Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Perfect Woody Allen Film

It's called "Manhattan." And it was made in 1979.


It's one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen. Woody Allen has always been a source for easy laughs as well as some pretty complex gags, but until I saw this film, I never thought of him as a high visual artist. His economy of space is Wellesian. His sense of balance and tone is on par with the finest noir films as well as the most affecting of classical emotional dramas.

The whole thing just exudes beauty and confidence, two things that Woody Allen has arguably made a career of avoiding.

But maybe that's what makes it such a brilliant film. Finally we get the nebbish, weak-willed, unjustifiably egomaniacal Woody character presented in a coherent, confident manner. This is a film that is, at it's heart, a story of love and loss and the desire for simplicity and the eventual acceptance of complexity. It's got as many layers as "Annie Hall" did, but it surpasses that film in its visual acuity and sheer cohesiveness of vision.

Honestly, I realize I'm heaping praise on this film. But the things that I love about Woody Allen are all here, but without the things I didn't like. It's like a director I like finally made a film that I love.

Maybe modern romantic comedy directors can take a hint from this one. Maybe modern romantic comedies can afford to slow down, take their time, and try to engross the viewer in the world of the story, instead of just invite some chuckles and go for the easy emotion. "Manhattan" is a film that stands as a tribute to New York City as it was when the film was made, but it just reaches so much deeper into what it means to be American, what it means to grow up, what it means to have integrity and to feel love. This is one that, despite its age, remains relevant today.

Try saying that about "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" when about 30 years have passed.

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