10 flicks to see from 1979

#10 – Manhattan

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton & Michael Murphy.

Woody Allen’s comedy and drama are beautiful theatre. He delves into the psychology of what it means to be human, and Manhattan is maybe his best.

Manhattan follows Isaac Davis, a recently divorced 42-year-old man who dates a 17-year-old girl and falls in love with his best friend’s mistress in an immoral attempt to feel fulfilled again. Allen had a fascination with the nature and morality of love, and themes such as sexuality and monogamy are explored in great depth in his films. This one, in particular, is a true piece of art.

Filmed entirely in black-and-white to accompany the simultaneously beautiful and disgustingly urban aesthetic of New York City, this film received critical acclaim for its story and its production. Mariel Hemingway won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role, and it featured some now huge names such as Meryl Streep and Anne Byrne.

Interestingly, Allen supposedly hated the finished product of this film and begged the studio to let him start something different from scratch. Lucky they said no.


#9 – Hair

Directed by Milos Forman. Starring John Savage, Treat Williams & Beverly D’Angelo.

What do you get when you combine an absolutely gorgeous Broadway musical with the flower power pro-peace attitude of the 1970s?

The answer is Hair, an anti-war musical drama about a Vietnam War draftee who meets a tribe of hippies on his way to the Army induction centre. It explores drugs, unorthodox relationships and, most importantly, a desire for peace in the world. It’s a rock musical from the director of 1975’s massive success One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

The cast put in a spirited performance that even musical theatre fans have conceded is right up there with the original Broadway cast. Just check out the rendition of “Aquarius” above if you need convincing. This is an ensemble rock musical truly made by its incredible ensemble.

If you’d like some insight into the cost of films back in the day, this was made on the same budget as the original Star Wars.


#8 – The Muppet Movie

Directed by James Frawley. Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz & Jerry Nelson.

Nowadays, we’ve seen our favourite Jim Henson characters in plenty of motion pictures, but this one is the original and the best.

The Muppet Movie follows Kermit the Frog on a cross-country trip to Hollywood, running into his fellow Muppets along the way and being pursued by an evil restauranteur who wants Kermit as a spokesperson for his frog legs. It’s the kind of fun and action-packed absurdity that could only come from the mind of Jim Henson, and boy does it live up to the billing.

Praised for its meta-references and fourth wall breaking, this film transitioned the Muppets seamlessly from television to film with intelligence, wit and a whole lot of hilarious silliness. It’s a load of fun for the whole family.

This film is famous for being the first to show a puppet’s entire body – and Henson put himself in a waterproof container with a breathing hose underneath a pond in order to pull it off!


#7 – Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Directed by Robert Wise. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy & DeForest Kelley.

The year 1977 brought us Star Wars. The year 1979 brought Star Trek: indisputably the next largest science-fiction franchise to exist.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture features the beloved original cast of Star Trek as they face the threat of V’Ger, a mysterious alien cloud that destroys everything in its path and is approaching Earth. For the first time, fans of the series boarded the Starship Enterprise in a full-length, over two-hour adventure, and it was a resounding success.

After the television series ended in 1969, fans lobbied Paramount Pictures to continue the franchise, and they got their wish. The result was slightly criticised for a lack of action and over-reliance on special effects, but it marked the beginning of the next chapter in the Star Trek franchise, which still continues with immense popularity to this day.

Star Trek is credited with inspiring technologies that would become a reality, including automatic doors, talking computers, weapons that stun rather than kill and personal communication devices.


#6 – Kramer vs Kramer

Directed by Robert Benton. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep & Jane Alexander.

It doesn’t get as touching and as influential as Kramer vs Kramer, no matter where you look. This film is beautiful.

Kramer vs Kramer follows the story of a couple’s divorce and its impacts on their young son and the way they parent. It’s a story that has become so culturally important as attitudes to parenting and relationships changed throughout the end of the 20th century, and it’s magnificently done on film as well, exploring gender roles, women’s and fathers’ rights, work-life balance and single parenting long before many of those were frequently discussed topics.

And if you don’t fall in love with the story, you certainly will with the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. The pair are absolutely magnificent in roles that are truly touching. This film will reach every single person on a very emotional level.

This film would go on to become the highest-grossing film of 1979 and won five Academy Awards from nine nominations. Not too bad.


#5 – Escape from Alcatraz

Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan & Fred Ward.

If it weren’t for a certain Stephen King-inspired flick from the mid-90s, I’d say this was by far the best prison break movie of all time.

Escape from Alcatraz is based on the true story of the 1962 prisoner escape from Alcatraz Island, at the time the most guarded and secure prison in the United States. The events contributed to the closure of Alcatraz shortly after, which fortunately means that this film was actually shot on-location.

It’s an intense film and made all the more fascinating by its element of truth. Clint Eastwood and Patrick McGoohan are absolutely excellent in their roles, and this film has inspired many modern-day directors with its cinematic grace and expressiveness, including a young Quentin Tarantino.

Unfortunately, this film created a rift between friends Don Siegel and Eastwood, resulting in this being their last collaboration after many massive successes.


#4 – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Directed by Terry Jones. Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese & Terry Gilliam.

Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans ever done for us?


#3 – Mad Max

Directed by George Miller. Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel & Hugh Keays-Byrne.

Time for a bit of love for an Australian classic and a series we’re very proud of as a nation.

Mad Max is a dystopian science-fiction about a psychotic policeman who gets into a violent feud with a motorcycle gang in an age of societal collapse, murder and revenge. It features the talents of Mel Gibson in the lead role and George Miller in the director’s chair.

It’s a little strange to watch a film trying to pass the Australian country as a wasteland, but it’s visceral and thrilling and extremely confronting. It’s a graphic world, but Miller brings it to the screen perfectly with incredible car stunts and some marvellous performances.

This film was originally banned in Sweden for one particular scene that caused quite a bit of offence, and the ban wasn’t lifted until 2005.


#2 – Apocalypse Now

Directed by Francis Coppola. Starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall & Martin Sheen.

Oh my, oh my, this film is a masterpiece. It’s a hallucinatory experience to watch, and the performances just cap it off.

Apocalypse Now is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the film follows a river journey from South Vietnam into Cambodia to assassinate a rogue Colonel. Featuring career-best performances of Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen under the direction of Francis Coppola, you couldn’t pay for a better Hollywood matchup if you had all the money in the world.

The film has become a true icon, quoted more frequently than most politicians (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” “smells like victory,” “the horror, the horror”), and being hailed as one of the finest war films of all time and an entirely accurate depiction of the horrors of Vietnam.

You won’t find finer cinematography anywhere in this culmination of Coppola’s superb directorial career.


#1 – Alien

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver & Veronica Cartwright.

You have a choice to make: one of the greatest horror movies ever made, or a good night’s sleep.

Alien follows a space crew who encounter a deadly and aggressive alien creature that makes its way on board through its symbiotic reproduction process. Be prepared to be terrified, disgusted and intimidated by one of the most terrifying horror creatures in history.

It spawned an incredible franchise that continues today. The character played by Sigourney Weaver has been hailed as one of the greatest female protagonists of all time, and Ridley Scott’s direction gives it a chilling tone. This film is indisputably one of the greatest horrors ever put to film.

This was also the kickstarter of Ridley Scott’s career – be prepared to hear that name in a fair few number ones over the coming weeks.