Great Years of Cinema: 1979
This is something I’ve always thought but never written about.
Well, when I say always, I don’t mean that I was considering the standing of Hal Ashby’s Being There’s among the pantheon of modern comedy classics on the way to primary school, but once I started troweling through the examinations of previous decades (and centuries) in film and thoroughly enjoying those with reputations that preceded them, it’s a year that stood out almost incidentally at first, with a rationale that soon became clear.
Knowing when a film was made can play an integral part in understanding its concepts and ethos. The ‘70’s in particular was a period of significance for renowned filmmakers in both their formative and golden years, and as the decade drew to a close the urgency of quality became more concentrated, culminating in the latter half of 1978 and the entirety of ’79. Some of the standout titles are meaningful in an evocative sense, while others are simply examples of writers and directors pouring energy and verve into creations they care about.
Below, I’ve highlighted by genre the films that make this such an incredible year:
All That Jazz
Directed by Bobb Fosse. Starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange
Bobb Fosse’s seemingly semi-autobiographical character study is a triumph of design and moral questioning, championed by Stanley Kubrick and bolstered by an unwavering performance from Scheider.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
The most ambitious war film ever made, and arguably the best. Coppola’s thematic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness grows in legend with each passing year, and both pays tribute to the effect of a devastating war and uses the setting to tell a classic tale of the human condition.
Kramer vs. Kramer
Directed by Robert Brenton. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep
The merits of this Best Picture winner are often deliberated, as it claimed the prestigious award in such a prolific year, but with strong performances from revered actors at the peak of their powers and an honest approach to a tough but common personal situation.
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Manhattan is seen by many as the pinnacle of Woody Allen’s career as writer and director, alongside the more renowned Annie Hall. Here, his regular neurosis and thesis’ on the complexity of relationships in contemporary, highly-populated American environments is outclassed only by the outstanding cinematography.
Directed by Philip Kaufman. Starring Ken Wahl, Karen Allen, John Friedrich
Coming of age films don’t come much more stirring and satisfying than Philip Kaufman’s cult classic The Wanderers: an oddity that combines the commonly used narrative of growing apart, with the action of a gang film and Vietnam war allegories.
Directed by Hal Ashby. Starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine
Being There is the most classic type of comedy, full of wit and precise social commentary on the perception of race, gender and assumed intelligence. Peter Seller’s performance as Chance the gardener is one for the ages.
Life of Brian
Directed by Terry Jones. Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin
What can you say about Monty Python’s Life of Brian that hasn’t already been said? It’s a sprawling, dramatic epic of heightened emotional intelligence and powerful impact? Let me revise that, what can you say about it that hasn’t been said and is also accurate? It’s funny (note: that may’ve already been said).
Directed by Carl Reiner. Starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters
Steve Martin’s first lead role in a feature film and the beginning of his work with Carl Reiner is a decidedly silly affair, that also happens to be somewhat of a forgotten comedy gem. “I was born a poor black child…”
Castle of Cagliostro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki’s pre-Ghibli feature debut is a rollicking crime caper/adventure that never slows down, provides plenty of laughs and hosts memorable and beloved characters. Considering what lay ahead in his career, this remains one of the most important Japanese animations of the time.
Directed by George Miller. Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel
An Australian post-apocalyptic revenge thriller, that introduced the world to a hero as rough as the terrain his V8 would cover in plume of dust, Mad Max is an iconic and influential cult favourite directed by one of the country’s finest.
Directed by Walter Hill. Starring Michael Beck, James Remar
Walter Hill hit a winning formula in the ’70’s and ’80’s, with his action films being equally tense, quotable and filled with memorable characters. That The Warriors is his finest hour is a testament to how giddily enjoyable it is, though slightly controversial for maybe glorifying gang culture.
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt
A perfect cast, dense atmosphere and H. R. Giger’s nightmarish creations brought to life combine to make Ridley Scott’s Alien a seminal horror film of the 20th century.
