annieís unhinged brother. This movie may not be Walkenís acting debut, but it is the debut of the Christopher Walken role, Walken playing a guy who is just a little crazy and possibly hazardous. With Walken playing the role he has made famous several times since then, and Allen playing his neurotic role, the potential is there for comedic gold. However they only share the screen for a couple minutes, and Allen can come up with no better punch line than "Iím needed back on Planet Earth."

There were a handful of decent movies in 1977, including The Goodbye Girl with Richard Dreyfuss, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Richard Dreyfuss, who was having a pretty good year. Annie Hall is better than most of them, but itís not better than Star Wars. Think about it for a minute. Before Empire Strikes Back when we found out Vader was Lukeís dad, before Return of the Jedi when Vader kills the Emperor to save Luke, before Attack of the Clones when Anakin was just a whiny teenager, and way before Revenge of the Sith when Vader screams "no!" after finding out Padme has died, back during the first movie Darth Vader was the biggest badass in movie history. When he was crushing the necks of his own underlings one after another there had never been a more frightening villain. If he had walked into the theater at that point everyone would have hidden under their seats. At one point James Earl Jones even used the name Darth Vader as his CB Radio handle and no one would talk to him because they were so scared. Add to that the witty banter, the underdog story line, and special effects that were pretty good for the time, and you have one great movie. It even appeals on the more cerebral level as a study of mythical archetypes. So the Academy could choose between mythical archetypes and Woody Allenís third best movie (behind Mighty Aphrodite and its Greek chorus and Whatís Up, Tiger Lily and its egg salad recipe). The Academy voted "not Star Wars." Iím happy that they finally gave a statue to a comedy (that makes, what, three) but Star Wars is a once in a lifetime type movie, and deserved to win.


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