Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, is out today, and that’s about all the excuse we need to sing the praises of one of our all-time favorite leading ladies. In 50 films over the course of 40-plus years, Keaton has assembled a body of work that is unique in today’s cinematic landscape: she’s crafted a distinctive and memorable onscreen persona, without repeating herself or wearing out a tired shtick. After the jump, we’ve selected ten of our favorite individual moments — a scene, a conversation, even a look — from her career; add your own in the comments.
On morality, Love and Death
As you might expect, it’s tough to do a list like this and not focus entirely on Keaton’s collaborations with Woody Allen. In their seven feature films (and an unfortunately still-buried PBS special) together, Keaton proved Allen’s ideal leading lady, marvelously personifying the occasionally brilliant, occasionally dizzy urban sophisticate. But in his earliest comedies, she also showed a seldom-utilized flair for broad, physical comedy and outright silliness. Take, for example, this oddball seduction sequence from Allen’s hilarious 1975 satire on Russian literature, Love and Death. She’s doing takes, she’s doing physical comedy, she’s daffy but sexy. But watch, in particular, her peerless comic timing when she delivers the line, “It would be immoral. What time?”
A confession, The Godfather Part II
Keaton is such a crackerjack comedienne that she often doesn’t get due praise for her dramatic chops. But her first big success was in the tricky role of Kay Corleone in The Godfather, and her nuanced reaction as her husband’s door closed in her face made for one of the most iconic single shots in all of cinema. Her finest acting moment in the series came in the 1974 follow-up, in which Kay finally lets loose with a confession that breaks Michael’s steely reserve. Coppola’s camera focuses more on his reaction than her words in this scene, but even off-camera, this is a remarkable piece of work.
The first meeting, Annie Hall
It’s hard to pick a single scene from Keaton’s Oscar-winning performance as Annie Hall in Woody Allen’s classic 1977 romantic comedy. But we’re gonna go with the first meeting of Annie (Keaton) and Alvy (Allen), a tennis match with a charmingly awkward interaction afterward. Keaton is both charming and hilariously goofy (“la di da!”), attractive yet approachable, and she does the seemingly impossible: convincing us that this lovely young woman would be nervously hot for Woody Allen.
Playing it cool in Looking for Mr. Goodbar
That same year, Keaton won praise for a very different kind of performance in Richard Brooks’ somewhat controversial film adaptation of Judith Rossner’s novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Still inexplicably unavailable on DVD, this dark drama finds Keaton doing some of her best film work to date (“Diane Keaton’s performance as a benign schoolteacher by day, ‘liberated’ woman looking for no-strings sex by night, is worth the DVD treatment all on its own,” according to the AV Club). Take this bar scene, in which a twitchy young Richard Gere tries to pick Keaton up. Her disinterest is just a little overdone, allowing us to peek and guess at what’s happening under the surface — and our guesses are confirmed by the scene’s surprise turn.
Letting her guard down in Manhattan
Mary Wilkie, the role that Allen wrote for Keaton in his 1979 film Manhattan, was a marked departure from Annie Hall — in at least her early scenes, Mary is a pushy bully, a cultural snob who dismisses all of his heroes as “overrated.” But the more time he spends with her, the more he grows to like her (and the same with the audience). In this scene, an afternoon walk through Central Park is rained out, becoming a visit to the Hayden Planetarium. Allen and his brilliant cinematographer Gordon Willis (who also lit Keaton in the Godfather movies) take advantage of the dark and quiet ambiance of the planetarium and play the scene in a still, almost total darkness; several shots are entirely blacked out or done in silhouette. As a result, Keaton must put across the delicate and slowly-revealed vulnerability of her tough intellectual solely through the use of her (hushed) voice.
The fine art of quiet panic in Reds
Watch her eyes. Keaton’s dialogue in this scene from Warren Beatty’s 1981 historical epic is deceptively simple (“How d’you do, Mr. Reed.” “Yes, yes I am.” That kinda thing), but the subtext is thick. Her married socialite is being introduced to radical journalist John Reed, but they’ve met before — an interview that ends up lasting an entire night. She has to act like they’re meeting for the first time here, conveying the anxiety of the encounter to an audience and the necessity for discretion to Reed. She does it all with her eyes.
The fine art of loud and total panic in Baby Boom
Keaton’s surprise 1987 hit was a fairly formulaic late-’80s high-concept comedy: powerful career woman ends up taking care of baby, wackiness ensues, big changes follow, etc. But it is given considerable force by the sheer comic bravado of Keaton’s terrific performance, which comes to a head in this all-out breakdown (one shot, no cuts), following the news that yet another element of her ill-advised move to the country has gone to hell. “I used to be cute/em>!” she objects. “I am not prepared for wells to run dry!” Carrying off a speech like this is harder than it looks (it’s easy to play for sympathy, or simply to overdo it), but Keaton sells it beautifully.
Cold as ice in The Godfather Part III
This scene, early in The Godfather Part III (in which Keaton is mostly underused), functions, in many ways, as a specific follow-up to the confession in Godfather II — we see how the years have hardened the once-vibrant Kay, how her hatred for Michael has become so compact as to squeeze out the fear that once compromised it. He’s now trying to be reasonable, to maintain a relationship that is at least cordial, but the coldness and simplicity of her words, dripping with an underplayed venom, is priceless.
Keeping it together in The First Wives Club
One of Keaton’s singular comic gifts, as displayed in the Baby Boom scene and this one, is in playing the character who is just barely holding herself together, and then — in a flash — losing her control. That happens in this scene from the broad but fun 1996 hit The First Wives Club, in which the mousy Annie (Keaton) watches her forthright friends (played by Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler) go after each other, only to be bullied into blowing her top herself. That’s a good moment, but there’s an even better one right beforehand, as her friends turn on her. The line, as written, is as follows: “You both have severe psychological problems and I, you see, I, I, I’m the nice one here!” Not exactly Oscar Wilde. But listen to her reading of that line (at 1:15) tells you everything you need to know about what a good comic actor can do with a fair-to-middling bit of dialogue.
Au natural in Something’s Gotta Give (NSFW)
Any discussion of what a good actor like Diane Keaton can do with bad material must include Something’s Gotta Give, a giant box office hit ($266 million) in 2003. Jack Nicholson starred in this tale of a filthy-rich playboy who finally falls for a woman his own age — played by Keaton, who got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. And she deserved it; Something’s Gotta Give is a terrible movie, a tired and predictable entry in director Nancy Myers’ endless cycle of rom-coms by and about fabulously wealthy and shockingly uninteresting white people. But here’s the thing: Diane Keaton is great in it. Her comic timing is as sharp as ever, she inhabits the role with wit and flair entirely absent from the comatose screenplay, and she proves herself not only up for anything but still — at 55 — very much in the game (object of desire-wise) in her unexpected nude scene (above).