Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1979 (The 9 Years, Part 5)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was great, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

It was in 1979, as a young film fan--only 12, going on 13--that I started noticing articles hailing 1939 as the finest year for movies. But, but the end of 1979, I started saying "What the hell? I know 1939's great, but this year has been unbelievable." Even now, I look at 1979 as the true rival to 1939 as the cinema's most notable year. I will admit: I was a kid then, and everything we see as kids, we hold up as the best the world has to offer. But who can really argue the following list. It's a monster.

I should note: here I start talking more in depth about why these movies should be noted, because the time that's elapsed since their release has not been enough to ensure their inclusion into the filmmaking canon. You will see this trend in my writing increase, for the same reasons, with each subsequent entry in this series.

And so:

30 years ago this year occurred my favorite movie year ever, so we celebrate:
Alien (Ridley Scott's genre-changing sci-fi film--really a remake of 1958's It! The Terror From Beyond Space--with unmatchable art direction, Oscar-winning special effects (including H.R. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi's monster designs) and career performances from cast Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and then-newcomer Sigourney Weaver)

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse's autobiographical masterpiece and surely an entry into the American canon; movie and stage director Joe Gideon--embodied by an uncanny Roy Schieder--tries to juggle art with personal demons, resulting in his Fellini-esque death; unspeakably fantastic musical numbers, scored by Oscar-winner Ralph Burns; superb performances from Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Cliff Gorman, Erezebet Foldi, Max Frost, Sandahl Bergman, and an electrifying Ben Vereen; editing by Alan Heim; Oscar-winning costumes and art direction by Tony Walton; cinematography by Fellini vet Giuseppe Rotunno; won the 1980 Palme D'Or at Cannes, making 1979 the rare year with 3 Palme D'Or-winning pictures (see Apocalypse Now and The Tin Drum)

...And Justice for All (chaotic NYC courtroom antics, directed by Norman Jewison, with Oscar-nominated lead from Al Pacino)

Apocalypse Now (perhaps the most taxing movie ever made; Francis Ford Coppola battled foreign governments, heart attacks, hurricanes, self-doubt, studios, and Marlon Brando to get John Milius' and Michael Herr's adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness on screen; what results is the most colorful, discombobulating of Vietnam war films--produced a mere 4-5 years after the end of the war. It has its faults, but is obviously colossal, with Oscar-winning photography by Vittorio Storaro, and editing and sound work by Walter Murch, who pioneered the art of sound design with this film; this is all not to mention a purple-hearted cast that includes the heroic Martin Sheen, Albert Hall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Harrison Ford, G.D. Spradlin, Dennis Hopper, the young Lawrence Fishburne, and the inscrutable Marlon Brando; winner of three Oscars; shared the Palme D'Or with The Tin Drum at 1979 Cannes Film Festival)

Baby Snakes (cult hit masterminded by Frank Zappa)

Being There (Hal Ashby's final masterpiece; after delivering all throughout the 1970s with The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, and Coming Home, Ashby gifts us with this sneaky comedy about unwitting, TV-loving political player Chauncey Gardener, played by Peter Sellers in a performance that easily bests his greatest moments on-screen; Sellers died shortly afterwards, and the troubled Ashby would never regain such heights)

Best Boy (Ira Wohl won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar with this intimate portrait of his cousin Philly, an aging mentally-challenged man living with his even-more-elderly parents, who with the help of Wohl, stakes his independence in the world; emotionally devastating, and a pioneer in autobiographical docs)

The Black Hole (cult Disney sci-fi movie with notable art direction and special effects)

The Black Stallion (amazing feature debut for director Carroll Ballard; immaculately crafted film about a boy and his horse that works as adventure story and intimate fiction; Carmine Coppola's score, Alan Splet's Oscar-winning sound effects, Dean Tavoularis' art direction, performances by Kelly Reno (as the boy), Mickey Rooney (as his trainer), Hoyt Axton (excellent as the gambling father), Teri Garr (Alex's mother), Clarence Muse (in his final screen performance), and Caleb Deschanel's landmark photography are all stunning; an absolute must for kids, and adults)

