One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 1979 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 1979.
For the first time, this edition has a final list of 6 movies rather than 5 thanks to a tie for fifth between a classic war film and a classic comedy. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Escape From Alcatraz — 10 points
Monty Python’s Life of Brian — 6 points
Star Trek: The Motion Picture — 5 points
Manhattan — 4 points
The Amityville Horror — 3 points
The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Movie — 3 points
Being There — 2 points
Mad Max — 2 points
Moonraker — 2 points
North Dallas Forty — 2 points
The China Syndrome — 1 point
The Warriors — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 (technically 6!) movies of 1979, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5 (tie). The Jerk
12 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Greg Phillips and Russell Sellers at No. 2
Russell Sellers: There’s something undeniably loveable about the village idiot. When that idiot is Steve Martin, it’s doubly so.
Navin R. Johnson is one of the most quotable characters in all of cinema. From his moronic, yet adorable reaction to seeing his name in a phone book to the first time he discovers his rhythm, it’s impossible not to love the guy. Even when he becomes a serious jerk at the mid-point of the movie, he’s still so amazingly likable.
Legendary comedy director/writer Carl Reiner knew exactly how to get the best possible performance out of Martin; he let him cut loose. Martin co-wrote the film and showed off some of his best comedic abilities, even when carrying on a gag for too long. He practically invented a new sub-genre of comedy that was somewhere between slapstick and subversion and even manages to work in some social commentary, too.
As a film, this remains one of the most influential comedies ever made. It’s certainly a point of reference for some of the modern era’s biggest comedies. Just ask Peter and Bobby Farrelly how much Dumb and Dumber owes The Jerk.
5 (tie). Apocalypse Now
12 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche at No. 1
Andrew Riche: By the late 1970’s, Francis Ford Coppola had become a cinematic auteur of the highest order after hitting it big with the first two Godfather films and The Conversation. Coppola had already won Best Director and made two Best Picture winners by age 35. So even though the 70’s was not as surrounded with media frenzy as we do today, expectations were immensely high for one of the pioneers of the New Hollywood to deliver on his next project. Coppola did himself no favors by going gaudy and all-out with his next film, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 19th century novella Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam War.
A dark and barbaric tale of survival and moral ambiguity, the new title for this adaptation was Apocalypse Now, a war film that somehow did not deal with the war as much as it did the barbaric side of humanity. The story behind the production of the film was equally as fascinating as the film itself due to its cavalcade of crises. Martin Sheen, the film’s star, suffered a heart attack during filming. Production in the Philippines was suspended for months due to a typhoon washing away most of the sets. Marlon Brando, who played the evil turncoat Colonel Kurtz, showed up grossly overweight and refused to memorize his lines. The climactic scene in which a water buffalo is killed via machete in a ritual earned the hatred of animal rights groups back in the States. The budget had ballooned to over $30 million, a ton of dough back then, and filming alone went on for over a year.
Coppola’s mental and physical breakdown trying to finish the film was documented by his wife in Heart of Darkness as a companion piece of sorts, and post-production on the thousands of hours of footage accumulated drastically changed the film’s direction, as well. But even though Apocalypse Now had its detractors from the outset, its greatness and transcendence as simply a war film shined though over time. It was so great that a three-hour rough cut won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979. Its 3-hour-, 20-minute Redux version put out in 2000 is daresay even better than the original as critics rank the film as not only a masterpiece but a farewell of sorts to New Hollywood. It seemed apropos for the film’s cursed production that Kurtz uttered “The horror, the horror…” as the film’s final line, but Apocalypse Now found a way to turn that horror into unique cinematic beauty.
4. Rocky II
13 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Aaron George at No. 2
Steve Wille: After its predecessor took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 1976, United Artists quickly went to work on Rocky II, again both written and directed by its star, Sylvester Stallone. Though by no means the first, the production of a sequel turned the Rocky saga into one of the original movie franchises. The story starts nearly where the last film ended; with a shocked Apollo Creed (again played by Carl Weathers), unfulfilled with the split decision, demanding a rematch from the underdog champion Rocky Balboa, whom is contemplating the first of many retirements.
Rocky wrestles with the decision, especially after marrying Adrian (Talia Shire), who falls into a coma after delivering their first child. Going back into the ring means facing the possibility of permanent blindness due to injuries sustained in their first bout. Eventually winning the approval of his wife, Balboa enters the ring for an epic encounter with the former champ.
Though not nearly as acclaimed as the original movie, Rocky II still managed to score strong positive reviews, a $200 million worldwide box office gross, and several awards, including Best Picture at the People’s Choice Awards. While doing my research for this write-up, I found an amazing interview that Roger Ebert conducted with Muhammad Ali, where the two, along with Ali’s friends, business associates, and family view a private screening of the movie. I highly recommend the article, especially as Ali analyzes the film from his perspective. Highlights include his assertion that Creed, not Rocky, was based on him, plus his breakdown of the main event bout.
