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Annie Hall Blu-ray Review

Annie Hall (1977) movie poster Annie Hall

Theatrical Release: April 20, 1977 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Woody Allen / Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Cast: Woody Allen (Alvy Singer), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Tony Roberts (Rob), Carol Kane (Allison), Paul Simon (Tony Lacey), Shelley Duvall (Pam), Janet Margolin (Robin), Colleen Dewhurst (Mom Hall), Christopher Walken (Duane Hall), Donald Symington (Dad Hall), Helen Ludlam (Grammy Hall), Mordecai Lawner (Alvy's Dad), Joan Newman (Alvy's Mom), Jonathan Munk (Alvy, Age 9), Ruth Volner (Alvy's Aunt), Martin Rosenblatt (Alvy's Uncle), Hy Ansel (Joey Nichols), Rashel Novikoff (Aunt Tessie), Russell Horton (Man in Theatre Line), Marshall McLuhan (Himself), Christine Jones (Dorrie), Mary Boylan (Miss Reed), Wendy Girard (Janet), John Doumanian (Coke Fiend), Bob Maroff (Man #1 Outside Theatre), Rick Petrucelli (Man #2 Outside Theatre), Lee Callahan (Ticket Seller at Theatre), Chris Gampel (Doctor), Dick Cavett (Himself), Mark Lenard (Navy Officer), Dan Ruskin (Comedian at Rally), John Glover (Actor Boy Friend), Bernie Styles (Comic's Agent), Johnny Haymer (Comic), Ved Bandhu (Maharishi), John Dennis Johnston (L.A. Policeman), Lauri Bird (Tony Lacey's Girlfriend)

Buy Annie Hall from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

In the quest for recognition, drama almost always defeats comedy. People tend to value being made to think and feel over being made to laugh. Dramas are viewed as having more weight and that may be the only area of the entertainment industry where that's a good thing. At the Academy Awards, dramas usually claim not only the top prize, but all major categories and most of the minor ones too. Highly acclaimed comedies often wind up with no more than a Best Picture nomination and possibly an Original Screenplay win.
Humorous films that have earned more than that are few and far between; an inclusive definition of "comedy" still only accounts for eleven of the first 83 Best Picture Oscar winners.

Among that number and with its classification impossible to dispute is Annie Hall, the 1977 film that the Academy awarded Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Those victories certified Woody Allen as an artist. Then in his early forties, Allen had been writing, directing, and starring in movies for over a decade and he wrote television for over a decade before that. But Allen made comedies and while there was money to be had in that genre, there was not much professional acknowledgement to go around.

Earning Allen his first major awards outside of the Writers Guild of America, Annie Hall chalked up some of pure comedy's biggest wins since the five-category sweep of Frank Capra's 1934 screwball romcom It Happened One Night. The 1970s had been filled with dark, gritty films based on or inspired by seemingly prevalent true crime. Then, 1977 came and changed the industry. That, of course, was no doing of Allen's decorated little film, but its most formidable rival, George Lucas' Star Wars, which took populist entertainment and visually wondrous science fiction to new heights. Thirty-five years later, it is obvious that, for better or worse, the space opera has had far greater impact on the medium than Annie Hall and any other film of its time. Most consider Lucas' original film and at least its first sequel some of the finest works of their kind.

That casts Allen's movie as the undeserving party pooper that stood in the way of one of cinema's most appreciated films receiving its highest honor. Maybe Star Wars never really had a chance; history has shown that the Oscars usually favor an underdog over a crowd-pleaser, as the losses of E.T. and Avatar have further testified to.

As remarkable, unusual, and beneficial as Annie Hall's Oscar wins were, they supposedly didn't mean much to Allen, who in the same year was quoted as saying "I have no regard for that kind of ceremony... you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is." (There's even a swipe about awards in the movie itself.) Allen's sentiments do not seem to have changed and you can probably expect him not to show up this year for Midnight in Paris, which has earned him his most accolades in a quarter-century of annual output. With that in mind, I feel bad ruminating on the subject at such length, but the fact of the matter is that countless mentions and viewings of Annie Hall are easily traced back to its Academy Award triumphs.

The Oscar-winning comedy "Annie Hall" explores the romance of a free-spirited aspiring singer (Diane Keaton) and a neurotic comedian (Woody Allen).

Honestly, there isn't a wealth of topics to address in a review of Annie Hall. Allen's present filmmaking style is not terribly different from what it was back in the 1970s, the one major difference being that back then he didn't cast a younger actor to perform in his voice. Allen stars as Alvy Singer, a moderately successful, neurotic, and death-fixated New York comedian not far from himself. The film primarily charts the ups and downs in Alvy's relationship with the titular Ms. Hall (Diane Keaton), an easygoing and scatterbrained aspiring singer from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The balding, unconfident, sarcastic, intellectual Jew and giggly, boldly-fashioned Midwestern WASP do not make for an obvious or passionate pairing, but they are an interesting and appealing couple all the same.

