Theater/Movie Reviews

American-Made Movies that Changed the Cinema Forever

By: Gideon Small ‘18

‘Annie Hall,’ the Romantic Comedy that shaped Romantic Comedies

Want to watch the perfect movie that’ll make you smile, frown, laugh, and maybe even cry? Try Annie Hall, the 1977 romantic comedy that chronicles the topsy-turvy relationship between the happy-go-lucky and intellectually inclined Annie Hall and the neurotic, anxiety-riddled comedian Alvy Singer.

The leads in this movie are the best of the best, with Diane Keaton playing Annie Hall and winning an Academy Award for her performance, as well as acclaimed writer and director of the film, Woody Allen, playing Alvy Singer. The movie follows Alvy’s life story, gradually introducing the audience to Annie, until we discover how essential a part she plays in Alvy’s life. Allen is able to hold this film together for nearly two hours because of how relatably he portrays Alvy. Despite the fact that at face value, Alvy is an overly anxious, chronic complainer who can’t bear to watch a movie that has already started, even though he pre-ordered the tickets and only came to the theater two minutes late, we can relate to this anxiety-riddled part of Alvy. We all get a little neurotic sometimes, and Allen’s performance as Alvy allows the audience to identify with him because he is so convincingly-high strung.

This movie is also the precursor to the modern era of romantic comedies that we know and love today. Glimpses of Annie Hall show up in classic romantic comedies from the 90s like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and even in the more recent romantic comedies of the last decade, such as How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.

Indeed, Annie Hall was the first film to present the real struggle in the relationship between the two main characters as the movie progresses. There are plenty of ups and down in Alvy and Annie’s romance because of one of their behaviors or of the extenuating circumstances surrounding their relationship. Comedic classics that came before Annie Hall that involve a man and woman falling in love, such as Some Like It Hot or Bringing Up Baby, all start with the man and woman barely knowing each other (if at all), with the movie following the journey to their happy-ever-after. Annie Hall takes that idea to a new level by adding friction to the couple’s relationship that causes unhappiness between the two. The movie doesn’t end with them finally getting together, in part because Annie and Alvy aren’t just beginning their romance by the end of the movie. The movie develops their relationship, whether that may be through having their relationship build or fall apart. Annie Hall invents the idea of conflict and friction embedded in a film’s romance, a tactic that filmmakers use to this day.

As a rule of thumb, nearly any Woody Allen film from the 1970s is a must see. One of the greatest comedy minds in cinema history, he can make you laugh no matter what the circumstances in the movie might be. Alvy and Annie are late for a movie? Laughing in hysteria. Driving home from tennis practice? Rolling on the floor in tears. Allen is the master of turning any situation into an opportunity for laughter. He fine-tuned the craft of situation comedy, and he applies the tactics to nearly each and every scene in the movie, making the film one of the funniest movies of all time.

Annie Hall is a must-see not only because you will laugh or because you want to enjoy one of the greatest relationships develop and unfold right before your eyes; it is a must-see because without Annie Hall, we would be nowhere today in the romantic comedy genre. Annie Hall gave birth to a new wave of romantic comedies, and we have Alvy Singer and Annie Hall to thank for it.

 

‘The French Connection,’ the Action Packed Thriller That Taught Action Movies How To Thrill

 

Before you read this article, take ten seconds to think of one action movie that you have seen. Got it? Now take another ten seconds to think about the best scene in the movie. Thought of it? It was inspired by The French Connection. Before we dive into the specifics of this movie, keep in mind that every action movie made after The French Connection couldn’t have been made without The French Connection being released.

Made in 1971, The French Connection focuses on a ruthless, reckless, and racist narcotics police officer and his partner in their efforts to prevent a heroin shipment from France to the United States and arrest all those involved in the drug deal. The main character, Popeye Doyle, is this very police officer, whose ultimate goal in life is to win, no matter what it takes.

Popeye Doyle is the living embodiment of what people are mad about when the issue of police brutality and racial profiling come up. When Detective Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Cloudy (Roy Scheider) are not working on solving their case, they are either busy beating up black people for having a joint in their sock while cursing them out with the “n” word or killing fellow police officers on the job, both due to the lack of restraint involved in their methods of sleuthing.

There is no true way to get a complete sense of what being a police officer entailed and which people were victimized because those police officers’ behaviors back in the 1960s and 70s. However, the fact that this movie stars two narcotics cops in New York City in the 70s, who spend half of the movie raiding bars of exclusively black people, gives us a glimpse of what the role of a policeman was almost 50 years ago. Long story short, if detectives Popeye and Cloudy were transported to 2017, the American public would be demanding they turn in their badges in less than 10 minutes, and rightfully so.

Moving aside from the politics that this film reveals about that time period, from a technical filmmaking standpoint, this movie surpasses nearly every standard. The casting is excellent, featuring the legendary, two-time Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman, who won his first Oscar with this role. His character, if not played well, would have made Doyle look silly. Hackman is so convincing in this over-the-top role that you will not question the convictions in his behavior for even one second.

One of the many reasons The French Connection influenced future action films so heavily is in part because of the iconic chase scene between Doyle and a hitman working for the heroin dealer. The two characters spend ten minutes evading each other, with the pursuit beginning in south Brooklyn and ending at the 62nd Street subway station. The scene uses thrilling camera movements, making the audience feel part of the chase; fast moving automobiles with dear death collisions and gunshots to enhance the danger of the situation for the audience; and Doyle’s reckless motivation to catch the hitman hiding out on the train that is riding directly above him. Doyle risks his life and the lives of others by speeding in a Buick at 90 miles per hour, while running through stop signs and swerving past civilians just so he can keep up with the villain on the train above him.

Fast-paced camera movements and good guys in reckless pursuit of bad ones form the basic tenets of a good action film in today’s time. Now, every Fast And Furious shootout, Jason Bourne car chase, Taken movie with Liam Neeson, and every exhilarating Mission Impossible task could not have happened without The French Connection. Just ten minutes changed the life of movies for the following forty years, and even more years to come.

Hackman’s infamous character also changed the game for action movie protagonists for the future. Action movies are jam-packed with excitement and are made to entertain the audience, so naturally, the protagonist should be a character that you want to root for. Traditionally, the protagonist has a high moral character and sets an example of what it means to be a hero by saving the day. The French Connection changed all of that: the protagonist is a terrible person with very low moral standards who destroys everything that blocks him from achieving his goal of proving his superiority.

A racist, reckless, drunken, trigger-happy policeman who takes advantage of his police position to beat up black people is not someone you want to idolize. There are no admirable qualities that he possesses, yet you will still want to see him collar the bad guys, simply because he is so ruthless! The inner conflict that the audience has about whether or not to root for Hackman to catch the bad guys is what set the example for action movies to come.

The French Connection is a must see for so many reasons. It is entertaining, engaging, action-packed, and exhilarating with characters that you want to see on screen. It is filmmaking at its finest with great performances to enhance the movie-watching experience.

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