Last year, Woody Allen turned in one of the best films he’s ever made, Midnight in Paris. That film sparked a (well-deserved) bit of resurgence in Woody Allen’s general popularity, which must have timed out nicely with 20th Century Fox’s decision to release some of Allen’s greatest hits on Blu-ray. One of those films, Manhattan, has long been hailed (by a large portion of Allen’s fan-base) as one of the best romantic-comedies ever made, not to mention the all-time greatest “love-letter to New York” ever committed to film. Though I’m an Allen fan, I’d never actually gotten around to Manhattan this version arrived. So, did I side with Manhattan’s numerous fans? Is it Allen’s “best” film? Or do I still think that Annie Hall does “it” better? Find out after the jump, folks.
The first Woody Allen film I ever saw was Annie Hall. I was about twelve years old. I remember flipping through TV channels, landing on HBO, and coming into the film during the scene where Allen and Diane Keaton are waiting in line for a movie (you know the one). That scene grabbed me (the twelve year-old me was particularly fond of the “sock full of horse manure” line, and so is the 31 year-old version of me), and—from there on out—I considered myself a fan of Woody Allen’s films.
Admittedly, it took a few years before I was able to visit the rest of his filmography. I seem to recall HBO running a few of his films over the years, including the hilarious Love and Death and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*( But Were Afraid to Ask), but I had to catch up with most of his work in my later teens. I’m a huge fan of Deconstructing Harry, Radio Days, and Sleeper. I might also be the only person alive who loves Everyone Says I Love You (I have yet to meet another person who enjoys that one as much as I do). I even like some of Allen’s more recent films, like Match Point and Hollywood Ending (another Allen film no one seems to care for).
But above all, Annie Hall has always been my favorite. Over the years, whenever I’ve mentioned this to someone who also considers themselves an Allen fan, half of them would ask me if I’d seen Manhattan. I’d admit that I hadn’t, and they’d tell me that was Allen’s best film. Perhaps because I didn’t want my love for Annie Hall challenged (or perhaps because I’m inherently lazy and just hadn’t gotten around to it until now), I had not seen Manhattan until this past week, when it was sent for me to review.
Now that I’ve seen it, I’m happy to report several things: for one, my love for Annie Hall has not changed; for another, Manhattan really is amongst Allen’s best films; for a third, I completely understand why some Allen fans would pick this one as his “best”. Oh, and if you’re from New York, I’d imagine that Manhattan would absolutely be your favorite Allen film: the city has never looked as gorgeous as it does here, with Gershwin on the soundtrack and in razor-sharp black and white (by the way, if you haven’t seen Manhattan in years, I’d imagine the film looks startlingly good on Blu-ray: seek it out). It really is a love-letter to the city, through and through.
Allen gets accused of making the same movies over and over again, and—while I don’t agree with the sentiment—I understand where it originates: many of Allen’s films concern a pair (or a trio) of couples (often living in New York), all of whom are having relationships problems, all of whom spend a fair amount of time walking up NYC sidewalks and arguing with one another. For Allen non-fans, Manhattan will be considered is one of “those” Woody Allen movies.
Here, Allen plays Isaac Davis, a television writer who loathes his job (and, in typical Allen fashion, most things about himself, as well), fears the forthcoming tell-all book his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) is writing, and loves his 17 year-old girlfriend, played by then-newcomer Mariel Hemingway (Issac’s 42, so the age difference between he and his girlfriend is a bit of a hot topic here). One days, Isaac meets his best friend’s new lady-on-the-side, Mary (Diane Keaton), and they immediately hate one another: she’s wildly opinionated, he’s shocked to discover a woman with differing opinions. Clearly, this is the woman that Isaac’s supposed to be with, but what of the 17 year-old girlfriend? What of his best friend? And what of the fact that—regardless of the fact that he really wants to sleep with Mary—that the two really can’t stand one another?
It’s a fairly typical Woody Allen plot, yes, but there are three things here that elevate Manhattan to “classic Woody Allen” status: one’s the performance by Diane Keaton, which shows her range like you wouldn’t believe if watched back-to-back with Annie Hall (which is what I did); the second is Allen’s choice to film in black-and-white, which lends the whole thing a timeless quality; and the third—and, perhaps, the most important—is that Gershwin score. Now, I’m no huge Gershwin fan (he’s not on any playlist I’ve ever put together), but there’s no denying that the dude was a master, and his music combined with DP Gordon Willis’ photography, these performances and Woody Allen’s script? The results are flat-out iconic.
There’s a reason that shot of Allen, Keaton, and the park bench has become so famous. The composition’s glorious, and—on Blu-ray—the image will stop you dead in your tracks (not that you oughtta be moving around during the movie, but…oh, you know what I mean). I can’t stress this enough for the Allen fans out there: even if you’ve seen Manhattan 15 million times, if you haven’t seen it on Blu-ray, it’s absolutely worth picking up.
The Blu-ray comes packaged with zero special features, which is kind of a bummer (not even a retrospective? Talk show appearances from around the time of the film’s release? Anything?!), but really: the film itself is great, and when combined with the A/V quality of the Blu-ray format, you won’t care that there aren’t any bonus features to muck around with after the movie ends. This is an absolute must-buy for Woody Allen fans, and it’s especially must-buy-worthy for those Blu-ray fans out there who love seeing old movies getting the modern-day A/V treatment: this one’s up there with that Casablanca Blu-ray in terms of jaw-dropping clarity and quality.
So, crank your surround sound, turn off all the other lights in the room, and watch…y’know what? It might not be the “best” film that Woody Allen’s ever made, but it’s certainly the most beautiful (and, yes, that includes Midnight in Paris).
My Grade? A-