Breaking Away (my favorite screenplay ever, written by Steve Tesich, who won every conceivable award for it, including the Oscar; Dennis Christopher is Italian-loving bicyclist in Bloomington, Indiana college town, trying to figure out what to do with his life; crack supporting cast includes Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern as his best friends; the amazing Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie as his parents; and Robyn Douglass as the girl he loves; understated direction by Brit Peter Yates, with perhaps the most rousing competition-based climax in cinema; sophisticated, classically-inspired Patrick Williams score)

The Brood (stomach-churning, deliberately paced psychological horror from David Cronenberg, with Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed as members of an angry cult)

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (peppy prequel to 1969 classic, with fine cast, headed by the young Tom Berenger and William Katt (and with excellent supporting cast of character actors, including Brian Dennehy), all put together by director Richard Lester)

La Cage Aux Folles (massive hit, gay-themed French farce helmed by Edouard Molinaro; inspired two sequels, a much-loved Mike Nichols remake (The Birdcage), and a Tony-winning Broadway musical)

California Dreaming (underrated 70s-era beach movie, with nerd Dennis Christopher arriving beachside, then meeting beachbum Seymour Cassell, and falling for his unattainable daughter, played by Glynnis O'Connor; fun movie, directed by the estimable John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly, Let's Scare Jessica to Death)

Caligula (inevitably offensive retelling of Roman emperor's decadence, with Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren, as well as lots of violence and porn; a bad movie, but one of the most notorious bad movies ever made; produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione)

Cannibal Holocaust (cult Filipino horror film; another bad movie, yet it has its fans, though it's difficult to say why; controversial for including the brutal murders of animals, so there's a version out there with all that stuff cut out)

Chilly Scenes of Winter (released this year as Head Over Heels then reedited and re-released in 1981 as Chilly Scenes of Winter, Joan Micklin Silver's filming of Ann Beattie's baby boomer novel is, next to Annie Hall, the most accurate mapping of a failed relationship ever committed to screen; engaging cast includes leads John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt, and support from Kenneth MacMillan, Peter Riegert, Mark Metcalf, Tarah Nutter, Nora Heflin and the final notable film role for film noir great Gloria Grahame; my favorite obscure movie to recommend to movie lovers, and the first review I ever did on this blog)

The China Syndrome (James Bridges directed this sobering look at a failing nuclear power plant, with Jack Lemmon as the plant's chief engineer, Jane Fonda as a muckraking local TV reporter, and producer Michael Douglas as her cameraman)

The Corn is Green (moving George Cukor-directed TV movie with Katherine Hepburn as strong-willed teacher of poor rural kids)

Dawn of the Dead (George Romero's sequel to Night of the Living Dead ups the ante successfully; it's not only one of the great sequels of all time, it's one of the best horror movies ever, too; incredible no-star cast, score by Goblin, and Tom Savini makeup)

Dracula (John Badham's version of Bram Stoker's novel is really fine, with a terrific, career-changing lead performance from Frank Langella (my mom always thought him to be the sexiest Dracula, and she would know, having been a lifelong fan of the character); nice to see Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing, too; absolutely perfect John Williams score).

Driller Killer (nasty early horror movie from debut director Abel Ferrara)

Elvis (still the best film bio touching on the King of Rock and Roll, with Kurt Russell in the lead, Shelley Winters as his mother, Pat Hingle as Colonel Tom Parker, and Season Hubley as Priscilla; directed by John Carpenter!)

Escape from Alcatraz (Don Siegel's tense account of the only successful escape from San Francisco's notorious island prison, with Clint Eastwood impressive in the lead; Siegel and Eastwood's final collaboration)

Fedora (failed final effort from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder; still worth a look, with leads William Holden and Marthe Keller)

The Europeans (lush adaptation of Henry James novel by director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala)

French Postcards
(lovable little movie about American exchange students in Paris; early film for Debra Winger and Mandy Patinkin, written by American Graffiti's Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz)

Gal Young 'Un (early Victor Nunez effort that follows a mistress being placed in a older woman's home by a Florida bootlegger who steals away a great deal of the time, forcing the women to become close; the beginnings for a great territorial filmmaker's career)

Going in Style (stealth, realistic comedy-drama about three elderly men--George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, all better than ever--who embark on a bank robbery attempt in order to battle their shrinking incomes; brilliant screenplay by Edward Cannon and director Martin Brest, in his debut)

