I watch 'Annie Hall' every Valentine's Day, and the ritual has become a kind of booster shot. The movie is like Cupid's arrow straight to the heart, a cocktail of love, regret, and hope that doesn't dare approach and analyze the concepts of love, regret, and hope. Rather, Woody Allen's story lets these concepts arise incidentally, so we're always focused on people rather than platitudes. It is simply, brilliantly, the story of two lovable people who love each other even as love fades. Each time I watch it, I am convinced there is nothing more to realize or discover and, each time, I am wrong. On the latest viewing, some new observations:
1) I used to understand why some people and critics were dismissive of Diane Keaton's performance, which is arguably just an extension of her real, la-dee-da self. There's no debate over the fact that she created one of the most memorable, endearing characters in movies, but she's never been given much cred for her technique or ability in that creation. Watching 'Annie Hall' this year, the one thing that jumped out at me was the character's maturation over the course of the film's 91 minutes. In the first scene, Annie is stumbling over arrangements to drive home from her first tennis match with Alvy. In the last scene at the cafe in Los Angeles, she is a worldly, well-adjusted, and cynical person -- able to express herself with newfound clarity. And we can see the heartbreak in Alvy's face as she offers a curt handshake in place of a hug. This is not the same Annie Hall. Keaton is able to play this change not only believably, but so subtly that we never stop loving her.
2) After Alvy and Annie have make-up sex, they lay in bed and are lit sparingly; they're almost silhouettes, with faint light illuminating the sweat on their bodies. Their dialogue is loving and conciliatory, and Annie suggests they never break up again. But listen to the rather loud, insistent ticking of the bedside clock. It's almost like the sound effect was amped up to give us the hint that this good thing isn't going to last.
3) The extensive use of film gimmicks is kind of unparalleled: split screen, voiceover narration, direct address to the camera, cartoons, subtitles, visual effects, conjuring real people out of thin air (the Marshall McLuhan scene when Alvy and Annie are waiting in line for a movie), and blissfully long takes (Allen holds on Keaton for two whole minutes as she sings "Seems Like Old Times" in a bar, perhaps my single most favorite shot in all of movies). No other film has used this many gimmicks in such a cohesive, unobtrusive fashion.