That Diane Keaton is an odd one. And I'm not talking about her fashion sense (which, incidentally, I've always admired). No, Keaton is odd in that she's a wonderfully rare type of actress who has managed the tough task of playing leading lady, character actress and comedienne, sometimes all at once. She's also a fascinating director, photographer and archivist in her own right. And yes, she dated Woody Allen and Warren Beatty. What a life this woman has led.
And what a film career. Though not possessing the range of say, Meryl Streep, Keaton's always been an interesting presence, an actress whose screwy charm (that snorting laugh, that scattered delivery) belies a deep intelligence that still fascinates. Here are 10 reasons why.
10. Something's Gotta Give (2003)
The premise of writer/director Nancy Meyers' sappy dramedy was somewhat annoying, not because it wasn't realistic (we all know older men like the younger ladies, especially in Hollywood), but because the leads -- Keaton and Jack Nicholson -- deserved a more inspired vision. And yet, the film is funny and often very touching because of their performances, and especially Keaton, who takes trite romantic comic dialogue and makes it her own. As a 57-year-old writer who finds herself reluctantly convalescing 63-year-old ladies' man Nicholson (who is having a fling with her daughter), Keaton bravely pokes fun at being the older lady -- the one who hides her age in turtleneck sweaters. She's lonely (which is hard to believe given how charming and smart and still good looking she is), she's a little bitter and she's somewhat sickened by Nicholson's double standard ... and yet she finds herself falling for the S.O.B. And he starts falling for her. Though the film is lightweight stuff, Keaton delivers gravitas, humanity and likeability to the winning combination of Jack and Diane.
9. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Released right after the notorious Woody Allen/Soon Yi-Previn scandal, Diane Keaton was walking into something of a minefield by taking a role in Allen's charming Manhattan Murder Mystery. For one, the public was still grappling with Allen's actions (though most true-blue fans quickly forgave -- especially when he made the hilariously acerbic, self-hating Deconstructing Harry) and for two, Keaton took over a role intended for Mia Farrow. No worries. Keaton, once Allen's girlfriend -- pre-Mia, and most inspired muse -- worked perfectly in his scenario, as she did in all the Allen movies she starred in (Honestly, I could list every single one of them here but I can't make this list just about Woody Allen movies.) The story has a bored New York wife, Carol (Keaton), caught in a Rear Window scenario when she suspects her old neighbor of killing his wife. She enlists the help of a friend (Alan Alda) to sleuth with her while generally driving her unsuspecting husband, Larry (Allen), nuts. His answer to her suspicions of the husband's lack of mourning is "What should he do? Walk down the street sobbing?" It's great fun seeing the duo re-unite after so many years -- almost melancholy, really, since their chemistry is still so magical.
8. Marvin's Room (1996)
This kind of movie is never my cup of tea. Obviously, a character being ravaged by leukemia is going to be sympathetic, and in most films, the linchpin to completely manipulate your emotions. Marvin's Room is almost no different -- almost -- if not for the terrific cast of Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwen Verdon, Hume Cronyn and Keaton working a symmetry that only actors can have when playing people who can't stand each other. Keaton is startlingly real here as Bessie, a woman who's been taking care of her dying father without any contact or help from her hairdresser sister (Streep). When she gets sick, her sister returns along with two sons, one a deeply troubled teen (DiCaprio), who set her house on fire. Streep and Keaton play awkward to the hilt, but with subtly and sweetness that, again, almost annoys. But Keaton's reflective and often effectively uncomfortable performance is so palpable and so wonderfully realized, you can't help but fall for her. It's a six-hankie affair for sure, but Keaton helps push the film beyond its dangerous disease-of-the-week territory.
7. Shoot the Moon (1981)
Shoot the Moon is a flawed movie made absorbing by two great performances, by Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. As the cheating husband who's kicked out of the house by his wife of 15 years (Keaton), Finney gets much of the film's meaty moments. But Keaton's distress and rage is so honestly painful, it's tough not being affected by it, even while viewing the film as problematic. The anguish here is not a fun place to visit, as Keaton well reveals in her scenes of attempting to regain her dignity. She starts a relationship as one step, but there's a terrific sadness to it -- as anyone who's really trying to get over another person so obviously conveys when they're supposedly "getting on with their life." And a moment Keaton has in the bathtub is a killer. Again, it's a wonderful performance, but you often want to snatch her from the movie and plop her in a comedy -- there's just something not right about Diane Keaton being that sad.
6. Crimes of the Heart (1986)
An underrated women's picture (not "chick flick"), Crimes of the Heart, adapted from Beth Henley's stage play, features a kind of holy trinity of leading lady power: Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and, of course, Diane Keaton. A sunny Southern Gothic, the story moves from melodrama to comedy to loopiness with a charming ease, thanks mainly to the three actresses who chew the scenery with equal mastication, playing three very different Southern sisters. Keaton is the dumpy one, the hausfrau who can't find a man, who remains in the family's dead mother's house and who keeps tabs on "Old Grandaddy" while her pretty sister, (a world weary and sexy Lange) zooms back into town and her nutty, cute sister (a lovable Spacek) shoots her abusive husband. Keaton does the eccentric frump right as she skillfully switches the very heated emotions the sister's reunion provides. She heartily laughs at inappropriate moments, gets angry (her meltdown over a box of chocolates is hilarious) and convincingly loves her sisters -- even when they drive her crazy. Heartwarming can be such a cliché emotion in movies, but Keaton manages to convey it with a weirdly over-the-top reality. That's talent.
5. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (1972, 1974)
Poor Kay Adams. She wasn't Michael Corleone's first love (that honor went to the beautiful girl/wife in Sicily who was blown up in a car) but she was the appropriate choice. A WASPy, maternal type who added to Michael's respectability, Keaton's Kay remained relatively silent throughout the first picture, living in willful ignorance of Michael's, uh, lifestyle and business dealings. But when he closed the door on her (in the original film's famous final scene) the problems really started. One of her greatest moments in the entire saga is during a domestic battle with Michael, during which she reveals she didn't lose her baby, but horrors, aborted it. The moment is absolutely shattering, and you feel sorry for Kay (you really feel bad for her), but also for Michael, who started the disintegration of the family in the first place -- this is the result. One of Keaton's finest moments.
4. Manhattan (1979)
It takes talent to make a character who is, at first, pretty pretentious and annoying into an actually likeable character whom you come to care about. Such is Diane Keaton's Mary in Woody Allen's classic Manhattan. She's the woman who's having an affair with Allen's best friend (played by Michael Murphy) but is dumped when the relationship endangers his marriage. She moves on to Allen who, in classic romantic comedy style, can't stand each other on first meeting. She hates the art he likes, the composers he admires and thinks Bergman is overrated. Allen is fascinated nonetheless and the two begin a friendship (while Allen dates a 17-year-old played by Mariel Hemingway) that morphs into romance. It's an unlikely union between two self obsessed, neurotic smarty pants but it's witty and romantic and sad all at once. Keaton is terrific -- insecure (Allen claims her self esteem must be a "notch below Kafka's") while being completely full of herself. In other words, real. Incompatibility has never been so romantic.
3. Reds (1981)
Though some critics thought Keaton not,well hot enough to play the, super sexy radical
Louise Bryant in Warren Beatty's fantastic epic Reds, Keaton nails the part -- partly for her own skills as an actress and partly for the company around her. When a sublime Jack Nicholson (playing Eugene O'Neill) calls you a "heartbreaker," you are one. And when Warren Beatty's famed journalist/communist activist finally asks you to marry him (even when he really doesn't believe in it), you're holding some serious sway over these men. Playing the real-life Bryant as frequently insecure and intimidated but uninhibited and a true "Queen of Bohemia" (as her biographer proclaimed her), Keaton conveys a potent mixture of vulnerability, sexuality and manipulation. Her scenes with Nicholson absolutely sizzle and her arguments with Beatty (a lover offscreen as well) are so convincing, you'd think their fights were real. Were they?
2. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
What's a nice girl like Diane Keaton doing in a movie like this? That's what many a viewer thought while watching Richard Brooks' disturbing, sexual and violent Looking for Mr. Goodbar, a notorious movie that continues to confuse with its moral message. Is the film judging the sexually free, hedonistic life of Keaton's character, or is it judging the world surrounding her -- a world full of darkness and bad luck and consequences? What kind of cautionary tale is it? The film remains remarkably subversive (and unanswerable) and incredibly strong, chiefly with the very nice presence of Keaton. Adapted from Judith Rossner's bestselling book, Keaton plays lonely and lost Theresa -- a sweet young woman who teaches first grade to deaf-mutes by day and makes herself available at the singles bars by night. And she really makes herself available. Through many sexual encounters, some more disturbing than others, we watch Keaton's Theresa, perhaps masochistically, delve into a promiscuity rarely seen by leading ladies. And she's not just playing the "tramp" -- she truly is confused. Keaton is perfect in the role because she looks like the girl you take home to mom. Her line delivery is wonderfully distracted, and every giggle or aside subtly reveals her avoidance to the deeper truth about herself. It's a bravura, shocking and ultimately heartbreaking performance and Keaton's bravest work to date.
1. Annie Hall (1977)
You've seen a lot of Woody Allen on this list, which is simply unavoidable, as so much of Keaton's appeal is best displayed in Allen's pictures. And no more is this evident in Keaton's most famous, most iconic role -- as the quirky, eponymous leading lady of Allen's masterpiece, Annie Hall. Where to begin? There's the romance between neurotic comedy writer Alvie Singer (Allen) and the kooky aspiring singer Annie (Keaton), a woman who drives insanely, sits nice with her secretly crazy WASP family (well, her brother, played by Christopher Walken, is nuts), dons lots of spiffy Ralph Lauren menswear and says things like "la-di-da." Keaton is such a wonderfully "New York" character -- not overtly feminine, and yet very much a woman; a little daffy and up for new experiences (like reading The National Review), and yet continually wholesome. In other hands, Annie could have been too dizzy (annoying even), but when she calls Alvie in the middle of the night to kill a spider "the size of a Buick," it actually melts your heart when you learn she really just misses him. And who can forget their lobster date? So, so charming. Not only will there never be another Annie Hall, there'll never be an actress like Diane Keaton to play her.