The romance is largely a podium for Allen to satirize and comment upon modern love, not the usual, tidy, inevitably resolved movie version, but the real thing, complete with insecurity, jealousy, fear of commitment, and intimacy problems. The movie hardly lets a minute pass without doling out at least three or four jokes, but most of them can only get laughs because they are based in reality, skewing and sending up a relatable thought process, world view, or experience.

As Alvy Singer, Woody Allen regularly breaks the fourth wall, beginning with this film-opening direct address in which he sums up life with two jokes. One of the film's most memorable scenes finds Alvy (Woody Allen) wrangling with live lobsters which an amused Annie (Diane Keaton) captures for posterity's sake.

And that really is about it. The fast-moving picture bounces along to Allen's 90-minute comfort zone, its end creeping up on you and without a clearly-announced air of finality. That design does not seem accidental. The film opens with two jokes that set the mood, tone, and style: a Catskills one neatly summarizing the human experience and the other, a paraphrase of Groucho Marx, proclaiming Alvy's introspective world view: "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That outset not only prepares you to expect Allen occasionally breaking the fourth wall throughout, a technique that scores some of the biggest laughs, it also captures the essence of this film, Allen's signature romantic comedy, loaded with wit, intelligence, neuroses, and heightened consciousness.

It's a diverting and honest movie, but admittedly on the slight side and not drastically different from those considered Woody Allen's lesser ones. There are jokes about New York, Los Angeles, antisemitism, psychology, hallucinatory drugs, religion, family, education, politics, hypochondria, threesomes, underaged girls, masturbation, and pseudo-intellectuals, recurring themes in Allen's movies and life. Though universally hailed as a masterpiece, I suspect an individual could easily not warm to Annie Hall (especially if they're expecting a really profound and poignant Best Picture winner) or any of Allen's other comedies. A good modern-day litmus test may be the comedy of Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" more than "Seinfeld", although a distinctly Jewish New York sense of humor runs through all three, with Allen and David having repeatedly crossed paths, most extensively in 2009's enjoyable Whatever Works.

A brief touch of animation visualizes Alvy Singer's contrary childhood view of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." A young Christopher Walken makes a brief but memorable appearance as Annie's brother Duane, not the most comforting person to get a ride from.

Annie Hall doesn't delve into show business as readily as David's HBO fixture does, but unintentionally it is no slouch in the celebrity department. In 1977, the big supporting cast names may have been Paul Simon, who plays a phony California musician, and oft-cited media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who memorably cameos as himself to dispute an annoying loudmouth in a movie ticket line. There are also highly-billed but short-lived appearances by young up-and-coming actresses Shelley Duvall and Carol Kane.
Then, there are turns ranging from unforgettable -- Christopher Walken (embarrassingly credited as "Christopher Wlaken" in the closing scroll) playing Annie's mentally unstable brother, a year before his The Deer Hunter Oscar win -- to "blink and miss" -- Sigourney Weaver (never even seen up close), Vacation matriarch Beverly D'Angelo, John Glover of '80s antagony and "Smallville", and a 24-year-old Jeff Goldblum.

Annie Hall has earned practically every honor a film can hope to get in its afterlife, being selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1992, ranking highly on comedy movie countdowns from Bravo to Zagat, and turning up on every conceivable AFI list ("100 Laughs", "100 Quotes", "100 Passions", the overall "100 Films" where dramas outnumber comedies four to one, even "100 Songs" and most recently being designated the #2 Romantic Comedy behind City Lights in 2008). Last week, it made its Blu-ray debut alongside other MGM Best Picture winners and classics. The front cover makes no mention of Annie Hall's Best Picture and other Oscar wins, but does establish it as part of The Woody Allen Collection alongside the concurrently-debuted Manhattan.

Annie Hall Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA (English), DTS 2.0 Mono (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Castilian), Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian, German, Castilian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($14.98 SRP; May 30, 2000) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like the majority of Woody Allen's films, Annie Hall is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The film looks pretty good on Blu-ray, but don't expect Star Wars. This is a far more earthy and grainy production. The Blu-ray retains a healthy amount of grain in some scenes, never being overpowered by it but also not being scrubbed to betray its original filmic look. Remembering how much the film looked its age (and then some) on its original DVD (where I last saw it many years ago), I was pleased by this 1080p transfer. Visually, Allen's films are pretty plain, although this one gets nice mileage out of long, uncut takes and laughs from a few potent split-screen effects. Could the movie look even better on Blu-ray at some point? Probably, but it's not a title likely to be revisited anytime soon, nor one that fans are apt to demand better picture quality of. And it's certainly a big improvement over the DVD, an anamorphic version of which never came.