The Great Train Robbery (fun period Nicholas Meyer caper movie with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland)

Hair (energetic filming of hit stage play, helmed by Milos Forman; the score is, of course, astounding, but the screenplay by Michael Weller deepens the stage play; the brilliant cast includes Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D'Angelo, former Chicago bandmate Don Dacus, Dorsey Wright, Annie Golden, Nicholas Ray, Charlotte Rae, and perhaps the greatest one-scene supporting performance ever filmed from Cheryl Barnes, who sings "Easy to Be Hard"; the number of lovable songs by Galt MacDermott will floor all; limber choreography from Twyla Tharp)

Hardcore (Paul Schrader's blow-away powerhouse, starring George C. Scott as religious zealot who ventures to seedy L.A. in order to rescue his runaway daughter from a life as a porn star; great supporting performances from Peter Boyle and Season Hubley)

The In-Laws (maybe the best all-out comedy of 1979: Peter Falk is a rule-breaking CIA agent, Alan Arkin is a everyman dentist who gets irretrievably mixed-up in international scandal on the eve of their children's wedding; the best movie ever by director Arthur Hiller, with a hilarious screenplay by Andrew Bergman and notable supporting performance from Richard Libertini as a crazed Latin-American dictator; "Serpentine, serpentine!")

The Jerk (Steve Martin's debut as a leading man, the first in a long line of collaborations with director Carl Reiner; a comedy masterpiece, co-starring Martin's one-time lover Bernadette Peters)

The Kids Are Alright (incisive cult documentary about Brit-rock superstars The Who)

Kramer Vs. Kramer (culture-changing Best Picture winner about bitterly divisive child custody case, with Best Actor Dustin Hoffman pitted against Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep for possession of Justin Henry, a great kid actor who equals his co-stars; written and directed by double-Oscar-winner Robert Benton and photographed with utmost beauty by Nestor Almendros; based on Avery Corman novel)

The Lady in Red (Roger Corman-produced biopic about John Dillinger, with screenplay by John Sayles)

The Legacy (a guilty pleasure; well-mounted British horror movie sports distinguished cast--sojourning Americans Katherine Ross and Sam Elliott (still married to each other in real life), Kubrick favorite Margaret Tyzack, The Who's Roger Daltrey, John Standing, Ian Hogg, Charles Gray, and Hildegard Neil; quite a few true shocks here)

A Little Romance (the most moving love story in all of cinema; high IQed teens Diane Lane (American) and Thelonious Bernard (French) meet by chance in Paris, and later plot to run away together to Venice, in order to fulfill a prophetic myth relayed to them by darkly-shaded Lawrence Olivier, who acts as their loving chaparone; romance is a time-honored theme in movies, but for me it has never been more aptly portrayed than in this picture scored by Georges Delarue (an Oscar-winner), directed by George Roy Hill, and written by Allen Burns; supporting cast includes Sally Kellerman, Arthur Hill, Broderick Crowford, Ashby Semple (as the ditzy Natalie), Graham Fletcher-Cook (the worldly Laudet), and David Dukes; a masterpiece--in my opinion, one of the 10 best movies ever made--that inevitably has me bawling tears of pain and joy at its finale)
Love at First Bite (hit Dracula spoof starring George Hamilton)

Love on the Run (final outing for Francois Truffaut and his alter ego, Jean Pierre Leaud's 400 Blows character Antoine Doinel, whom we followed through five movies over exactly two decades)

Luna (controversial Bernardo Bertolucci movie about incestuous mother/son relationship, starring Jill Clayburgh)

Mad Max (George Miller's eye-popping action opus, with Mel Gibson as a post-apocalyptic police officer chasing down the villains who've killed his wife and daughter; a totally believable world is here constructed in this Australian masterwork, replete with stupendous stunts; perhaps the most distinct offering from Australia's New Wave; spawned two sequels and a worldwide following)

Manhattan (Woody Allen's epically grand black-and-white paen to his home city; unmatched Gordon Willis cinematography and Andre Previn-adapted George Gershwin score captures the romantic doings of NYC intellectuals, headed by Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemmingway (excellent as Allen's underaged love object), and Anne Byrne; there have been more lovable movies in Allen's career, but really none have been better--it's essential viewing)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbender's biggest American hit, the first in his West German trilogy, starring muse Hanna Shygulla)

