Woody Allen’s quaint, quirky film “Annie Hall” incited one of the great controversies in Oscar history when it captured the Academy Award for Best Picture over innovative blockbuster and American cultural landmark “Star Wars” on this day in history, April 3, 1978.
The Hollywood hullabaloo has grown only greater in the decades since.
“‘Annie Hall’ contains more intellectual wit and cultural references than any other movie ever to win the Oscar for best picture,” celebrated late movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2002.
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But even he called the “Star Wars” snub “an outcome unthinkable today.”
“Annie Hall” was a commercial hit as well as a critical success, netting $44 million at the box office.
It helped make Allen one of the most successful filmmakers and actors of his era.
The original “Star Wars” (now better known as “Star Wars Episode IV-A New Hope”) garnered $776 million from filmgoers and inspired a franchise of eight other films (and growing) that has generated over $10 billion in sales.
But the George Lucas tale from “a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away” was more than just a box-office blockbuster.
“‘Star Wars’ taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it’s done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears and exhilarations.” — Roger Ebert
“Star Wars” has grown into a global cultural leviathan far beyond the confines of the silver screen. It’s perhaps more popular today, nearly half a century later, than when it first hit theaters in 1977.
“The case for ‘Star Wars’ winning is well-known by now. It is without question one of the most influential films ever released, and just about every director working in the realm of studio blockbusters cites it as a reason they broke into the profession,” Chris Agar wrote for ScreenRant.com in a 2017 retrospective of the Oscar controversy.
“Even in the film’s immediate aftermath it was inspiring aspiring helmsman; James Cameron quit his job as a truck driver after seeing ‘Star Wars’ to work in movies. It’s easy to see why ‘Star Wars’ landed with this kind of impact — it represents the pinnacle of movie magic.”
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In contrast to the “pinnacle” of filmmaking, “Annie Hall” is Allen’s rom-com tale in which he plays a neurotic New York City comedian reflecting on his own insecurities and loves lost, most notably his failed relationship with the title character played by Diane Keaton.
Ebert’s original reviews of the films for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1977 betray what must have been his own shock at the Best Picture nod for “Annie Hall.”
He enthuses breathlessly over “Star Wars” while offering only gentlemanly praise for Allen’s storytelling.
“Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie,” Ebert wrote of “Star Wars” and its timeless tale of unwitting rebel Luke Skywalker and evil dark lord Darth Vader.
“The movie’s happening, and it’s happening to me.”
“‘Annie Hall’ was nominated for five Academy Awards and won four: ‘Star Wars’ was nominated for 11 Oscars and won six.”
He added, “‘Star Wars’ taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it’s done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears and exhilarations we thought we’d abandoned when we read our last copy of ‘Amazing Stories.’”
He wrote only tepidly of “Annie Hall” in 1977.
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“‘Annie Hall’ is a comedy, yes, and there are moments in it as funny as anything Woody has done,” wrote Ebert, “but the movie represents a growth on Allen’s part … into a much more thoughtful and (is it possible?) more mature director.”
“Annie Hall” certainly boasted an A-list cast.
In addition to Allen and Keaton, it starred Shelly Duvall, Christopher Walken and singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Author Truman Capote had a cameo role, while stars of the future Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo and Sigourney Weaver also appeared in the film.
“Annie Hall” was nominated for five Academy Awards and won four: In addition to Best Picture honors, Allen earned Oscars for Best Director and Best Original screenplay, while Keaton took home Best Actress honors.
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“Star Wars” earned even more love from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in its awards for 1977 filmmaking.
“With ‘Star Wars,’ the age of the blockbuster was upon us.” — Roger Ebert
It was nominated for 11 Oscars and won six, more than any other film that year: Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Sound and, perhaps most famously, Original Score for the triumphal soundtrack by composer John Williams.
The cache of hardware makes the original “Star Wars” one of the most successful films in the history of the Academy Awards.
But the snub for Best Picture is the one that inflames the passions of many “Star Wars” enthusiasts still to this day.
Regardless of the awards, “Star Wars” changed the future of filmmaking.
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“The victory (by ‘Annie Hall’) marked the beginning of Woody Allen’s career as an important filmmaker (his earlier work was funny but slight) and it signaled the end of the 1970s golden age of American movies,” Ebert wrote in 2002.
“With ‘Star Wars,’ the age of the blockbuster was upon us,” Ebert also wrote.