The Blu-ray delivers far more language options than the package proclaims (why do MGM and Fox keep many of their subtitle and dub work secret from potential customers?). Ten subtitle tracks (plus duplicates) and eight audio streams are included. All of the latter, of course, are presented monaurally per Allen's wishes, each encoded in two channels.
I only listened to the default 2.0 DTS-HD master audio mix and had one major complaint: the sound was ever so slightly out-of-sync with the picture. The difference was less than a second, but that was noticeable enough to take some work getting used to. Could it have been an issue specific to my Sony player? I guess that's possible, but I tried everything I could think of in hopes of correcting it, to no avail. Otherwise, the basic soundtrack is fine, with dialogue remaining crisp, coherent, and not plagued by distortion of any kind.

The brief balcony scene between Alvy and Annie seems to again use player-generated subtitles to translate their insecure thoughts, which does not suit the gag as well. In fact, they are burned-in; they just don't look like it. The timing is just a tad off, but at least the inane "[Thinking]" precedents from the DVD's subtitles have been stricken from the transcript. Modern MGM and United Artists logos remain at the beginning of the film.

The only bonus feature Woody Allen approves of are his films' original theatrical trailers. The plain menu screen finds Alvy and Annie in front of New York City bridges.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING, and DESIGN

If you're reading this far into this review, there's a good chance you've encountered a Woody Allen movie on DVD or Blu-ray. If so, then you know that like awards shows, Woody isn't such a big fan of bonus features. That's a hard rule that not even the hi-def release of his crown jewel can break. Annie Hall is joined by just a single unadvertised bonus feature: its original theatrical trailer (2:09, HD), which emphasizes the cast and appears in cropped 1.33:1. If you're only going to get one extra, this is the one to get, but it does seem a little silly not to get anything else for a film of this stature. Alas, that's not much of a surprise, even if Midnight in Paris recently went wild with a 5-minute Cannes Q & A session and a BD-only photo gallery.

As not all MGM Blu-rays can claim, Annie Hall does get a menu screen, a single silent, static, grainy, lightened still of Annie and Alvy. The disc does not support bookmarks, nor does it resume playback as Fox discs normally do. In keeping with the low-key design, there is neither an insert within nor a slipcover around the standard, slim eco-friendly Blu-ray case.

Annie and Alvy's conflicting views on their relationship are conveyed to their respective analysts in this split-screen shot. Alvy (Woody Allen) talks religious figures and rock 'n rollers with Rolling Stone reporter Pam (Shelley Duvall).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Annie Hall, the little romantic comedy that Star Wars fans have reason to hate, is generally loved by all. It's an enjoyable, quotable diversion, but on the underwhelming side for a Best Picture and less than certain to deliver gut-busting laughs for modern viewers. The movie's Blu-ray is the no-frills disc you'd expect it would be.
The picture is good, the sound adequate (aside from the slightly bothersome lip sync issue), and the trailer, well, it's a trailer. Woody Allen fans no doubt would like to see his most exalted movie treated to the types of Special Editions that other classic comedies get. But it's not going to happen in Woody's lifetime and, if he is so adamantly against extras, who knows if his wishes won't remain honored indefinitely? This is unquestionably the best home video presentation the movie has gotten and, for many, that is enough to warrant a purchase. If you're not familiar with the film, then you are encouraged to see it first (and as soon as possible).

Buy Annie Hall from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Woody Allen: Midnight in Paris You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Whatever Works
Diane Keaton: The Godfather Trilogy Morning Glory Father of the Bride Mama's Boy
Shelley Duvall: 3 Women The Shining Popeye | Carol Kane: Scrooged The Muppet Movie The Princess Bride
Colleen Dewhurst: Tales from Avonlea: The Complete First Season | Christopher Walken: $5 a Day Kill the Irishman Balls of Fury
New to Blu-ray: Wings Good Morning, Vietnam Portlandia: Season One Dead Poets Society Traffic (Criterion Collection)
Best Picture Winners: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ultimate CE) Rocky (Blu-ray Book) The Sound of Music (Blu-ray + DVD)
Rushmore The Graduate Crazy, Stupid, Love. A Serious Man

Annie Hall Songs List: Diane Keaton - "It Had to Be You", Tim Weisberg - "A Hard Way to Go", Do-Re-Mi Children's Chorus - "Christmas Medley", Tommy Dorsey - "Sleepy Lagoon", Diane Keaton - "Seems Like Old Times"

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Reviewed January 30, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 United Artists and 2012 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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