The film that bested Star Wars for the 1977 Best Picture Oscar, Annie Hall is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking that transcends its simple, romantic premise to create a stunning portrait of not only 70's pop culture, but of human nature cumulative. Directed and co-written by Woody Allen, who has since directed other gems such as Hannah and Her Sisters and The Purple Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall also stars Allen as Alvy Singer, a neurotic, death-obsessed comedian who seems unlucky in love and life. That is until he meets Annie, brilliantly played by Diane Keaton, who is beautiful, fashion-savvy, carefree (she likes using expressions like `la di da'), and a terrible driver.
Annie and Alvy's relationship is an unlikely one. She's a Midwestern girl, straight out of white-bread Wisconsin; he's a life-long New York Jew who grew up (literally) under the Coney Island roller coaster. He's been seeing a therapist for the past 16 years; she only `needs' one once she meets him. She's an extroverted aspiring singer; he's an introverted, world-despising imp. Yet Allen and Keaton are so perfect in their roles, they improbably make this couple one of the most memorable ever.
The plot revolves around Alvy's chronicles of loves lost and a retrospective on his relationship with Annie, with whom he has since parted ways. At the end of the film, we see Alvy try his hand at stage-writing-he writes a play about his relationship with Annie, but gives it a happy ending. Yes, Annie and Alvy don't have a fairy tale ending to their relationship, but Alvy certainly wishes they had, even though he learns to live with the acknowledgment it has failed.
The best part of Annie Hall is its incredible screenplay-the best ever to be written. Not a word is wasted nor a line unquotable. Except here, while Allen's early films had thrived on streams of one-liners, Allen doesn't go for cheap laughs-each line is simultaneously hilarious and poignant. Everything is part of a greater whole. We laugh because it's funny, but there's a greater dynamic at work in Annie Hall. This is a story not exclusively about a relationship between two people, but also a musing on 70's politics, drugs, East Coast/West Coast rivalry, narcissism, religion, celebrity, and several other topics with which Allen deals with extraordinary ease.
Yet Annie Hall would not be among my favorite films of all-time if it were just Woody Allen ranting and raving about what he likes and dislikes. There are other Allen films that serve that purpose, i.e. Deconstructing Harry, and they're not nearly as good. What separates Annie Hall is its grace, the believable chemistry between Keaton and Allen, the unique direction (ranging from split-screens to cartoon imagery to on-screen subtitles of what the actors are thinking), but mostly because it's the rare film to find a perfect balance between sheer entertainment, humor, and poignancy.
When the dust had settled, Diane Keaton deservedly won an Academy Award for her performance, Allen took home Oscars for direction and writing, and the film beat out Star Wars for Best Picture, which most people consider a complete sham. Evidently, those people didn't see Annie Hall, for if they had, they'd recognize that the acting, writing, and even the direction in Star Wars can't hold a candle to Annie Hall, one of the best films ever made.