For those of you just joining us, this is The Basics. In short: Drew McWeeny of HitFix and AICN fame tried to kick off a series of columns with a fellow blogger all about the essential films that any film writer or fan ought to be familiar with. When that blogger flaked out on him, I approached some time later to get it back off the ground, and here we are with our second installment...

From Drew's first post back in May 2009 to my first response earlier this month, we've both made mention of hoping that these posts would help promote a greater conversation about movies, particularly on those that we'd chosen to discuss. Then a funny thing happened: producer of films and Tweets alike Keith Calder wondered aloud if anyone could throw their hat into our shared ring.

No, we decided. They can't.

Just kidding. The idea is that once Drew throws down his gauntlet (as he had last week with Woody Allen's Manhattan, which I'll get to in a minute), any of you can feel free to write up your own response and e-mail a link to either of us, so we can share the links in future posts. And hell, if you guys decide to flake out on us, at least we can't say we didn't try.

Now, about this week's title...
At my age, it's common to hear people respond dismissively that I'm not old enough to appreciate something, and more often than not, it feels like a cop-out along the lines of "well, it's not Shakespeare/Citizen Kane/meant to win Oscars or anything." But I do wonder if I won't make more of 1979's Manhattan as years go by; it's so much about the notion of compromise as a means to mid-life happiness that I'd just as soon favor the less weary Woody of Annie Hall. Don't get me wrong -- I liked Manhattan, but to paraphrase that latter film, I didn't lurve it.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. The film opens and closes with black-and-white shots of the city, accompanied by George Gershwin's always lovely "Rhapsody in Blue" and the narration of Allen's character, Isaac, as he tries to explain why he loves this town so.

The 42-year-old Isaac is dating the 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), and no matter how young she makes him feel, he can't help but dwell on how old he really is, how little experience she has and how ill-fated their relationship must be. However, when he meets a woman his own age, Mary (Diane Keaton), she's incredibly dismissive of the cultural artifacts that Isaac holds dear and happens to be his best friend's mistress, and on top of that, Issac's ex (Meryl Streep) has written a tell-all book about their failed marriage.

I find that last subplot fascinating in so far as it relates to the filmmaker's exceedingly neurotic and often self-effacing nature and the identical behavior of his character. Isaac's ex-wife isn't entitled to put all of his foibles on the table, but if Isaac were, say, to make a movie all about them (or even several), that'd be perfectly acceptable. Similarly, Isaac's relationships with Tracy and Mary will only work if Isaac would lets them (which he won't). He can't sabotage a relationship with a piece of music or a painting or his own insecurities, and he even loves to hate things (a sculpture here, an idiom there; from the sound of things, he was born to be a blogger).

But if the ending's any indication, there's hope for people like Isaac (and Woody) yet. After reeling off a laundry list of things he loves and people he adores, he picks up a harmonica that Tracy gaves him -- the one thing from just one person that means the most to him. And so he runs to her apartment, hoping to stop her from doing just what he suggested she should do: leave town for a while, live a little. And Tracy tells him what he can't admit to himself, that people change and not always for the worse, and as Isaac looks at her and Woody all but looks at the camera, he gives a little hopeful smile.

And then we see the city, because no matter what either of them decide, Manhattan will move on with or without them, the only constant in a life full of compromise. It's heavy stuff for one's twenties; I may be cynical, but I'm not that cynical yet. Maybe in ten years' time, I'll watch Manhattan again and give my own knowing smile, as it stays the same and I proceed to change.

Until then, and until next time, have a little faith in people.

categories Columns, Cinematical