Thirty years ago, Woody Allen wrote, directed, and starred in Annie Hall, the 1977 masterpiece that rewrote the rules for romantic comedy, made Diane Keaton a superstar, and earned the one and only Best Picture Oscar for an Allen film. This week, Annie Hall returns with a weeklong run at Northwest Film Forum. If you've never seen it, you must. If you watch it at least twice a year, here's your chance to see it on the big screen.
DAVID SCHMADER: Watching Annie Hall again, I was most struck by how totally sex-obsessed it is. But it's adult sex, people with analysts and intimacy issues and orgasm trouble. It's easily the most adult sex comedy ever made—which is ironic, considering the childishness of Allen's later carnal life. Alvy [Allen's character] is a horny little devil, but he's only interested in grown-ups. And they're really interesting grown-ups—the movie is packed with real, funky-looking, adult women. It's one of the movie's best traits.
JEN GRAVES: I've never been turned on by a Woody Allen film, ever. There's nothing sexy about them. I don't think he writes about sex. What happens in bed is always a result of what's going on in the relationship, always psychological, never the other way around. When it comes to sex, he's a Platonist.
DS: He's also a middlebrow prig. When the nice old man on the street reveals that his marriage secret is "a large, vibrating egg," Woody/Alvy calls him "a psychopath." But Woody-the-actor always makes fun of people who are only saying what Woody-the-screenwriter told them to say. It's one of his funniest tricks.
JG: He often sets characters against each other in ways that make it really obvious he's writing both parts. He's no realist. One of the most satisfying moments of film revenge in history is also bloodless—when Marshall McLuhan shuts up the guy behind Alvy in line at the movies. "You know nothing of my work," McLuhan tells the guy, some fancy Columbia professor. "How you got to teach a class in anything is beyond me." Woody revels in playing puppet master.
DS: But he doesn't abuse his power. When he made Annie Hall, Woody was confident enough to let a woman not be attracted to his character—Annie's sexual problems, her lack of desire for Alvy, especially when she isn't high, feature hugely into the movie. Again, ironic, as after the commencement of the '90s-and-beyond Creepy Years, Woody reveled in filming scenes of him magically pleasing gorgeous younger women who would never, ever be attracted to him. The nadir: Julia Roberts sighing in a French bed after a Woody-bestowed orgasm in Everyone Says I Love You. But in Annie Hall, he let himself be vulnerable, and shows himself doing so many odd and ugly things.
JG: At first, I felt like there was not enough slapstick in this movie compared to something like Love and Death, but then you think about the scene with the spider the size of a Buick, and the lobsters...
DS: And the cocaine sneeze explosion, and the California car crash.
JG: That is a paroxysm of crashing! It is the best use of a car in film history.
DS: Speaking of eternal moments, the scene in Annie's apartment when Annie tells Alvy about the man with narcolepsy who goes to pick up his turkey and dies is the funniest thing in the history of the world.
JG: Actually, the monologue Christopher Walken delivers as Annie's disturbed brother is the funniest thing in the world.
DS: "My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks."
JG: "I used to be a heroin addict, now I'm a methadone addict."
DS: You win.
JG: It's like a Shakespeare play. Parts of it entered into the cultural lexicon as idioms or clichés that have been feeding romantic comedies ever since. Now, every even remotely self-conscious romantic comedy features a scene of first-daters "getting the kiss over with" in order to avoid the awkward moment...
DS: Or a scene about dividing up the books after a breakup.
JG: Or characters' inner thoughts exposed via subtitles.
DS: Or, or, or. No imitators come close. Did Woody ever make such a rich and clear statement again? Best romantic comedy ever.