Meatballs (dumb but also with a lot of heart, this Ivan Reitman-directed Canadian comedy was the first to give SNL alum Bill Murray a starring role; excellent score by Elmer Bernstein, and surprisingly sensitive screenplay by SCTV alum Harold Ramis)

Mr. Mike's Mondo Video (the one feature writer/director achievement from wildman Saturday Night Live writer/performer Michael O'Donoghu--theguy responsible for a lot of the series' chanciest moments in the 1970s; works only intermittently, but has a huge SNL-related cast and is historically important)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (controversial and hilarious Christ spoofery from the famed British troupe; could never be made today)

The Muppet Movie (Jim Henson's consummate cinematic effort, with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth, and the whole Muppet gang trying to achieve Hollywood stardom; with villains Charles Durniing and Austin Pendleton, and with cameos from Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Dom Deluise, Orson Welles, Carol Kane, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Elliott Gould, Cloris Leachman, Telly Savalas, and Paul Williams; Williams contributed the Oscar-nominated score; the first of many in a series)

Murder by Decree (sly Sherlock Holmes movie with Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson; excellent supporting cast includes David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Frank Finlay, Donald Sutherland, and Geneviève Bujold; directed by superlative Canadian autuer Bob Clark)

My Brilliant Career (debut lead performance from Judy Davis as stubborn Austalian woman who eschews marriage to Sam Neill for career as a nanny; one of the first offerings from the Australian New Wave, directed by Gillian Anderson)

1941 (WWII-set Steven Spielberg bomb, ripe for rediscovery, with nutty Bob Gale/Robert Zemeckis script about the Japanese "attack" on Hollywood. It sports dazzling William Fraker cinematography, Dean Mitzner production design, John Williams scoring, Michael Kahn editing, and convincing L.B. Abbott and A.D. Flowers special effects. It's not well-thought-of, but what other movie has Warren Oates, Ned Beatty, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, Treat Williams, Eddie Deezen, Murray Hamilton, John Candy, Frank McCrae, Lorraine Gary, Bobby Di Cicco, Perry Lang, Wendy Jo Sperber, Patty Lupone, Joe Flaherty, Elisha Cook Jr., Lionel Stander, David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Dick Miller, Dub Taylor, Penny Marshall, James Caan, Sam Fuller, Susan Backlinie, and Mickey Rourke? Unquestionably 1979's most unparalleled cast; Stanley Kubrick told Spielberg "It's not funny, but it's a great movie")

Norma Rae (Sally Field won her first Oscar as the real-life union organizer who transforms her deep south community; Ron Liebmann, Beau Bridges and Pat Hingle are the men in her life; directed by Martin Ritt, written by his longtime collaborators Harriet Frank and Irving Ravetch, with Oscar-winning song "It Goes like It Goes" by David Shire and Norman Gimbel, sung beautifully by Jennifer Warnes)

North Dallas Forty
(one of the best, most unsparingly honest sports movies ever, with cynical, beat-up, hard partyin' pro footballers Nick Nolte and Mac Davis, and an unbelievable supporting cast; directed by Canada's Ted Koecheff)

Nosferatu The Vampire (Werner Herzog's respectful remake of Murnau's vampire masterpiece, with a frightening Klaus Kinski seeking the blood of pretty Isabelle Adjani)

Oblomov (perhaps the most unjustly forgotten movie on this list: Ivan Goncharov's indispensable mid-19th Century Russian novel about a personable but whiny high-class layabout is given elegant vision by director Nikola Mikhalov)

The Odd Angry Shot (underseen Vietnam film following Australian troops through the Asian jungles)

The Onion Field (great true crime movie, based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel about L.A. policemen John Savage and Ted Danson kidnapped by small-time crooks James Woods--in a breakthrough performance--and jittery Franklin Ajaye; tensely directed by Harold Becker)

Opening Night
(John Cassavetes' self-reflexive film about the revelatory nature of true acting, with Gene Rowlands delivering another devastating portrait of a woman at the end of her tether--this time, an aging actress haunted by a dead fan's ghost while trying to inhabit a corny role in an expensive comeback play she continually tries to undermine; with Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart and Zohra Lampert)

