Annie Hall (1977)

(On TV, December 2016) I’m hardly the first reviewer to comment on how much more difficult it is to approach great movies than lousy ones. I often find myself immediately watching terrible movies as soon as they show up on Netflix or my DVR, while waiting months to get to the acclaimed ones. Part of it is apprehension, another other is responsibility and a third is probably a fear of running out of greatness. Great movies demand more and give more; they ask for engagement and attention and give us something that we couldn’t get otherwise. Great movies, for reviewers, demand to be approached with a great deal of respect—we want to be able to say something deserving of their greatness, and to bring something valuable to the conversation surrounding them, as impossible at it may seem today at a time when everyone’s a reviewer. Finally, I can’t help but feel that by watching an acclaimed film, I am removing it from my shelf of “potentially great” films that I still have to see. I open the box and unwrap the present. I resolve the quantum state of uncertainty about its potential greatness. The shelf of things that could blow my mind has one less item on it, and that makes me a bit sadder in some way. (Never mind that the shelf will always be too small to contain all the things that could blow my mind—even in this metaphor, it’s the principle that counts.) All of this to say that Annie Hall is a great film. It is, even forty years later, hilarious, wry, true and witty. It plays with the conventions of movies in ways that have been occasionally imitated but seldom equalled. It’s so good that a good dozen of its jokes feel familiar because they have crossed over in pop culture. (Although I suspect that I was exposed to most of them thanks to a work mentor who obviously loved the film.) One can say a lot of things about Woody Allen as a person (starting and ending with “Eeew!”), but his Annie Hall persona in is a pure distillation of his comic essence. The scattershot nature of the film diminishes it a bit (it often feels as a dramatized stand-up routine) and I won’t argue that it’s perfect—but it’s really, really good. Well worth watching even now, if only for Allen at the top of his game both as a filmmaker and a comedian, and for Diane Keaton’s charm.

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