Staff Selects: The Best of 1979

Continuing the trend of dismissing the Academy’s Best Picture winner, our staff discusses their favorite films of 1979:

Apocalypse Now

Forty years on, Apocalypse Now remains the greatest, most terrifying, and most potent war film ever made. In spite of, or perhaps because of, one of the most troubled productions in film history, which included the set being destroyed by natural disaster and the lead actor having a near fatal heart attack, it presents a descent into madness so engrossing and horrifying that I’ve been left feeling exhausted every time I’ve seen it. Apocalypse Now is a visual epic of the highest order and absolutely demands attention be paid to every single vibrant frame, even if sometimes it would prove easier to look away. Though there are multiple versions of the film and the Redux reigns supreme in my mind, the original 1979 theatrical cut is just about as close to a perfect film as it gets for me. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is the definition of essential viewing. – Henry Baime


Manhattan ditches the self-aware elements of Annie Hall, but cranks up just about everything else to its breaking point. The characters are more combative, cynical, narcissistic, and deeply flawed, and the film itself is even more critical of intellectualism, relationships, friendship, and life in general. This might sound like a miserable time, but it’s just as funny, lively, energetic, and flat-out enjoyable as Woody Allen’s acclaimed Oscar winner.

The film focuses on Issac, played by Allen, who starts falling in love with his friend’s mistress, played by Diane Keaton. Though the core Allen-Keaton love story seems familiar, Manhattan is very different from Annie Hall. The narrative is less overtly constructed, but just as meticulously detailed and fast-paced. By making the characters, especially Issac, so sharply cynical, even morally dubious at times, Allen reaches a more potent authenticity. Manhattan is witty, honest, and delightful, reflecting the best and worst in us. It’s also one of the only films to truly earn the right to describe New York City as a character. – Kern Wheeling


Since my colleague had dibs on the real best picture of 1979, I’m writing on thee best sci-fi horror film of all-time. A film that not only stands the test of time, but proudly remains at the top of its genre four decades later. A film that gorgeously displayed the best from all of its crew in front and behind the camera. This timeless classic and exemplary hallmark of interstellar horrors is none other than Sir Ridley Scott‘s Alien. When thinking of best sci-fi film lists, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any not including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Thing, and/or Alien. It’s also worth noting the significance and rare occurance of its sequel Aliens being on par and even better in some circles.

Alien established a myriad of acclaim over the decades, ranging from H. R. Giger‘s incredibly sexual Academy Award-winning special effects and design work, an unromanticized look at our industrial/corporate-run future, one of the best depictions of the working class, the infrastructure for Android tropes, creating one of the most horrific yet adored cinematic monsters, basically establishing the majority of what we know as sci-fi horror genre today, and coining the classic tagline “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream“. It’s a simple film, and its lived-in rugged story and relatable human performances are just amplified by their surrounding grandiose findings. But above all that influence, veneration, and masterfully perfected designs, none stands more trailblazing than the introduction of the progressively defining Ellen Ripley. Played by the emblematic Sigourney Weaver, Alien brought one of the first mainstream female badasses to the screen, only to be matched by the likes of Linda Hamilton and the late great Carrie Fisher. – Lee


Following hot on the heels of, but bearing no relation to, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci gave us another undead classic in Zombie (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombi 2). Fulci doesn’t get bogged down in social commentary here, instead delivering a feverish exercise in atmospheric dread punctuated by insanely graphic lashings of blood, guts and fluids, creating a unique miasma of existential despair that permeates through his best works. Fulci’s on-screen antics are perfectly complemented by the glorious synth-laden strains of his long-running compositional partner, Fabio Frizzi – the main title cue an ear-worm that rivals the greatest themes of the genre.

You could argue for days about which of Fulci’s films is his best, but I’m hard pressed to elevate many above Zombie. It is almost a greatest hits package in and of itself: voodoo zombies, mad scientists, the eye splinter, zombie vs shark, hospital head-shot, the walking dead on Brooklyn Bridge… there are so many memorable moments that whip by, making this tale of tropical malady eminently rewatchable. It may not have the prestige of your Apocalypse Nows, Aliens or Stalkers, but if you don’t put Zombie on your watchlist, you’re missing out on a hell of a good time. – Chris Barnes

The Muppet Movie

Because sometimes, making you smile is enough. The Muppet Movie is as much of a weird metatextual delight now as it was all those years ago. Back in a time where the most shocking and awe-inspiring thing was seeing Kermit’s legs resting atop a log, the film wisely doesn’t rest on its television laurels or on its puppeteering chops; the core of the film is the humor, and the razor-sharp wit carries the adventure from reel to reel without sign of slowing down. Setting the standard for all Muppet films to come after it (as well as still being the best Muppet movie to date), The Muppet Movie nowadays feels more like an exuberant cry of love of the staying power of comedy than anything else.While some of the cultural references are lost on younger audiences and not all the celebrity cameos land anymore, the film is still stacked tip to top with some of the quickest and funniest jokes around. The Muppet Movie is an immortal, eternal film, lovingly crafted to entertain generations to come. And while it didn’t win Best Picture, it is in the Library of Congress, and Kramer vs. Kramer isn’t. I’ll leave it to you to decide if The Muppet Movie is a better film in that case. – Davey Peppers

Mad Max

The action junkie that I am couldn’t have picked any other film for the best of 1979. It’s interesting how much this varies from 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road in regards to how it operates like a normal movie. It has a strong start with tons of establishment of the villain, then slows down and gives Max time to develop as a character. I found myself really attached to Jessie as well, which made the unexpected turn that the film takes all the more brutal.

Revenge movies often have the flaw of barely developing the characters that the protagonist loses. John Wick subverts this by having the catalyst be something adjacent to what would normally spark such a rampage, but Mad Max does it just right in how it develops Jessie as a character. Compound this with how it uses unconventional pacing to make the viewer feel wronged in how it ends up for Max, and you’re subsequently motivated to see him take some well deserved payback. A great first film from madman George Miller, in a series that keeps on giving. – Jen

Staff Selects

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