Total Recall: Diane Keaton's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Big Wedding star.
If you're the type of film fan who goes in for all-star romantic comedy extravaganzas, this weekend's The Big Wedding could be the cinematic event of the season -- a good old-fashioned, light-hearted look at all the horseplay, tomfoolery, and shenanigans that lead up to one bride and groom's betrothal, with the added bonus of the familiar faces of Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, and Diane Keaton. Cinematic legends, all of them, but this week we're focusing on Keaton's contributions, and when you take a look at the amazing array of films she's appeared in, we think you'll understand why. Break out your favorite vests, baggy pants, and fedoras -- it's time for Total Recall!
The most recent of the eight films she's made with Woody Allen, 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery, almost didn't come Keaton's way; initially, the part of Carol Lipton, an amateur detective whose efforts to solve the mystery of a neighbor's death draw in her neurotic husband (Allen) and a family friend (Alan Alda), was supposed to go to Allen's longtime muse Mia Farrow -- but when their notorious breakup forced him to find a new leading lady, he reached out to a dependable friend. The result was decidedly one of his more lightweight films, but for quite a few critics, that was part of its affable charm; as Owen Gleiberman wrote for Entertainment Weekly, "Nobody labors quite like Woody Allen to produce a modest entertainment."
An epic 194-minute biopic about the tortured affair between radical journalists John Reed (Warren Beatty) and Louise Bryan (Keaton) during the early 20th century, set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, Reds wasn't exactly the most commercially friendly film of 1981 -- but thanks to positive word of mouth and a stellar cast that also included Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Gene Hackman, and M. Emmet Walsh, it ended up grossing more than $50 million during its theatrical run, on the way to picking up three Academy Awards (against a dozen nominations). Calling it "Political drama and sweeping romance in one," Carol Cling of the Las Vegas Review-Journal marveled, "Only Warren Beatty would, or could, do it."
Woody Allen didn't direct the 1972 film adaptation of his Broadway hit Play It Again, Sam, but he did star in it and write the screenplay -- and he did make sure to bring over Keaton, his leading lady from the stage. While the whole thing still didn't amount to much more than an affable homage to Casablanca, there's no denying the strength of that impeccable source material, or the skill and affection with which Sam pays tribute to an assortment of scenes, lines, and characters that every film buff knows by heart. "Maybe the movie has too much coherence, and the plot is too predictable; that's a weakness of films based on well-made Broadway plays," admitted Roger Ebert. "Still, that's hardly a serious complaint about something as funny as Play It Again, Sam."
By the end of the 1970s, Keaton had starred in six Woody Allen films -- with the fifth, Annie Hall, sending her home with an Academy Award for Best Actress. She didn't repeat the feat with their sixth collaboration, 1979's Manhattan, but it's safe to say audiences and critics responded to the end result; Allen's story of a neurotic TV writer character caught in a(n admittedly unlikely-seeming) love triangle between a teenager (Mariel Hemingway) and an intellectual (Keaton) is regarded as one of the high points of his distinguished career. As Vincent Canby wrote for the New York Times when Manhattan was released, "Mr. Allen's progress as one of our major filmmakers is proceeding so rapidly that we who watch him have to pause occasionally to catch our breath."
6. Annie Hall
Keaton's career was already well on its way in 1977, but her turn as the title character in Woody Allen's Annie Hall rocketed her into Hollywood's upper echelon, earning her a Best Actress Oscar and heaps of critical accolades for a performance of a character who'd form the (often misunderstood) template for countless quirky-but-lovable leading ladies in subsequent rom-coms. While Keaton's affinity for the character makes sense, given that Allen constructed it based on what she's described as an "idealized version" of herself, that doesn't detract from the sheer winsomeness in the film; as Vincent Canby observed for the New York Times, "There will be discussion about what points in the film coincide with the lives of its two stars, but this, I think, is to detract from and trivialize the achievement of the film, which, at last, puts Woody in the league with the best directors we have."