Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): Woody Allen’s Best Film (Thanksgiving)

One of the best films Woody Allen has ever directed in a career spanning five decades, Hannah and Her Sister is an ensemble-driven feature with serio-comic elements.

An ambitious, intricate family saga, for which Allen won the Original Screenplay Oscar, “Hannah and Her Sisters,” is framed by two family holiday celebrations, from one Thanksgiving to the next one, during which we get to meet three disparate sisters, played by Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Dianne Wiest.

Woody Allen makes an invaluable contribution to the picture as an actor, playing Mickey, a TV producer, essentially a variation of his Jewish neurotic character, hypochondriac and fearful of deathexcept that here, for a change, there’s happy ending.

Formerly married to Mickey, the eldest sister, Hanna (Farrow), is married to Elliott (Michael Caine), a business manager for rock stars, who’s fooling around with her beautiful sisters Lee (Hershey), who’s living with Frederik (Max Von Sydow), an older, bitter SoHo artist.

The youngest of the trio is Holly (Wiest), an insecure woman and former drug-addict, who changes profession by the day, and resents the most her oldest, most respectable, “perfect” sister, who seems (but only seems) to have everything.

Structurally, the film is divided into chapters, with such titles as Summer in New York, Autumn Chill, Lucky I Ran Into You, The Audition, and so on. The epilogue is set one year later, over a big Thanksgiving dinner, revealing a new set of relationships and adjustments.

Many viewers were impressed with a restaurant scene, in which the camera magnificently circles 360 degrees around the table, while the sisters chat about this and that.

Career-wise, unfortunately, “Hannah and Her Sisters,” a huge critical and commercial hit, the film signaled the end of the Allen’s position as the foremost American director, an era that began with the 1977 Oscar-winning “Annie Hall,” during which Allen was not only the most famous Jewish director but the most famous and most acclaimed American filmmaker.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture: produced by Robert Greenhut
Screenplay (Original): Woody Allen
Director: Woody Allen
Supporting Actor: Michael Caine
Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Stuart Wurtzel; Carol Joffe
Film Editing: Susan E. Morse

Oscar Awards: 3

Supporting Actor
Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

In 1986, Woody Allen’s serio-comedy “Hannah and Her Sisters,” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with the drama “Children of Lesser God,” Oliver Stone’s Vietnam combat film “Platoon,” which won, the dull historical epic “The Mission,” and Merchant-Ivory period adaptation “A Room With a View.”

The nominations caused a scandal when the helmer of “Children of a Lesser God,” Randa Haines, failed to receive a Best Director nod, probably because of the gender; similar discrimination occurs when both Penny Marshall and Barbra Streisand were snubbed by the Director Branch, despite the fact that their pictures, “Awakenings” and “The Prince of Tides,” respectively, did get Best Picture nominations.

Claire Simpson won the Editing Oscar for “Platoon,” and Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar, and Elio Altamura the Art Direction-Set Decoration award for “A Room With a View.”

(Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production)