1979 in Movies

Movie reviews I’ve written for movies released theatrically in 1979.

1. Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (10/10)

This movie manages to do two things that are pretty impressive:

  1. It surpasses the work of fiction on which it is based (I for one find Heart of Darkness to be among Conrad’s lesser work; check out “The Secret Sharer” or Nostromo instead);
  2. It points out the absurdity of war better than most other war movies by asking whether or not murder is moral during war.

And it does both of these things while creating some of the most iconic moments in American cinema. It is not a perfect film. But I do not believe that greatness always hinges on “was this movie made flawlessly?” Rather, this messy, episodic film forces us to deal with some difficult questions in highly memorable ways. And it forces us to discuss these questions because it doesn’t exactly hit you over the head with its message (beyond the “war is absurd” part). As a side note, I would just like to say that I prefer the Redux and wish that had been released originally. I think it is the more complete movie, even if it is significantly longer. It feels like more of a proper narrative.

2. Alien, directed by Ridley Scott (10/10)

Every time I see this film I like it more. I have gone from finding it good to thinking of it as one of the greatest suspense films ever made – on a very short list. I think much of the ballsiness of this movie is lost on us because we know Sigourney Weaver, we know the aliens and we know the general plot, even if we haven’t seen it. They are ingrained in our culture. But when this came out, John Hurt was the star – Scream stole this device and Scott, of course, stole it from Psycho – and Star Wars was everyone’s sci-fi reference point. But in addition to being ground-breaking and, in my ways, the anti-Star Wars, this film is unbelievably tense, and features some extraordinary production design. An absolute classic.

3. Life of Brian, directed by Terry Jones (9/10*)

This is the one Python feature I have managed to miss as an adult. I am meaning to re-watch it to see what I think now that I have grown up and still love Python as much as ever.

4. Saint Jack, directed by Peter Bogdanovitch (9/10)

The first time I saw this film (late at night) I didn’t think much of it. On the second viewing, it was like watching a completely different movie. This is one of those films that does a fair job of examining the legacy of the West in the rest of the world, but it is disguised as a character piece. I should read the novel.

5. Real Life, directed by Albert Brooks (9/10)

This is quite the film. It is remarkably prescient; like Network that way. It’s not necessarily the funniest thing but that isn’t the point. It shows the dangers of reality TV before reality TV existed. It would be a true classic if only for Brooks. I know he wrote and directed it, but there is a little too much of his shtick, especially during the otherwise fantastic ending. A classic, though.

6. The Marriage of Maria Braun, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (8/10)

As usual Fassbinder’s eye and his pacing and editing are outstanding. He may be the best director-editor ever, it really is something to behold. I have a few nitpicks with this one. The silliest is the horrible English accents of the German actors playing Americans. I wish he could have hired a few actual Americans instead. It really affects the movie. I have a few issues with how easily she rose to success in that era (I know it isn’t easy, but it is easy for the era). On the other hand, the ending is amazing.

7. Manhattan, directed by Woody Allen (8*/10)

Many people think this is the greatest Woody Allen movie ever. I saw it as a teen and probably was put off by its artiness. I intend to re-watch it because I am not sure I got everything the first time around.

8. Nosferatu: the Vampyre, directed by Werner Herzog (8/10)

One of the two giants of the German New Wave remaking the most famous German film of all time is certainly a strange proposition. Perhaps Werner did it out of some kind of bizarre bid for credibility. Regardless, the film is fascinating, as most of Werner’s stuff is. The score is particularly interesting, drastically changing from pre-Dracula to post-Dracula. The composition of the shots is almost always interesting and Kinski is actually relatable as the lead, which is no small feat.

9. Mad Max, directed by George Hill (8/10)

The sequel is much better known but this is sort of textbook how to make a low-budget dystopian thriller.

10. Being There, directed by Hal Asbhy (8/10)

Anybody who suggests that Peter Sellers was not one of the great actors of his generation should see this film.

11. The Jerk, directed by Carl Reiner (8/10)

The first time I saw this I was convinced it was the funniest movie I have ever seen. I feel less strongly about it now, but it’s still hysterical, particularly the opening and the scene with the cans.

12. Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (8/10)

Not a masterpiece, but quite interesting. Read the review of Stalker.

13. …And Justice for All, directed by Norman Jewison (8*/10)

Seen as a teen before I discovered I didn’t like Jewison’s obvious morals.

14. Escape from Alcatraz, directed by Don Siegel (7*/10)

I have perhaps seen this film too many times to be objective about it. I’m not exactly sure why I have rated it this low, actually. If you like this, you should check out the Mythbusters episode.

15. Woyzeck, directed by Werner Herzog (7/10)

It’s interesting to see something that is so popular in one culture and yet unknown in another. I wouldn’t have guessed this was considered part of the German canon if you had asked me. And so, I feel like I have to ask the question, why not? But I won’t answer it, I don’t think I can.

This is one of innumerable adaptations of the play, and one that appears to stick more closely to its unfinished nature (but that is just a guess on my part). Herzog does a good job with a staging: I might have guessed it wasn’t a play because he does his best to make it look like it was written for the screen.

