Which is the Better Best Picture: Lawrence of Arabia or Annie Hall?

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An epic for the ages, by a director who was in the midst of a trilogy of epics (Bridge on the River Kwai before, Doctor Zhivago after), Lawrence of Arabia finds its power in concepts of largeness — the massive desert in which so much of it is set, the booming, overwhelming Maurice Jarre score, the larger-than-life personality of T.E. Lawrence, so hypnotically portrayed by newcomer Peter O’Toole. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won seven — Picture, Director, Cinematography, Score, Art Direction, Editing, Sound — though its two acting nominees, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, walked away empty-handed.



“What’s with all these awards?” asks Alvy Singer in his usual tone of nerdy nerviness. “They’re always giving out awards. ‘Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.’” Woody Allen, Alvy’s creator and embodier, holds just as virulent a contempt for competitive awards. Nor is Woody-Alvy, a lifelong New York City chauvinist, the biggest fan of Los Angeles — “a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.” No surprise, then, that Allen didn’t show up in L.A. on April 3, 1978, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out four major statuettes to Annie Hall, for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman) and Actress (Diane Keaton). A light fictionalizing of Allen’s longtime affair with Keaton (real name: Diane “Annie” Hall), the movie marked the end of Allen’s experiments in movie parody and the instant apex of his autobiographical period. Aside from showcasing Keaton’s thrift-shop couture, which briefly became chic, and giving Christopher Walken his first screen break as Annie’s extraterrestrial brother, Allen expanded his stand-up persona into an improbable movie hero, and distilled the ’70s Upper West Side for export to the wide movie world. The result was the definitive urban romantic comedy, about a sweet, stammering shiksa and her neurotic beau who defends his chronic masturbating as “sex with someone I love.” The Oscar has gone to many worthy celebrities, but Allen deserves another award: Best Missing Winner.