25 Years Ago

Deconstructing Woody

Woody Allen's love/hate relationship with Oscar -- The famously angsty auteur, who cleaned up 25 years ago with ''Annie Hall,'' is a 20-time nominee. Yet he's made only one awards-night appearance

''The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don't.'' -- Woody Allen, shrugging off Sleeper's lack of Oscar nominations, 1974

''Thank you very much. That makes up for the strip search.'' -- Woody Allen, acknowledging a standing ovation at the 2002 Oscar ceremonies

In between those two quotes lies one of the most remarkable runs in the history of the Academy Awards. From the time of his initial Oscar apotheosis with 1977's Annie Hall to 1999's Sweet and Lowdown, the most recent of his films to make it into the Oscar bake-offs, Woody Allen has racked up more nominations than any other writer-director. Well, almost. Over the course of his long career, the late Billy Wilder was in the running for Best Director or best writer 20 times (and once as a producer); the Woodman has been nominated 19 times in those same categories (and once, too, for Best Actor in Annie Hall).

Viewed strictly in the Oscar-metric sense, Allen's numbers put him in the Hall of Fame. While he personally has been nominated 20 times and has won thrice, his films have been nominated for a total of 44 Academy Awards and have won 9. His actresses have won four times out of 10 nominations (Dianne Wiest did it twice), and his actors once out of five nominations (congratulations, Michael Caine). Even as an Oscar no-show, Woody's a champ: He's received a nod as writer or director for 13 films without once making an appearance at the ceremonies. Katharine Hepburn only didn't show up the 12 times she was nominated.

And Allen is still cranking out movies at a hale and hearty 67, so even if the work has been spotty of late, there's more than a good chance that he'll tie or even pass Wilder's record before he's done. Not bad for a guy who once singled the Academy Awards out from all the other movie honors by calling them ''particularly grubby.''

It was 25 years ago that Oscar first prostrated itself at Woody Allen's feet. The film, of course, was Annie Hall, the first of Allen's comedies to make the leap to something larger and more profound. Sure, audiences roared when the lobsters chased Allen and Diane Keaton around the kitchen, but the film also tapped into the rootless angst of the Me Generation with a wistfulness that still smarts. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, critic Vincent Canby called it ''a comedy about urban love and incompatibility that...at last puts Woody in the league with the best directors we have.''

In 1977, it was hard to find anyone who didn't agree: The Academy handed Annie Hall five nominations, for Allen and Keaton in the lead roles, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. Allen's writing/directing/starring hat trick was especially impressive; the last person to pull it off -- Orson Welles for 1941's Citizen Kane.

Allen didn't call the Oscars a ''meat parade,'' as George C. Scott had done. He didn't send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, like Marlon Brando. He just quietly let everyone know that come Oscar night, he would be playing his usual Dixieland jazz gig as clarinetist for the New Orleans Marching and Funeral Band, at Michael's Pub on New York's East Side. Actually, by the time Annie Hall won its Oscars on the West Coast, Allen was already home in bed, having unplugged the phone and lulled himself to sleep by reading Conversations With Carl Jung. He didn't find out about the film's four wins -- for Best Picture, Actress, Director, and Original Screenplay -- until the following morning.

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