After a series of successful comedies that combined spoof, farce, and satire, Woody Allen took everyone by surprise with Annie Hall (1977), his first genuinely personal film and his most sophisticated to date.
It draws from the same sources of humor as his earlier comedies, with interludes of memories seen through the lens of a comedian’s exaggerated perspective, wish fulfillment fantasy, and even an animated sequence, but ties them all into the perspective of Alvy Singer, a New York comic not unlike Allen himself (intellectual, neurotic, socially clumsy) and the story of a love affair.
Diane Keaton, Allen’s real-life paramour, is Annie Hall, a free-spirited singer who is equally anxious and endearingly kooky in her own right, and the film explores their relationship from first meeting to (inevitable?) break-up. Allen tosses out the usual romantic comedy conventions for his own brand of humor, but under the gags and self-effacing jokes is the portrait of two people who fall in love and then, as they grow and follow their careers and their desires, fall out of love.
Allen wrote a role for longtime collaborator Tony Roberts as Alvy’s best friend, an actor who makes it big in L.A. as a TV actor, and it costars Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Janet Margolin, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Walken in a small but utterly unforgettable role as Annie’s brother.
This is the film that announced to the world that Allen was a filmmaker with greater ambitions than spoofing foreign movies, Russian literature, and Jewish neurosis. It won four Academy Awards in 1977, including best picture, director and original screenplay (cowritten by Marshall Brickman), and five BAFTAs and three awards from the National Society of Film Critics. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.