“Why is life worth living?” Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) asks into a tape recorder in Allen's 1979 film Manhattan. His answers—random yet specific—include the crabs at Sam Wo’s, the second movement of the Jupiter symphony, Sentimental Education by Flaubert, Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” and “those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne.” Here’s our version of that, certain elements of cinema that make our lives worth living, or at least make movies worth watching. They seem to come to us from out of nowhere, little pockets of breathtaking beauty, expert craftmanship and happy accidents. Here are ten such moments—random yet specific—that make us stick around for one more day.
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Woody Allen’s tale of three sisters and their intertwining relationships features no less than three Thanksgiving feasts in as many years. The film that Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss described as having “the elegant geometry of a Philip Barry play” became the biggest box office success of Allen’s career—since surpassed by Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris (2011)—and garnered Oscars for supporting performers Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest, as well as for Allen's screenplay.
The Thanksgiving dinner that opens the film sees oldest sister Hannah (Mia Farrow) fresh off a well-received run onstage as Nora in A Doll’s House. Her husband Elliott (Caine) pines for Hannah’s sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), who lives with her lover Frederick (Max Von Sydow), an artist and social recluse. Hannah’s hypochondriac ex-husband Mickey (Allen) continues to be connected to the family through his sporadic courting of Holly (Dianne Wiest), Hannah’s youngest sister, a caterer, struggling actress and budding writer. The ensemble is rounded out by Hannah’s parents, played by Lloyd Nolan and Farrow’s real-life mother, Maureen Sullivan. As it began, the film ends with a Thanksgiving celebration in Hannah’s Central Park West apartment. An upbeat twist involving Mickey and Holly serves as the final shot.
In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby waxed rhapsodic, declaring the picture “virtually nonstop exhilaration—a dramatic comedy not quite like any other, and one that sets new standards for Mr. Allen as well as for all American movie makers…With this film, it's apparent that Mr. Allen has become the urban poet of our anxious age—skeptical, guiltily bourgeois, longing for answers to impossible questions, but not yet willing to chuck a universe that can produce the Marx Brothers.”