Reflecting on his break-up with free-spirited WASP Annie Hall, Alvy Singer muses over his romantic history: from neurotic Coney Island kid to neurotic stand-up comedian. Is reconciliation with Annie possible, or will Alvy make the same mistakes?
Here you have the reason why Empire readers' all-time favourite film - a certain intergalactic blockbuster - was denied the big Oscars: Annie Hall. This is the film that the movie world had been anticipating since the man born Allen Stewart Konigsberg had signalled his raw comedic talents with mad-cap directorial debut, Take The Money And Run, nine years earlier. Marrying the free-flowing sketch form of those early comedies with real emotional and psychological depth for the first - and, arguably, most successful - time, 1978 was Woody Allen's moment, and not even Darth Vader could stop him.
As it happens, Allen didn't attend the ceremony, preferring to keep his regular jazz gig in Manhattan than visit LA: a town where, as Alvy says in Annie Hall, "the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light". No matter, Allen won two Oscars, for direction and for the screenplay, co-written with Marshall Brickman.
The awards were well-deserved. After all, the relationship between Alvy the screw-up and goofball Annie (a showy, Oscar-winning Diane Keaton) represents nothing less than the birth of modern romantic comedy. This is the point where the obstacle to romantic happiness becomes not external factors but the protagonists' personal neuroses. Ally McBeal, Dawson's Creek, This Life - it all started here. Luckily, this is much, much funnier.
Playing a stand-up allows Allen to include some of his most quotable one-liners - "Hey, don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love" - while the loose, fabulist structure gives rise to more inspired moments than a dozen Nora Ephron comedies. Manhattan is more mature, Hannah And Her Sisters has greater range, Zelig is more technically ambitious, but nowhere else does Allen make for such great company.
Just as Alvy drags Annie to go and see Holocaust documentaries, anybody who has ever been heard to say, "I don't find Woody Allen funny," should be frog-marched to the cinema.