Sunday, January 29, 2012

Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #8

8. Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986
Director: Woody Allen

Roger Ebert claimed in his 1986 review of the film that Hannah and Her Sisters was the best film Woody Allen ever made and I agree with him. Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen firing on all cylinders. What makes this film so good are the great performances all around. It features a remarkable cast that includes Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Woody Allen, and the great Max Von Sydow.

Hannah and Her Sisters is everything great about Woody Allen, but what makes it even more special is that it's the rare Allen film that ends in a fairly optimistic note. As great and as memorable as Allen's other films are, there's something to be said about the one film that ends happily and actually feels right. You have three basic, intertwining storylines here that more-or-less revolve around Hannah and her two sisters.

Hannah is played by Farrow who is married to Elliot (Michael Caine). On the surface, they have an amorous relationship, but unbeknownst to Hannah, Elliot is 100% smitten with Hannah's sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Elliot is so smitten with her, she practically takes his breath away, he doesn't even know what to say when he's alone with her. Part of him wants to keep his lustful feelings a secret, but another part of him feels he must know whether or not she feels the same. What unfolds between Elliot and Lee winds up being some of Woody Allen's best writing in his career.

The second storyline deals with Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen) and his story provides most of the comedy of the film. Mickey is probably the most neurotic of all the "Woody characters" in any Woody Allen movie, but again, Allen is in top form as both actor and writer and he still manages to make Mickey Sachs engaging and interesting enough that his neurosis never feels out of place. Mickey is a hypochondriac who at one point believes he may have a serious disease, only to find that he's actually completely healthy. Still, Mickey's health scare causes him to start questioning his existence and he starts playing with the idea of converting to another religion. Mickey's story also includes flashbacks to when he used to be married to Hannah and his failed attempts at dating Holly (Hannah's other sister, played by Dianne Wiest in an Oscar-winning role).

The third storyline belongs to Holly. She's sort of the "rotten apple" of the three sisters, the least successful. She's a failing actress who winds up working in the catering business with her friend and acting rival April (Carrie Fisher). At one of the parties they're catering at, they wind up competing for a man played by Sam Waterston. She winds up losing that competition and quits the catering job and decides to take up writing.

I think what resonates most with me, when it comes to Hannah and Her Sisters is not just the interesting, well-written stories of these characters, but it's ultimately the conclusion of Mickey's storyline. He eventually meets up with Holly later in the film and they have a nice little reunion. While talking to each other, Mickey reveals to Holly the resolution of his own inner-conflicts with life and death. What results is one of my favorite monologues that Woody Allen has ever written:

Mickey Sachs: "One day about a month ago, I really hit bottom. Ya know I just felt that in a Godless universe I didn't wanna go on living. Now I happen to own this rifle, which I loaded believe it or not, and pressed it to my forehead. And I remember thinking, I'm gonna kill myself. Then I thought, what if I'm wrong, what if there is a God. I mean, after all nobody really knows that. Then I thought no, ya know maybe is not good enough, I want certainty or nothing. And I remember very clearly, the clock was ticking, and I was sitting there frozen with the gun to my head, debating whether to shoot.
[gun fires]
All of a sudden the gun went off. I had been so tense my finger squeezed the trigger inadvertantly. But I was perspiring so much the gun had slid off my forehead and missed me. Suddenly neighbors were pounding on the door, and I dunno the whole scene was just pandemonium. I ran to the door, I didn't know what to say. I was embarrassed and confused and my mind was racing a mile a minute. And I just knew one thing I had to get out of that house, I had to just get out in the fresh air and clear my head. I remember very clearly I walked the streets, I walked and I walked I didn't know what was going through my mind, it all seemed so violent and unreal to me. I wandered for a long time on the upper west side, it must have been hours. My feet hurt, my head was pounding, and I had to sit down I went into a movie house. I didn't know what was playing or anything I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and be logical and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down, and the movie was a film that I'd seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it. I'm watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself, I mean isn't it so stupid. Look at all the people up there on the screen, they're real funny, and what if the worst is true. What if there is no God and you only go around once and that's it. Well, ya know, don't you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell it's not all a drag. And I'm thinking to myself, Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I'm never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts. And after who knows, I mean maybe there is something, nobody really knows. I know maybe is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that's the best we have. And then I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself. "

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