#35 Annie Hall

“There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.”
Alvy Singer

What makes Annie Hall so special?  It is not revolutionize the industry, or change the way people view films.  It did not experiment with various camera techniques or expand audiences’ minds with new concepts.  What it did do was have heart, by the bucket load. That sounds cliché but that is really what it has going for it.  Well, that and sharp, witty, dialogue, combined with endearing narration from the writer-director-star, Woody Allen.

The film tells the story of Alvy Singer (Allen), a moderately successful and highly neurotic comedian who lives in New York.  He walks its streets with an ambivalence that is broken up by his devotion to movies and his disdain for his intellectual inferiors, which is practically everyone, atleast in his opinion.

But this pattern of floating through life is disturbed when, while playing tennis, he meets the titular Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  Annie is a younger naïve, less cynical, woman that shares Alvy’s neurosis but lacks his general contempt for others.  Most importantly though, she is right for Alvy at his current stage of life.

Alvy is a strange character.  Of course, he is still a Woody Allen alter-ego that is always present in an Allen film, but he is more complete than most of Allen’s other characters.  He lives as his own entity, and although he shares some of the same qualities as his real-life counterpart, he is his own man.

Alvy is not burdened by the constant need to tell jokes.  He does do this, because he is a stand up comic, but he does so as Alvy, not Allen.  Jokes told are not for the audience’s benefit, but for the characters to which he is speaking.  Of course the trademark “camera aside” narrative that is a constant mechanism of Allen films is present, but even these are used less to humour the audience and more to allow us to understand just who Alvy is.

This is what makes this film different.  The audience is given Allen’s deadpan neurosis, humour, and general wittyness, without having to sacrifice the character development and depth that some of Allen’s other work is missing.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that Alvy has outgrown the stage in his life in which Annie is right for him.  More importantly Annie outgrows the stage in her life where the corrupting force of Alvy is right for her.

While in California, hoping to advance her career beyond singing in nightclubs, Annie comments to Alvy that it is clean in LA.  A simple enough suggestion, but it is met with an archetypical Alvy line, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.”  Alvy is a cynical man, incapable of letting the small details go, and even more incapable of seeing the bigger details.

This is perhaps the reason that women are perfect for him based on stages of his life, rather than matters of character.  The big things that should draw people together are apparitions to Alvy, and the idiosyncrasies are mountains.

Ultimately Alvy is impervious to change.  He can’t enjoy a nice evening as long as some guy somewhere is starving, and while that may seem noble, it is actually just an excuse for his own neurosis.

Strangely, Alvy does come off as likable.  He points an accusing finger at himself and all his shortcomings before anyone else can, and this somehow vindicates the fact that these faults exist.  This is what makes Annie, a complete character.  Initially she is charmed by Alvy the same way that most are charmed by a moderately self deprecating, witty, person that is able to make them laugh.  However, unlike the audience, Annie is forced to deal with this person for more than two hours.

Knowing Alvy Singer would be an exercise in constant frustration.  Dating him, as The Social Network might say, would be like dating a stair master.  But watching him date, is an exercise in good humour and heartbreaking honesty.

Annie Hall is a rare film that would be entertaining if it was a radiobroadcast.  This is the quality of Allen’s writing and a testament to the delivery given by himself and Keaton.


#34 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

“Now, a formula to transform my beauty into ugliness. Change my queenly rainment to a peddler’s cloak. Mummy dust, to make me old. To shroud my clothes, the black of night. To age my voice, and old hag’s cackle. To whiten my hair, a scream of fright. A blast of wind to fan my hate. A thunderbolt to mix it well. Now, begin thy magic spell.” 
The Queen 

Coming in at number thirty-four on the American Film Institute’s list is Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This film likely mad this list due to its innovation, rather than what is actually seen on the screen.  It is a pleasant enough movie, but rarely will any one marvel at this film.

The reason that is so loved though is simple: It is the first feature length animated American film.

Walt Disney was the first American to take a chance, invest money, and emerge victorious with a feature length set on animated prints.  And the result was a film that changed Hollywood forever.

Apart from being the first feature length American animated film, it is also the first film ever to have an accompanying soundtrack sold.

It was called the folly of Walt Disney, and it ended up being one of the most significant accomplishments in film history.  But all this is of screen accomplishments.  As far as what is produced on screen goes, this film falls short of some of Disney’s animated features that follow it.

Bambi, Dumbo, and Pinocchio are all better examples of what the animated genre is capable of accomplishing.  Each contains a more sophisticated story, better story telling, and superior animation to Snow White.  Still though, it would seem wrong inclding any animated film higher on the list than this one.

At the end of the day, Jimi Hendrix will always beat out Joe Satriani on people’s lists of greatest guitarists of all time, and Snow White will always top list of animated features for one simple reason: you never forget your first.

Sure Snow White may not be Disney’s best film, In my opinion it isn’t even in the top five, but, its contribution to the film industry cannot be overvalued.  As much as The Jazz Singer spawned “The talkie,” Citizen Kane allowed others to experiment with depth of field, and Toy Story ushered in computer animation, Snow White was, and is, a game changer, and for that it deserves accolade.

Let’s just hope eighty years from now people aren’t talking about how Avatar revolutionized the 3D film that has become so prevalent in society.

#33 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

“I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my LIFE, I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about content. I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, Hell, Heaven. Do you understand… FINALLY”

Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes every opportunity to unnerve, and alienate the viewer.

The film tells the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a con who pretends to be crazy in an attempt to get out of working for the remainder of the prison sentence he is serving for statutory rape.

Unfortunately for McMurphy, he is sent to a mental institution that is the home of the particularly vindictive nurse Ratchet (Louise Fletcher).

