When Woody Allen won the Oscar (in abstentia) for writing and directing "Annie Hall," which also won the Oscar for Best Picture, it was assumed the stand-up comic turned auteur had reached the pinnacle of his career. Then Allen proceeded to go out and make an even better film with his next effort, "Manhattan." Filmed in glorious black & white (and widescreen) by the great cinematographer Gordon Willis, the opening sequence combining indelible images of New York City with Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is a paean to city Allen loves and the most rhapsodical sequence in any of his films. Rather than talking about the plot per se, "Manhattan" is best explained as a convoluted series of wrecked and ruined relationships centering around Allen's character, Isaac Davis. Isaac is divorced from Jill (Meryl Streep), who is now living with Connie (Karen Ludwig), and planning to write an expose on her marriage. Isaac is having an affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but then he meets Mary (Diane Keaton), the mistress of his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy), who is married to Emily (Anne Byrne). Ultimately, however, this is not a film about love, but rather a film about loss, because you just know that forced to make choices, Isaac is going to make the wrong ones. Tracy and Mary are characters constructed as such polar opposites and it never dawns on Isaac to focus more on what each has than on what they lack. Of course, today this film is obviously open to reinterpretation given Allen's very public personal life and it is now assumed that the Isaac-Tracy relationship was a sign of things to come rather than a dramatic construction. If you can get away from the film's Freudian implications then you can appreciate Hemingway's Oscar nominated performance, which is not only at the heart of the film but provides its heart as well. In contrast, Keaton's Mary is rather soulless (the anti-Annie Hall if you will). When the choice is so clear the fault is clearly not in the women, but rather in the character of Isaac (or lack of character, as the case might be). The ending is certainly the most bitter sweet of any Allen film to date. Most Romantic Lines (remember, this is a Woody Allen film): (1) "I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics"; (2) "Yeah! I can tell, a lot. That's, well, a lot is my favorite number", and, of course, (3) "Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um...Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh...Like what... okay...um...For me, uh... ooh... I would say ... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh...um... and Willie Mays... and um ... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony ... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues ... um ... Swedish movies, naturally ... Sentimental Education by Flaubert ... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra ... um ... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh...the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face ..." If you enjoyed "Manhattan" then check out these other films on the AFI's list of 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time: #11 "Annie Hall," #25 "When Harry Met Sally," and #35 "Gigi." Why? The first because it is also Woody Allen, the second because it also takes place in NYC and involves making the wrong choice and then running to the woman to do something about it, and the third because it also thanks heaven for little girls...
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