Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This week, a disposable romantic comedy releases to cinemas and with it, we’re given another chance to bask in the humorous loveliness that is Diane Keaton. Love, Weddings & Other Disasters features Keaton as a blind woman dating a sighted man in Jeremy Irons. Around them, various incidents occur, but the trailer makes them seem utterly disconnected. The film co-stars Maggie Grace, Diego Boneta, and Andrew Bachelor.
While most movies have wasted Keaton’s talents in the last two decades, there’s no question she was at the top of her game from her big screen emergence in the 1970s through her 1990s revival period. Always a charming and welcome presence, Keaton has been stuck in the ditzy comedy style since her career began and which was largely cemented by her Academy Award-winning performance in Annie Hall.
I haven’t seen all of her work and I know films like Looking for Mr. Goodbar demand my attention, but I was able to put together a list of five favorite films for the actress without feeling sanguine about any of them. A brief shout out to First Wives Club, which brought Keaton together with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn in the uproarious comedy that marked a high-water mark for her 1990s comedic output.
The Godfather (1972)
For a gifted comedic actress, it’s a bit surprising to know that three of the five films I’m highlighting this week are dramas, but they are each tremendous films and while Keaton isn’t the reason for any of their successes, she was an important part of each of them. Starting things off is this crime classic The Godfather, based on a novel by Mario Puzo.
Keaton plays Kay Adams, the girlfriend of and later wife to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). While her performance in the film isn’t a central one, she does a solid job as the loving paramour to one of film’s major characters. Coppola’s film is a quintessential one and whether or not Keaton was an integral part of it, it remains a superior effort in her career.
The Godfather, Part II (1974)
That said, she reprised her role in the 1974 sequel to Francis For Coppola’s classic, the first sequel to win the Oscar for Best Picture and bringing Coppola a richly deserved Oscar that he was denied for the first film. Keaton has a more prominent role this time out, but it’s still a film dominated by the male mobsters around her.
Becoming more embittered about her husband’s elicit activities as the Corleone family’s new patriarch, Keaton gets the chance to display her acting skills once again and while it’s easy to say that her character is immaterial in the grand scheme of the film’s narrative, her performance adds immeasurably and gives the film an added depth that might not have been as evident without her.
Annie Hall (1977)
Keaton had been dating Woody Allen for a time, but by the time they had started working together, their relationship had largely ended. Yet, the partnership between Allen and Keaton proved to be his most prominent with Annie Hall being their collaborative pinnacle, evinced by her victory at the Oscars where the film won in four out of the five categories in which it was nominated, giving Allen two awards for writing and directing, Keaton one for acting, and Charles H. Joffe one for producing the Best Picture winner. Allen did not pick up a third trophy for his leading performance.
Keaton’s manic delivery came to define her comedic career with each subsequent film being a slight deviation from that norm. Even if her later performances did little to change up her well known filmic personality, there’s little question that Annie Hall is her best performance to date. It’s a hilarious, self-effacing, down-to-earth performance that endears her easily to an audience who roots for her success in love and life.
In Reds, Keaton plays Louise Bryant, a married socialite who encounters radical journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty) at a lecture in Portland. Intrigued by his idealism, she leaves her husband and moves to Greenwich Village to be with him. As the two experience a complicated relationship over several years, they ultimately end up together as they get caught up in the events that led to the Russian Revolution in 1919.
Keaton is superb, as are Beatty, Nicholson as playwright Eugene O’Neill, and Oscar winner Maureen Stapleton as anarchist and author Emma Goldman. They are surrounded by detailed locales and are supported by an intriguing narrative. The epic explores idealism on a global stage, giving the audience an in depth look at the lives of people who longed to change the world while presenting a deep and complex romantic entanglement between two idealists seeking to stand together while standing apart.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
As one came to expect by the time of this film’s release in 1993, Woody Allen had a talent for bringing together immense acting talents who excelled at comedy when given the right material. Keaton takes a leading role here as Allen’s character’s wife. The pair are pulled into a strange murder mystery involving an older neighbor (Lynn Cohen) who dies unexpectedly of a heart attack and whose husband (Jerry Adler) seems inordinately chipper following her death.
Allen and Keaton begin exploring the depth of the twisting murder mystery bringing the audience along with them. There has seldom been a more perfectly matched pair of neurotic sleuths on the big screen. In addition to Keaton, Allen, Adler, and Cohen, the film includes another pair of impressive stars in Angelica Huston and Alan Alda along with a slate of notable names of the stage and screen who aren’t nearly as well known. It’s a funny film and it was a close call including this over First Wives Club, but since I enjoy a good murder mystery, this one ultimately made the cut.