Dawn of the Dead
Directed by George A. Romero. Starring Ken Foree, David Emge,
Of all the film-makers responsible for re-defining the American horror genre during the ’60’s and ’70’s (Wes Craven, John Carpenter), the legendary George A. Romero could be said to have had the most profound impact, with Dawn of the Dead taking aim at consumerism culture run rampant and capturing a society literally devouring itself.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani
Few remakes can be cited as superior to their inspiration, and though Werner Herzog’s interpretation of the F. W. Murnau silent masterpiece doesn’t break this trend, it comes very close. Klaus Kinski portrays the terrifying creature with haunting naturalism.
Directed by Don Coscarelli. Starring Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm
Don Coscarelli still seems such a contemporary figure, so its quite strange to consider that his break-through hit is nearly 40 years old. The first of a surprisingly long list of titles in the series, Phantasm introduced the Tall Man and various other bizarre villainous creations, and kick-started the trend of the ’80’s.
Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar
Cronenberg and maternity. Motherhood and body horror. The Brood: intellectual, interesting and essential.
Well, this one was definitely a good year. Mad Max is one of my all time favourites, and Alien is a timeless classic that I never grow tired of watching (in fact I just watched I last week for my blog..talk about a coincidence 😀).
Loved this post…always nice to see which movies came out in a particular year (and nice to take a trip down memory lane while doing so 😊)
hey mate, glad you enjoyed the nostalgic trip, and yep great minds think alike with Alien!
I remember when I was first watching a lot of these films I couldn’t believe how many were released in the same year – there is a large percentage of my top 30 films on this list.
Well, what I always enjoy is the fact how some movies that are now quite old, don’t’ feel dated at all. Like Alien for instance. When I saw that film again last week I was just amazed at how well it still holds up. It’s just timeless. But yeah so true. When I looked at this list I was thinking the same: ” wow these were all released in the same year?” Great stuff! 😀
Is this going to be a recurring series? By year, or decade?
I reckon so! and by year – it’s interesting reflecting on the circumstances that see so many great films released in a single year, where others seem quite barren.
I think it’s a great idea.
Just Apocalypse Now and Alien would cement 1979 as one of the best years of cinema ever. 🙂
Yep. I’m pretty sure Apocalypse Now is the big one that made me take notice.
1979 was a good year, 1975 was a great year. Dog Day Afternoon , Cuckoo’s Nest, Jaws, The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would be King, Holy Grail, Barry Lyndon, Rocky Horror, Tommy, The Sunshine Boys, Death Race 2000, Night Moves, Hard Times, A Boy And his Dog. I plan a future project covering this year one film a week for the year.
Well sir, I certainly plan on reading that project.
Any year that features releases from Lumet, Forman, Kubrick and Corman is a good one.
Great blog! This was a great year in cinema! Would mean a lot if you could follow my movie review blog Poppin Kernels, where you will get the most current and best reviews out there!
Cheers mate, will check it out!
If we’re talking about best years of cinema ever, I honestly believe that 2017 falls into that category – the amount of not just good, but great, movies is phenomenal, and many of them are bound to become classics in the future. Would you guys agree?
Thanks for stopping by mate. Personally on this one I would have to disagree quite a bit. But that’s the joy of cinema ha!
Looking over this years Oscar’s etc makes me rather sad at some of the films getting recognised.
For me films that we will be talking about in years to come are Dunkirk and perhaps Three Billboards and Get Out (but that film is severely overpraised).
I could be very wrong however and not sure how Jordan might feel about this one. Over to you Jordan!
Well, I think it comes down to depth with discussions like these, and I’m not sure that 2017 has the same depth of future classics in their respective genres as previous years.
Agree with Eddie about the legacies of Dunkirk and Three Billboards, and would also add In This Corner of the World (which I think is the year’s finest film), The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Disaster Artist. Looking at the spectrum of tastes and styles, I don’t see as diverse a crop as years such as ’79 and even last decade.
I’m keen to hear your thoughts on which films you consider will be regarded as ‘Great Films’ to quote the great Roger Ebert though from last year!
Well, I’ll add to your lists the likes of “Lady Bird”, “I, Tonya”, “The Big Sick”, “Baby Driver”, “Battle of the Sexes”, “Coco” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” – my personal fave from last year – as examples of films that are able to stand the test of time.
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