Over The Edge (teen rebellion has never been as bountifully, controversially filmed as here by director Jonathan Kaplan; nowhere teens in New Grenada, Colorado rebel against boredom with drugs, sex, and violence; the debut performances from Matt Dillon, Michael Kramer, Vincent Spano, Pamela Ludwig, Tom Fergus, Tiger Thompson and a whole host of well-cast teens; source music score from Cheap Trick, The Cars, Little Feat, Jimi Hendrix, Valerie Carter, and The Ramones; excellent original score from formerly blacklisted Sol Kaplan; blazing screenplay by Tim Hunter and Charlie Haas)

Penitentiary (latter-day blaxploitation entry, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy as prison-bound boxer Too Sweet)

Phantasm (cult-adored dreamy horror film--still legendary in indie circles--by Don Coscarelli; for pure horror feel, unlike any other entry in the genre, with stars Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm as the memorably menacing Tall Man)

Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam's historically accurate, unusual adaptation of The Who's album about life amongst the Mods and the Rockers in early 60s Britain, with key performances from lead Phil Daniels and The Police's Sting; excellent soundtrack utilizes much more than Pete Townshend's music)

Real Life (hysterical debut feature from writer-director Albert Brooks, who stars as himself, a former stand-up looking to make a hard-hitting but inevitably effed-up documentary about a typical American family, headed by Charles Grodin; a spoof of 1973 TV-doc miniseries An American Family, starring the Loud family)

Rich Kids (Robert M. Young directs, Robert Altman produces in this quirky look at mature latch-key teens living with immature adults in late-70s NYC)

Richard Pryor Live in Concert (unmatched stand-up comedy concert film, with Pryor at the top of his game; the movie and the man sing like a symphony; one of the very best films of the year)

Rock and Roll High School (wacked-out Allen Arkush movie with P.J. Soles dynamic as punk rockers The Ramones' biggest fan; surprisingly diverse soundtrack)

Rocky II (more upbeat, yet still gritty sequel to 1976 Best Picture winner, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone)

The Rose (barely-disguised Janis Joplin biopic with impassioned debut performance from Bette Midler)

Rust Never Sleeps (cult concert film featuring Neil Young and Crazy Horse)

Saint Jack (Ben Gazzara gives the year's best male lead performance as an American pimp in Thailand in this comeback of sorts from director Peter Bogdanovich, who's never done a movie quite like it)

Salem's Lot (landmark TV movie became cult classic; Tobe Hooper's best film next to Chainsaw, with vampires invading Stephen King's idyllic New England town; David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Elisha Cook Jr. star)

Scum (hateful, brutal British prison movie by Alan Clarke, with early performance from Ray Winstone)

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Washington, DC dirty-dealings, with Alan Alda as compromised senator and Meryl Streep as his assistant)

Sextette (notorious final film for lead Mae West, who embarasses throughout, alongside supporting cast that includes Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Tony Curtis and Regis Philbin; a must for bad movie lovers)

The Silent Partner (Daryl Duke's amazingly suspenseful Canadian hit, about battle of wits between sheepish bank teller Elliott Gould and bloodthirsty bank robber Christopher Plummer; one of the year's best screenplays; co-stars Susannah York, the salacious Celine Lomez, and John Candy)

Stalker (creepy Russian science fiction film submitted by the masterful Andrei Tarkovsky)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (long-awaited big-screen debut for the cast of much-loved 60s sci-fi show, directed by Robert Wise, with a rousing score from Jerry Goldsmith and delectible special effects from Douglas Trumbull and Richard Edlund; kind of a disappointment, story-wise)

Starting Over (terrific romantic comedy with divorcee Burt Reynolds--in his best performance--juggling wanna-be singer ex Candice Bergen and neurotic new love Jill Clayburgh; uniformly funny supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen, Austin Pendleton, and Wallace Shawn; written by James L. Brooks and directed by Alan J. Pakula)

10 (Blake Edwards sex farce with breakthrough lead performance from Dudley Moore, supported by Julie Andrews and corn-rowed pin-up queen Bo Derek)

That Sinking Feeling (hilarious caper comedy about poor kids trying to steal and unload a shipment of sinks; the debut feature from Scottish autuer Bill Forsyth)

