Friday, March 4, 2011

Defending Annie Hall: Or, Clearing up the 50th Academy Awards for Nerds

Annie Hall was, and is, a better film than Star Wars. This is coming from someone who just “likes” Annie Hall. In terms of enjoyment, I have to say that when I sit down and want to just watch a movie for fun, I’d probably pick Star Wars over Annie Hall because Star Wars is well-done mindless fun. I’d also prefer to relax watching Spider-Man over Citizen Kane, but there’s really no argument over which of those two is the “better” film. Fans tend to ruin fun things, though. A fun space adventure has turned into a weird Ayn Rand-esque cult, even though the entire series consists of two and a half great adventure films, and three and a half unbearable pieces of shit (the half and half is Return of the Jedi, of course). Because of the fanatical attachment that fans have with Star Wars, and because of it’s undeniable influence on pop culture and film, nerds snarl indignantly when they discover that Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Annie Hall beat out their beloved Star Wars for best picture during the 50th Academy Awards. Are you fucking serious?

First of all, this isn’t some bullshit like Dances With Wolves beating Goodfellas. If we were to go back, look at both films and “redo” who wins the Oscar, Annie Hall still wins, easily. In terns of science fiction, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind wins, and it wasn’t even fucking nominated! See, the thing that a lot of tards have a hard time understanding is that there are certain core aspects of a film that determine whether or not it’s a great film. Among the most important are the script, the direction, and the acting. Let’s do a rundown of each, shall we?

The Script

It has been well-established by now that George Lucas lifted pretty much the entire story for Star Wars from such sources as the Hidden Fortress, Dune, and Flash Gordon series. But that’s fine, as long as the dialog is memorable. Star Wars, and every other film in this series, has some of the most cringe-inducing dialog known to film, including such winners as the following:

Darth Vader: I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now *I* am the master.
Obi-Wan: Only a master of evil, Darth.
[lightsabers clash]

Sure, there’s a few memorable lines, but come on. Is anyone honestly going to say that the writing in this fucking movie is award-winning? It’s also been noted that much of the success of Star Wars came from other people meddling with it and demanding changes. When Lucas got total control over his films, he produced the prequels.

The writing in Annie Hall is smart as fuck, something that grown ups tend to like. There’s smart jokes (“Sylvia Plath - interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality), dumb jokes (the scene with the lobster) and, of course, sex jokes. Most actors would kill to be in a Woody Allen film, and much of his reputation is based on how clever his dialog is. As for the plot, the disjoined story telling was ridiculously inventive and influential for its time, something that few mainstream films had the balls to do. The next huge film to do something like this again was Pulp Fiction.

For the final word on George Lucas as a writer, here’s something Harrison Ford said to George Lucas after going over his dialog: “George, you can write this shit, but you can’t say it.”

The Direction

A lot of what made Star Wars great was the contributions from other people, contributions that did get recognition by the Academy. John Williams’ amazing score contributed so much to the film that it easily beat out his main competition...John Williams’ score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Star Wars also won for sound mixing, art direction, visual effects, and film editing, all categories that this film excelled in. Hell, if anything it got robbed for not even being nominated for best cinematography, but that’s neither here nor there. Star Wars is a movie you experience, and many of the key players in that experience did get the recognition they deserved. Lucas did a competent job directing the film, but still, a lot of those memorable scenes were taken from other sources. Those amazing space battles were taken from WW2 footage of dogfights. Much of the pageantry surrounding the Storm Troopers and Darth Vader were taken from Triumph of the Will. The lightsaber battles from samurai fights. Now, discrediting this would be like saying that Quentin Tarantino never deserved an award for his film, but we all know that Quentin actually knows how to work with actors, write a script, and come up with multiple creative ways to film a scene. Lucas’ previous film, American Graffiti, was a hit because of a script that he didn’t write, and his first film, THX 1138, was a boring, cold failure that hardly anyone likes. George Lucas as a director peaked with Star Wars, and really, what made that film so good was how outsiders tampered with his vision and used it as a springboard to be creative.

Woody Allen is a fucking movie-making machine, pumping out films every goddamn year. He’s done slapstick, romantic comedies, and dramas, and they all have that distinct Woody Allen stamp on them. You know when you’re watching a film of his, because his voice is that distinct. A lot of what’s great about his films comes from the writing, but his direction has always been top-notch as well. It might not be as exciting and flashy as Star Wars, but for what he sets out to achieve in his films, it works beautifully. There’s an intimacy you get with his films, and what makes Annie Hall so great is how he constantly involves the audience as being a part of what’s going on. The disjointed structure of the film also arguably turns the viewer into a character of sorts in this film, almost like Allen’s therapist. It’s ambitious, funny, and created the modern romantic comedy. And it’s a Woody Allen film.

The Acting

Star Wars has two good actors in it, and a great villain whose performance boils down to walking around like a scary man and having his lines overdubbed to sound menacing. Alec Guinness did a great job as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Harrison Ford was fantastic as Han Solo. Everyone else? FUCKING CARDBOARD. Another great Harrison Ford knock against this goddamn franchise was when, during an interview, he was asked if he’d ever play Han Solo again and he flat-out said “no,” but said he’d play Indiana Jones again in a heartbeat. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

As for Annie Hall, yeah yeah yeah, Woody Allen only plays one character, but so do most actors, and it works in this film. Diane Keaton did such a good job in this film that she’s been destined to play the same goddamn character in every movie since. Actors love working with Woody, and he gets some damn fine performances from everyone, from the main cast to the supporting players. Much of what makes Annie Hall work has to do with how the characters interact with each other, and with the audience. Comedy’s a tough thing to pull off, and only good actors can do clever dialog. Overall, the people in Annie Hall seem real. You can relate to what’s going on, and their characterization is strong enough that, while there are some neat tricks with the timeline and random cute gimmicks going on, nothing seems superfluous. It all fits. Give these characters wooden actors and the whole fucking thing crumbles apart.

In conclusion, I’d like to state once again that I really liked the first two Star Wars films, and think that Jedi had potential to be as good. Those first two films are masterpieces of escapism, only surpassed by Peter Jackson’s excellent work on the Lord of the Rings films. But Annie Hall was the better film. Better written, better acted, better directed, and arguably just as influential. And I don’t care how many “Woody Allen is a pervert!!! LOL” arguments you make, nothing he’s ever done, either in film or in his personal life, has ever been as bad as the fucking Star Wars prequels.

The end.