While I’ve admittedly seen a lot of films in my lifetime, the first few years of my life are a bit sparse as far as what I’ve seen or what I remember. Being a few years old, and these waning in popularity by the time I started getting into movies in my teens and pre-teens, a few of these I haven’t seen in over two decades. Bear with me if a few of these are a bit sparse on my thoughts. I basically went through each year, added in all the films I’d seen from that year, then whittled it down and put them in order of my personal preference. You can find my actual list for 1979 on Letterboxd here and the others I’ve finished so far off my profile, but the write-ups are going to be here on Cinefessions. Without further ado, here’s my top ten from 1979.
10. The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg)
This was actually one of the first horror films I was exposed to, edited and on television the way network TV intended. While I actually prefer the remake so much more over this film, it has that classic 70s horror feel to it that I really like and it deals with haunted houses which continue to scare the crap out of me to this day. It definitely shaped and added to what films I liked and spawned a number of questionable sequels that kind of held up. Hoax or not, it was a good ghost/demon possession story.
9. Rocky II (Sylvester Stallone)
While not nearly my favorite of the Rocky franchise, that being III and IV, Rocky II had some great moments that I love and I’m a sucker for an underdog story. Always have been and always will. Some really great moments in the film and an early exposure led me to seeing a lot of Stallone films over the years. It was still a really solid effort that I can sit back and enjoy a little bit more with some years on my belt.
8. Escape from Alcatraz (Don Siegel)
Clint Eastwood was a staple in the houses of my mother’s side of the family. My uncles, my grandfather, my aunts and my mother loved the stern-looking film star so it was no wonder that I’d get a healthy dose of him and John Wayne growing up. While not my favorite of Eastwood’s films – Paint Your Wagon and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly are up there – Alcatraz has always interested me (the history of it and so on), so I’m kind of a sucker for films set there and hey, Eastwood is in it so it’s always worth at least one viewing.
7. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones)
While I grew up with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I missed a number of their films and specials until well into college, which included Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Definitely not my favorite from them but high on the list, they manage to offend just about everyone with a slightly less than accurate retelling of the crucifixion and Jesus’ life through the eyes of his neighbor born the same day that is pretty twisted and always amuses. It’s also where “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” hails from, which has been a staple song for me for a long time before I even saw the film.
6. Star Trek The Motion Picture (Robert Wise)
While this is my second to least favorite Star Trek film – that “honor” residing squarely on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’s shoulders – Star Trek The Motion Picture has a lot going for it. It showed Paramount that Star Trek fans were still interested and led to more films for the original cast, and kick-started the movement towards Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. This film is heavy on the sci-fi end of things, though, with a lot of the fun moments between the original cast kind of omitted for long stretches of visual effects shots, that while stunning to look at, make the film drag on far longer than it should. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have worked better as a one-hour episode than a two-hour film. The redesigned Enterprise here, however, is iconic and Jerry Goldsmith’s score would end up being used as a base board for the opening theme to Star Trek: TNG and the Next Generation films as well.
5. The Black Hole (Gary Nelson)
Yes, I would rather watch Disney’s sci-fi attempt of 1979 over the Star Trek entry. There’s a sense of fun here on top of the sense of wonder, and the three main villains of the film are really kind of epic in scale and development. You have the sinister robot creation, the mad scientist who cannabilizes his crew in the name of science to keep his experiments going, and then the granddaddy of all super-villains: the Black Hole itself. While the effects don’t hold up nearly as well as other films of the era, there’s a great sense of awe and while some of the designs look clunky, they carry that iconic golden age of science fiction feel to them. This is one of those movies that spurred my interest in science fiction at an early age, right along with Star Wars, and it holds a special place in my heart.
4. Breaking Away (Peter Yates)
I have a thing for sports films even though I’m not all that into sports, excluding my old hometown team, the Buffalo Bills. I love the drama around sports, and like always rooting for the underdog. This is more a coming-of-age film than a film about racing cyclists, though, and has some great comedy to it as well. I don’t think about this one often, but whenever I do, it puts a smile right on my face.
3. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
Alright I’ll need you to keep cool about this, but I’ve never actually seen this one all the way through. Ever. Over the course of time, I’ve seen all the bits and pieces and know the general story of the film but I’ve never sat down and watched it from start to finish. That’s something I’m going to fix this year. Anyway, what I’ve seen of it I’ve loved, and I admit I have a thing for war films and the kind of bizarre shit that can go on when one isn’t at home and you have a weapon in your hand in a country you’re at war with. That, and I love the smell of Napalm in the morning. There are so many classic elements to this film that have kept it going over the years, including a remake of sorts recently by re-editing the film once again.
2. Mad Max (George Miller)
This wasn’t actually my first introduction to the character of Max. Mine came through the sequel, titled The Road Warrior in the States. Hell, I didn’t even know The Road Warrior was a sequel until I saw Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and eventually ended up picking up a VHS set of the trilogy. Yes, I used to have an extensive collection of VHS tapes. It happens. , though, was their first foray into the crumbling world. While it’s completely fallen apart in the two sequels there was still some semblance here of the world hanging on. The chase scenes are well done and Max’s revenge on the biker gang is fantastic. While not as strong to me as The Road Warrior, which is the best of the three, Mad Max is still one fantastic ride.
1. Alien (Ridley Scott)
The granddaddy of the space monster revival flick. This one always tops my lists. It’s a great sci-fi film. It’s a great horror film. It’s a great creature feature with some of the best functional designs for the ships and the critter put on film in a long time. It’s no wonder Ridley Scott wanted to revisit that world with Prometheus. Alien is one of those movies that works with just about anyone, whether you’re into sci-fi or not simply by giving us relatable characters that we grow to like before they start getting picked off. Patterned after the haunted house style of story-telling, Alien manages to keep you gripped and still holds up today with some amazing visuals. One of Ridley Scott’s best and one of my favorite Sigourney Weaver roles. Alien forever remains a classic.