Time After Time (lovely, imaginative sci-fi-tinged romance with Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, David Warner as Jack the Ripper, and Mary Steenburgen as the woman they battle over in present-day San Francisco; director Nicholas Meyer's screenplay has holes, but the performances patch them up; memorable final score from Miklos Rosza)

The Tin Drum (Volker Schondorff's Oscar-winning adaptation of Guy Green's famed novel about a WWII-era boy in Nazi Germany who defies nature by refusing to grow; preternatural lead performance from young David Bennett; shared the Palme D'Or with Apocalypse Now at 1979 Cannes Film Festival)

The Tree of Wooden Clogs (supremely magical film about small Italian village, helmed by the Taviani Brothers)

Vengeance is Mine (depressive Japanese director Shohei Imamura's character study of a serial killer, with Ken Ogata impressive in the lead.)

Voices (one of my favorite not-so-guilty-pleasures is this lovely NYC-set love story between a poor, aspiring songwriter (Michael Ontkean) and a deaf ballet dancer (Amy Irving). The only theatrical feature directed by Emmy-winning TV helmer Robert Markowicz, and with an emotional script by John Herzfeld, the film features brilliant songs written, in part, by Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings.)

The Wanderers (cult movie by Philip Kaufman about 50s-era leather jacket gang)

The Warriors (Walter Hill's dynamic comic-book-flavored actioner following "innocent" NY street gang as they attempt to escape rival gangs out for their blood; "Warriors, come out to play-ee-ayyyy!")

The Whole Shootin' Match (the first winner of Best Feature at Sundance--then the USA Film Festival--and the debut feature from Eagle Pennell, director of another indie pioneer film, Last Night at the Alamo).

Winter Kills (William Richardt's bizarre cult politico thriller, with an incredible cast that includes Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Dorothy Malone, Ralph Meeker, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, and Toshiro Mifune. One of the most memorable endings of any movie this year.)

Woyzeck (the second Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski collaboration of the year, with Kinski exciting as mentally fragile soldier in a troubled marriage)

Yanks (lyrical love story with American soldiers wooing British women during WWII; Richard Gere, Lisa Eichhorn, Vanessa Redgrave and William Devane star; directed by John Schlesinger)

Zombie (famous movie by cult horror director Lucio Fulci, most noted for having an underwater battle between a zombie and a shark)

In the interest of honesty, I admit a bias: In 1979, I was an ambitious, movie-loving teenager. Many filmmakers have stated that the movies we see at this age are the most powerful. Though I saw about half of these titles in their release year, I saw the other half over the course of two later years, in which my family had acquired cable television, thus I was able to get a complete overview of 1979's offerings. Still, the greatest of all movie years; it is indisputable, to me. Big year for bank robbery movies, with six titles represented. Also a big year for Canada, Germany, and Australia, each with four movies in the mix. Many Saturday Night Live-related debuts: Steve Martin (three films repped), Bill Murray, Albert Brooks, and Dan Ackroyd. Great year for Meryl Streep who has three movies on the list. The most romantic of all movie years (13 titles). And the most musical (9 titles)! Seven science-fiction entries, and thirteen horror movies, too! Even if you're a fan of bad movies, you got Moonraker, Meteor, Hurricane, CHOMPS, Nightwing, Starcrash, HOTS, Disco Godfather, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and The Late Great Planet Earth, among many others! So many great things to see here; if you haven't caught many 1979 titles, consider yourself lucky: you have a host of fantastic entertainments ahead of you. Next, The 9 Years fun continues with 1989!

The scorecard now stands at:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73
1979: 93

1 comment:

Greg said...

I love 1979 too! Manhattan, Apocalypse Now and Being There are enough in my book to make it one of the stand-out movie years of all time and probably because of our age (I'm the same as you) we have a nostalgic tug towards so many other movies in that year that might not be considered very good now. But still, I love so many of the ones you mention. The seventies and thirties are my two favorite film decades. Both came after an important change (the thirties after sound had come in and the seventies after the ratings system had come in) and maybe that's why I like them both. They feel like their movies were testing boundaries, going in new directions. And that's why, I think, 1939 and 1979 are so celebrated.