Movies Of The Year: 1978

The best year for movies yet is 1978. And the first time all of my top films are actually good.

13. Coming Home – I don’t generally like depressing movies, and this is a Depressing Movie. It’s redeemed by the great performances by Jon Voight, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern.

12. Interiors – Woody Allen follows up the best romantic comedy ever with. . .his most boring movie ever. Like Coming Home, this is Depressing, but there is also some terrific acting. But if you wanted to watch a Bergman movie, you should just watch a Bergman movie. Allen would get better at serious movies. This has the same relation to, say, Crimes And Misdemeanors as Hollywood Ending has to Sleeper.

11. Game Of Death – Bruce Lee only made half of this before he died, but they released it anyway, with a different actor pretending to be Lee through much of the movie. Really, you’re better off just skipping ahead to the climax, wherein the actual Lee has to fight his way up a tower (including a tremendous scene with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to get to the bad guy.

10. The Five Deadly Venoms – A Shaw Brothers genre film, built around a fairly tedious mystery plot. Really picks up towards the end when the fighting starts.

9. Grease – A very strange film. I’ve only seen it once, unlike, apparently, everyone else. More interesting than funny. There’s some catchy songs, but I like dancing in my musicals and none of the sequences here stick in my memory.

8. Halloween – The best film of its genre, not counting Alien. But I’m not a real fan of the genre. It towers above its competition, really. Genuinely scary.

7. Dawn Of The Dead – Zombies invade a shopping mall: pure genius. The best of Romero’s Zombie Quartet and the one where his anti-capitalist metaphor works the best. Watch the long version.

6. Superman – What are Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman doing in this movie? A really great looking movie, made believable by the work of actors who should be above this sort of thing. After almost 20 years of post-Batman, post-modern superheroes, I’l admit a little nostalgia for a movie that plays the superhero thing totally straight.

5. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin – Apparently the Shaw Brothers masterpiece, though I’ve only seen the two films on this list. A great epic martial arts film. Remember the funky logo at the beginning of Kill Bill Vol. 1? That’s the Shaw Brothers. Gordon Liu stars in this movie, and plays one role in each of the Kill Bill movies.

4. The Last Waltz – The Band’s last concert, chock full of guest appearances. My favorites are Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and, I guess just for the hell of it, Neil Diamond. The concert’s great, but it’s the way Scorsese cuts between the songs and the interviews to always keep the movie moving forward, that makes this one of the few great music documentaries.

3. The Deer Hunter – Quite the year for depressing movies. The scope and weight of this film is unmatched in Vietnam films. But it is so dark and depressing. The cast is truly amazing: DeNiro, Walken, Cazale, Savage and Streep are all outstanding. Two things keep this from being #1. First, I’ve never found what happens to Walken’s character to be realistic. Not just the going nuts and playing Russian Roulette part, but DeNiro going back and finding him and what happens then. . . .it’s just too much for me to believe in a film that seems so relentlessly realistic in every other aspect. Second is the relationship between Streep and DeNiro. I’m not sure exactly why, but it never worked for me. A great movie, the third best Vietnam movie ever, but not the best of 1978.

2. Days Of Heaven – Terrence Malik’s never failed to make a Great Movie. Of course, he’s only made three movies (the fourth is coming out this fall, oh yeah, I’m excited). This one stars Richard Gere (before he became a star, and therefore when he was good) and Brooke Adams as Depression Era wanderers who end up working on the always great Sam Shepard’s farm. Shepard falls in love with Adams and bad things start to happen in incredibly beautiful ways. One of the very best looking movies ever made.

1. Animal House – How can I put this #1 ahead of Serious Movies like The Deer Hunter and Interiors and Coming Home? Because it’s my list, dammit. And also because Animal House is a better, more innovative, more important movie than any of those others. Ask yourself honestly which you’d rather watch: John Belushi being fat, drunk and stupid, or Jon Voight as a paraplegic trying to steal Bruce Dern’s wife because Vietnam sucked? That’s what I thought. Animal House created a genre that has had way more than its share of crappy movies, but it also spawned some classics (Caddyhack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, etc). Interiors spawned, um, er, nothing. Just because it’s funny, doesn’t mean it isn’t respectable. And Animal House might be the funniest movie ever made.

Some pretty good movies I haven’t seen from this year, but I’d be surprised if any made my top 8:

Drunken Master
I Spit On Your Grave
La Cage Aux Folles
Foul Play
Heaven Can Wait
Up In Smoke
Midnight Express

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