But the film itself – and for me, the play itself – is a little obscure in its intent. Is it a depiction of the problem of having fixed ideas about the world when the world itself does not conform to those ideas? Is it about the class politics of Germany at the time? Is it about madness plain and simple? I am not so sure.

Not that it really matters. Kinski is his usual self: I feel like his performances are pretty much always love them or hate them. If you think Kinski habitually overacts, you will think so about this performance. On the other hand, if you think he is rather capable of playing certain types of maniacal people, as I do, you will appreciate it. It’s far from his best – for me I cannot decide whether that’s in Nosferatu the Vampyre or Fitzcarraldo – but it’s definitely typical.

And the film itself, as I said, convinces you that it is not a play.

16. All That Jazz, directed by Bob Fosse (7/10)

Read the full review.

17. The Kids Are Alright, directed by Jeff Stein (7/10)

I saw this before I liked the Who. I guess it made me go listen to them.

18. La batalla de Chile: La lucha de un pueblo sin armas – Tercera parte: El poder popular, directed by Patricio Guzman (7/10)

The least and most obviously biased of the Battle of Chile trilogy is much closer to propaganda than the other two films. However, it is still a work of cinema verite attempting to find out what people think about politics and still stands as an important counter-narrative to all the pro-Pinochet nonsense that existed at the time. But this is the only inessential part of the trilogy, which is otherwise among the greatest documentary films of the 20th century.

19. The Muppet Movie, directed by James Frawley (7*/10)

Seen multiple times as a child.

20. Winter Kills, directed by William Richert (6/10)

I was disappointed by this one. I had heard it was a classic. Perhaps it was over-hyped for me.

21. The Return of the Secaucus 7, directed by John Salyes (6/10)

As the first of the boomer nostalgia reunion movies of the ’80s, this is certainly a noteworthy film. And its style is fairly different from mainstream American movies of the day (though the talkathon already existed in American cinema). But on the whole this doesn’t work for anyone who isn’t a former hippie. The jokes are dated. There is altogether too much navel gazing. I really don’t care how they met. I really don’t care who is sleeping with who. And I really don’t know why I should.

22. Hardcore, directed by Paul Schrader (5/10)

I have lost my review for this but it is overly alarmist and features a pretty exaggerated performance by Scott (who is normally a favourite of mine). One of these “Oh my god, sex is killing our kids” things. Silly.

23. Time After Time, directed by Nicholas Meyer (5/10)

This is a strange one that I have managed to see more than once. The idea is vaguely interesting, I guess. It’s mostly notable for McDowell playing greatly against type.

24. Love on the Run, directed by Francois Truffaut (4/10)

The idea of using other films to fill in story has always interested me. The first time I saw it was actually in the much more recent The Limey. I must say I like the concept in theory, but the execution is very important.

Truffaut could be forgiven for thinking most people hadn’t seen the other films in this series in a long time when they went to watch this in the theatre since video tapes weren’t exactly widespread.

But they did exist. And unfortunately for this movie, now we can watch anything whenever we want. So I have seen most of the previous films already, and recently enough to not want to watch them again .(I can understand that if you love them you might not feel the same way.)

So the result is that not only do we get the insufferable Antoine yet again but we get to re-watch everything he was in!

Awesome! Made my day!

25. Rocky II, directed by Sylvester Stallone (4/10)

I know I should give the original more of a chance, but this one is offensive in the sense that it feels like he is saying he thinks he was wrong the first time out, which he wasn’t.

26. Moonraker, directed by Lewis Gilbert (4/10)

Bond in Space!

4/10 feels kind of charitable given how silly this is and how much it pales in comparison to, you know, Star Wars.

27. Star Trek, directed by Robert Wise (3*/10)

When I saw this as a young teen (or even tween) I thought it was perhaps the most boring movie I had ever seen. My tolerance for deliberate pacing has changed so maybe I should re-watch this.

28. 1941, directed by Steven Spielberg (3/10)

Spectacularly unfunny given the cast.

29. Killer Fish, directed by Antonio Margheriti (3/10)

A very dull fusion of the “horror” film with the heist film. Read the review of Killer Fish.

30. Angel’s Brigade aka Angel’s Revenge (2/10)

Watching this via MST3000 was hard enough. I can’t imagine watching it without that filter.

31. The Day Time Ended, directed by Bud Cardos (2/10)

Bad and dull. Read the review of The Day Time Ended.

32. The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill (1*/10)

I watched this in the middle of the night, having recently been told by people – perhaps on Saturday Night at the Movies (RIP), I can’t remember – that this was a classic film. So I think my reaction to it was inversely proportional to the hype I had been filled with. The acting is pretty amateurish and as a result I dismissed the rest of the film, which was unfair of me.

33. Caligula, directed by Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Gincarlo Lui (1/10)

I’m not sure this qualifies as one of the worst big-budget movies of all-time because I don’t know its budget. But it does qualify as perhaps the worst film to ever have more than one major star attached to it – or at least one of top few with major stars attached to them.

It’s not that it’s offensive; it’s only offensive if you’re a prude.

It’s that it is just an incompetent pile of shit. It’s got lavish production values and Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and Peter O’Toole, and everything else about it – the direction, the editing, the other actors, the spliced-in sex scenes – is on the level of porn, i.e. amateurish. Added to this, it is unbelievably and insufferably long.