McMurphy’s antics are harmless enough initially.  Antics such as cheating in basketball games and attempting to stage a coup of the mental institution’s meetings are brushed off by the staff.  But, as tensions begin to grow between McMurphy and nurse Ratchet, small acts of defiance become simply not enough.

McMurphy, quickly escalates his escapades to include grand theft auto (and grand theft boat), knowing that his time at the institution is coming to a close.

Operating under the faulty assumption that when his jail sentence was over, he would be released from his new padded wall home.  Unfortunately for him, this is not the case.  He can be held as long as the medical professionals feel he is a danger to society.

The realization of this eventually drives McMurphy to a level of recklessness that nearly tears apart his mental fabric.

Right from the opening credits this film makes the viewers skin crawl.  The score, which could best be described as two cats fighting over a violin will make you squirm.

This is further continued by the film’s brilliant cinematography.  Haskell Wexler, the film’s cinematographer, does an amazing job of keeping a tight and narrow focus on his subjects, almost paralleling the tunnel vision of the asylum’s patients.  Unrelentingly this device makes the viewer feel as uncomfortable as Jack Nicholson’s snarky smile does.

Nicholson’s performance, as are all the performances, is spot on.  His character is not a likable one, but he is sympathetic.  You don’t want to cheer for him, but you don’t want to see him fail either.  This is a testament, obviously to the film’s direction, but also to Nicholson’s performance.

This film really is quite the achievement.  Every aspect of it is executed with expert precision, and most importantly, it is entertaining.

#32 The Godfather Part II

“You know when I was your age, I went out to fishing with all my brothers and my father, and everybody. And I was, I was the only one who caught a fish. Nobody else could catch one except me. You know how I did it? Every time I put the line in the water I said a Hail Mary and every time I said a Hail Mary I caught a fish. You believe that? It’s true, that’s the secret. You wanna try it when we go out on the lake?”
Fredo Corleone

The Godfather part II, much like its predecessor, deals with the slow corruption of Michael Corleone.  While the film carries with it a feel that Michael may eventually realize the error of the ruthlessness he gained at the end of the first film, there is, in fact, very little change in Michael at all. Except that is, his increased fall into depravity.

Unlike his father, Michael does not suffer from compassion, love or even honour.  Anything that Michael does that could be interpreted as one of these things is actually just his own way of preventing himself from feeling any sort of discomfort.

“I don’t want anything to happen to him while my mother’s alive.”  Michael says, of his brother Fredo.  These are perhaps the only words that Pacino needed to speak in the film.

The man who had once planned to legitimize his family had now crossed a very serious line.  Michael had killed before, but this is so much worse.  With this sentence Michael proves that he values other people’s lives less than values looks of approval from his mother.

Michael is not the sympathetic character that his father was.  Vito would kill ruthlessly, but he would never not kill to save face.  Some how this is worse though.  Perhaps this is because we get to see Vito play with his grandkids that we are willing to forgive him his trespasses, but whatever it was that allows audiences to sympathize with Vito for generations was not present in Michael.

Michaels’s story is not a circular story the way that Vito’s is.  Vito lost his son to a war, and to his country, but he gained his son with a bullet.  Michael loses everyone, save those that are paid to occupy his proximity, but what is really sad about Michael is that nothing so important as a war steels those close to him away.  Michael’s friends and family are not pulled away from him.  Rather, they are pushed.  They leave because anything is better than his presence.  Sadly for Michael, not even a bullet will be able to return these people to him.

Coppola realizes this fact about his character though and does not try to sway the audience’s sympathy.  Michael is wrong, and, unlike his father, he is not meant to be felt sorry for.

Coppola does a lot well in this film.  It is paced, as any Coppola film is, slowly, but this allows the story to play out in a natural way.  Pages weren’t cut in pre-production because the studio was afraid that the audience would lose interest somewhere in the second act.  If there is any criticism towards the actual direction of the film, it would have to come from its use of flashbacks.

The film is told in two separate story lines, which are woven together so that the audience isn’t forced to read too much subtitles for any extended period of time.  The main timeline, which occupies three quarters of the film’s run-time focuses on Michael and his plans for the family’s consolidation to Nevada, and expansion to Florida and Cuba.

The other story line gives us a glimpse into who Vito was before he was the “the Godfather.”  This story line takes place in turn of the century New York, is mainly shot to look like a dream sequence, and has its characters speak virtually nothing but a southern dialect of Sicilian.

The flashback sequences accomplish two things.  First, these scenes slow the film down.  They also gnaw away at the tension that the present day story line works so hard to create.  The second thing that these scenes accomplish though is to juxtapose Michael and Vito’s motives.  For Vito, his own personal moral code was more important than anything.  And while this may have conflicted with the silly little “laws of the land,” it always demanded him to do what was right in his eyes.

Unfortunately Coppola could not accomplish this massive contrast without these scenes, and this contrast was necessary to truly understand the levels of depravity to which Michael had so terribly sunk.

Had the Vito story line been released as a forty-five minute short, meant to accompany the “Michael” feature, the film would have perhaps been a better work of art.  The producers may have ripped their hair out looking at the sales differences, but the art would have been a higher quality.

Ultimately though, the somewhat chaotic, and at times confusing layout, of the film (I still don’t know what exactly happened with Cuba) can be forgiven because what is truly important about this film is accomplished.

Michael’s dissent is completed, and it is understood.  The cinematography, the scene in which Fredo is teaching Michael’s son to fish in particular, dictates that nothing is more important to the world than Fredo, and, when he is finally killed, Michaels transformation is complete.

The film does do a lot right, and it saves the best for last.  If nothing else, the final scene of the film is worth sticking around for.  As the Camera slowly pans in on Michael’s face, a face which, do to a third timeline flashback, still contains all it’s innocence, it is hard not to cringe at what the coming years are going to bring for the Corleone family.