The rise of the action-adventure blockbuster was on the horizon, but on this night in 1978, the small-scale romantic comedy triumphs over the big-budget space extravaganza. At the 50th annual Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out George Lucas’ Star Wars.
Annie Hall was seen as a major turning point for Allen, who made his debut as a triple threat (writer-director-star) with Take the Money and Run (1969) and proved his knack for zany comedy in films like Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973). In Annie Hall, Allen blended uproarious comedy with the offbeat and thought-provoking musings on love and relationships that had previously been the stuff of his stand-up comedy and written essays.
As the film began, Allen’s Alvy Singer, a New York City comedy writer, ponders the demise of his relationship with the freewheeling singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film leapt around between New York City and Hollywood along with Alvy’s memories, which include scenes from his childhood, his first meeting with Annie, an ill-fated visit to her family and meetings between the couple when they are both involved with other people. Allen employed unusual cinematic techniques, including split-screen imagery, characters addressing the camera directly, subtitles to explain what the characters are really thinking during a conversation and an animated sequence in which Alvy interacts with the Wicked Queen from Snow White. While the movie originally contained a subplot about a murder, it was completely cut out in the editing, reducing the running time from 140 minutes to a more manageable 95 minutes.
At the time Annie Hall was made and released, Keaton was Allen’s real-life girlfriend. She was born Diane Hall, and the character of the clever but scatterbrained Annie was based loosely on her. Keaton also brought her own fashion sense to the film, and Annie’s effortlessly quirky style, a mix of baggy trousers, hats and oversized jackets, would inspire a wave of imitators. When it was released, Annie Hall grossed some $40 million and was praised by critics as Allen’s best work to date. In addition to Best Picture, the film won Oscars for Allen as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (with Marshall Brickman) and for Keaton as Best Actress. Allen, who declined to attend the ceremony, received a nomination for Best Actor as well. With his win in the Best Director category, Allen became the first director to win an Oscar for a movie in which he also starred.