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Featured Blu-ray Review: Woody Allen Double-Shot: Annie Hall and Manhattan

February 4th, 2012

Woody Allen Blu-ray Double-Shot:
Annie Hall - Buy from Amazon
Manhattan - Buy from Amazon

Woody Allen had the biggest hit in his career this year with Midnight in Paris (in terms of raw dollars, not ticket sales). It just picked up several Oscar nominations and there's a chance it could win. It makes perfect sense with the publicity surrounding that film to release some of his older films on Blu-ray. Recently Annie Hall and Manhattan came out on high definition, but have they aged well? And are the Blu-rays worth picking up?

Annie Hall

This film's plot is hard to summarize without getting into major spoiler territory. It begins with Alvy Singer speaking to the audience and talking about his relationship with Annie Hall and how he can't figure out why it fell apart. We then flashback to Alvy's childhood, random incidents with him and Annie, his ex-wife, ex-wives, etc. We see many, many flashbacks and sometimes Alvy and Annie are along for the ride commenting on what they see.

Because some of scenes are only a couple minutes long and have very little to do with the preceeding or following scenes, describing the plot in any real detail gets into heavy spoiler territory. While this makes my job harder, it does increase the humor in the film. It also pays that Woody Allen is playing a character that is near to his heart. Also, if you are a fan of the auteur, you will feel very familiar with the character. This film balances the humor and the melancholy in an impeccable way. It's not surprising that so many people think this is Woody Allen's best movie of his career. Personally, I prefer Sleeper (it was the first Woody Allen film I saw, so that could have an effect) but this is top five for sure. Since he's directed more than 40 films and more than a dozen of them have earned him Oscar nods for writing and / or directing, being in the top five is very high praise.

The Extras

There are no extras. As for the video quality... this is the first time it has been released on anamorphic widescreen. That alone means it is worth the upgrade. If we compare the film to other catalogue titles, as opposed to the botched DVD releases of the past, it has its pros and cons. The film does have what enthusiasts will call a healthy level of grain, while there are a few scenes that are quite soft and while in New York the colors rarely pop. However, all of these are due mostly to aesthetic choices rather than problems with the transfer. I did notice a couple of problems with flicker or white specks, but nothing distracting. The audio is unsurprisingly uncomplicated; after all, it's in mono. However, it is also incredibly clear, which is what you want from a dialogue driven film like this.


The film begins with Isaac Davis trying to write a novel. We hear several attempts at starting chapter one while we get a montage of scenes from New York City. When we first see him, he's getting drunk with his girlfriend, Tracy, and his best friend, Yale and Emily, who are husband and wife. Isaac is not in a good mood, because he found out his second ex-wife, Jill, is writing a tell-all book. While going home, Yale admits he's having an affair with Mary Wilke, which comes as a shock to Isaac.

Later while Isaac and Tracy are checking out a museum, they run into Yale and Mary, his mistress. Their meeting isn't exactly wonderful; every piece of art that Isaac and Tracy liked, Mary hated, and vice versa. When they get to talking about overrated notable people, everyone Mary thinks is overrated, Isaac thinks is amazing. Mary is also dismissive of Isaac and Tracy's relationship, although it's much harder to argue against her position there. When they meet a second time, it's an an Equal Rights Amendment function at the Museum of Modern Art. This time they get along a little better, even though they are a little contentious. They talk about their previously failed marriages. How their current relationships are a little off. They talk about Isaac writing a novel and Mary is an editor.

Later on, when Yale has to break a date with Mary, she calls Isaac, because she had no one else to call. And suddenly, they start to grow closer and this causes even more complications in their current relationships. At this point we start running into serious spoilers, so we should end the plot summary there.

This film earned two Oscar nominations and was the third film in three years written and directed by Woody Allen to earn multiple Oscar nominations. That's quite a feat. (He managed to top that in the late 1980s.) Manhattan has a lot in common with Annie Hall and it deals with similar subject matter with relationships growing and ending. This film is a little more grounded in reality and doesn't quite have the same charm. Although one could argue this is the more mature of the two films. The relationships are a little harder to cheer for, on the other hand. The film uses New York and the music of Gershwin to their fullest effect and overall this film has to be in the top ten, perhaps even top five of Woody Allen's career.

The Extras

Again, there are no extras. The video and audio presentations are very similar to Annie Hall. There are a few scenes that are a little soft in focus and where there is a tad too much grain, while if you pay attention, you will spot an occasionally fleck of white. That said, the level of detail is usually strong and the black and white cinematography stands out. The audio is again mono, but the dialogue is crystal clear, which is what matters the most.

The Verdict

Annie Hall and Manhattan are both worth owning. Their respective Blu-ray are devoid of extras, but they look better than they ever have on the home market. The price is a little high for a catalog title like this, so call it a tepid recommendation. At least you don't have to worry about a deluxe edition coming out with a ton of extras; at least not till after Woody Allen no longer has a say in the matter.

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Filed under: Manhattan, Annie Hall