3. Kramer vs Kramer
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 1
Aaron George: Full disclosure: I was already a father when I watched this film for the first time. I mention this because I’m not sure the movie would have moved me to the point it did had I thrown it on a few years earlier when a Father’s Day commercial didn’t make me burst into tears.
I could go on all day about how great the performances are in this film. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are everything you’ve come to expect from them, and it’s no surprise they were both given Academy Awards on the back of their work here. The movie could have so easily slipped into melodrama but instead the grounded and real performances of these two masters are absolutely riveting. They’re not acting. They’re just being. They’re alive. That makes every moment they play all the more riveting. Every twitch, every look, every word means something. It’s wonderful.
Justin Henry is also amazing as Billy. This in itself is a tremendous feat. How often have you seen a great film just ruined by a terrible child actor? Henry is the Daniel Day Lewis of child actors and sucks you in just as much as his adult colleagues.
I guess the one thing that totally makes this movie for me is the absolutely beautiful relationship that’s built between Hoffman and Henry as father and son. It’s just an absolute pleasure to watch them grow together, and you can feel every drop of love that the characters (and perhaps the actors too) have for one another. What they’ve manage to capture on film is a superb embodiment of what parenthood is. You live for your child, yet you don’t resent it, you excel and become stronger BECAUSE of it.
You can throw away all the awards and accolades this film has won, and in the end I’m still left with a film that makes me want to hug my son. Easy number one for me.
2. The Muppet Movie
16 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Steve Wille at No. 1
Glenn Butler: When Jim Henson decided to make a movie after the first two seasons of The Muppet Show, he expanded his palette by taking the titular Muppets out of their variety-show setting and putting them into a road trip comedy that doubles as the group’s origin story. Just as The Muppet Show had a firm handle on its place in the vaudeville tradition, The Muppet Movie takes the form of a road film and inserts the Muppets’ trademark combination of comedy tradition and fourth-wall breaking. A scene like Movin’ Right Along deftly combines visual gags, a tried-and-true double act with Kermit as the straight man, and a great appearance by Big Bird, on his way to New York to break into public television. And it wouldn’t be the Muppets without the delightful cameos, from Milton Berle to Mel Brooks, from Elliott Gould to Bob Hope, from the always-great Madeline Kahn to Richard Pryor, from Steve Martin to the final on-screen appearance of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Of course, the engineering of the movie is notable as well, with Jim Henson always pushing his team to more complex and difficult scenes than most people would expect from a gang of puppeteers. For the first time we see many of the Muppets’ legs and feet; Kermit sings in the middle of a pond and then rides his bike; Fozzie drives his car thanks to Frank Oz squeezing in underneath the shots and a production assistant driving the car from the trunk; the movie’s big finale features almost every Muppet that had been created to date for The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, even Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, with over a hundred extra puppeteers trucked in just for that scene.
Ultimately, one of the reasons The Muppet Movie is an enduring piece of work — and one of the reasons the Muppets endure as an element of pop culture — is its complete lack of cynicism or guile. What really shines in this movie is its heart, starting with the classic Rainbow Connection by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, which serves the same purpose as “When You Wish Upon a Star” or “Over the Rainbow” of setting showing us the protagonist’s grappling with big questions and yearning for something higher. Both “Rainbow Connection” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Some Day” skip the gags briefly to show that there’s something genuine backing up all the puns and goofs.
39 points, ranked by 10 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke, Anthony Estrada, Greg Phillips, Russell Sellers and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Nick Duke: I must begin with a bit of a confession – I’m not much of a horror guy. Outside of a few franchises and films, I don’t usually find the genre has much to offer me. I believe that stems largely from the direction the films can often take, where sensationalism and gore is favored over tension and drama. Too often, horror movies become about what you CAN see rather than what you can’t. And what you can’t see is, in my opinion, always scarier.
That’s why, for my money, it’s hard to think of a better horror movie than Alien. And make no mistake, for all its sci-fi trappings, Alien is a horror film. And as I alluded to, Ridley Scott masterfully toys with the viewer’s emotions throughout the movie, inciting terror not because of what’s on the screen, but what might be lurking around the corner or overhead in the air ducts. The titular xenomorph is barely seen on screen until the film’s climactic sequence, and yet the creature endures as one of the greatest villains in film history.
A large portion of the credit for Alien has to go to the delightfully disturbed work of the recently departed H.R. Giger, whose images evoke feelings of terror and yet exude a certain sexualism that makes them even more off-putting. Each stage of the xenomorph’s life cycle brings its own designs – and own nightmares for viewers.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley – one of the strongest female leads in film history and now one of its most iconic action icons, regardless of gender. The film doesn’t clue you in on who will be the last person standing until near the ends, but once it does, you’re thankful to see Ripley and Jonesy still standing.
That does it for 1979. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 1980!