In case you're curious, I began this quest in September 2017, with the Some Other Movies From 1980 entry. From there I worked forward through the even years to 2018, and from 2018 I worked backward through the odd years to 1975. From 1975 I worked forward through 1976 and 1978. 44 years altogether, making for at least 660 movies and at least 990 hours. No wonder it took me so long!
In 1978 I turned three. You'd think my mom would've kept me out of the local movie theater, but I have a clear memory of seeing Superman in a drive-in that year. The first movie I ever saw? Quite possibly.
The top 5 movies of 1978 were Grease, Superman, Animal House, Every Which Way But Loose and Heaven Can Wait. I never liked Grease (sorry, just not into musicals), but I still like the rest of these movies very much.
Other good movies of that year were Hooper, The Deer Hunter, Halloween, Coming Home, Dawn of the Dead, Thank God It's Friday (I know it's ridiculous but I love it), Up in Smoke, Days of Heaven (my favorite Terrence Malick movie), Force 10 from Navarone, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Worst movie? I really couldn't find one from this year. As I searched through Wikipedia I realized that I haven't seen that many movies from 1978, and that all of those I'd seen (except for Grease) I liked very much.
Does this mean 1978 was a great year for movies? Or just that I've only seen the highlights? I suppose we'll discover the answer together below.
1. Blue Collar
Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto star in this look at life in an auto assembly plant. This was Paul Schrader's first outing as director, and I'd have to say it's both an unqualified success and Richard Pryor's best movie.
Fun Fact: Pryor, Keitel and Kotto despised each other. Their disagreements almost derailed the entire production.
2. The Fury
ESP, telekinesis, pyrokinesis... the late 70s was a good time to film a "powers of the mind" movie. In The Fury - just like in The Medusa Touch (below) - a young man harbors an extraordinary ability. This young man happens to be Kirk Douglas' son, who was abducted by a shady government agency. Brian De Palma (yep, he directed this one, too) builds up a wonderful sense of dread in this movie, and Amy Irving is great in the lead role.
Fun Fact #1: Darryl Hannah is in this if you look real hard.
Fun Fact #2: I love both movies, but this one anticipated David Cronenberg's Scanners by several years.
I still think this was one of the best things Michael Crichton was ever involved in. Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas were also excellent as the leads. It's on the slow side, but it's grounded in enough details to make it seem plausible. In Coma a doctor uncovers a conspiracy involving a medical institute, and it gets more and more paranoid from there.
Fun Fact #1: Bujold's friend is played by Lois Chiles, who would appear as Holly Goodhead in Moonraker the following year.
Fun Fact #2: This was Ed Harris' first movie. He has a few lines in the pathology room.
4. Straight Time
In the 70s people put a lot of money into pay phones. You see a lot of that in Blue Collar. You also see a lot of it in Straight Time.
In Straight Time Dustin Hoffman stars as an ex-con trying to make it on the outside after doing six years for burglary. It's a great movie and also very overlooked.
Sylvester Stallone stars as a labor organizer in the 1930s. For me this movie was the first instance of Stallone exhibiting the star power that would make him famous. Sure, Rocky appeared two years before, but in this movie you can see him trying on a completely different persona, and speaking dialogue that Rocky Balboa would have struggled with. In F.I.S.T. director Norman Jewison was also really on to something, and it's a shame some of the critics at the time couldn't see past Stallone's most recent success.
I'd recommend breaking it into two sittings though. It's pretty long.
Some Good Ones
1. Remember My Name
Geraldine Chaplin had such a circuitous (torturous?) career in Hollywood. Her famous father, years of obscurity, and then a role playing her own grandmother in 1992's Chaplin.
In Remember My Name Chaplin plays a woman stalking her ex-husband. Casting Anthony Perkins as the object of her obsession was also a nice touch. This movie feels like it could have been filmed yesterday.
Fun Fact: Alfre Woodard and Jeff Goldblum were in this, back when nobody knew who they were.
2. An Unmarried Woman
Was this the height of Jill Clayburgh's career? Sure feels like it, but I'm not sure. I liked her a lot in Semi-Tough, even if she was wasted on Silver Streak.
In this movie she plays a formerly married woman newly on the market. Her relationship with her daughter is a little weird, but the performances are good and Clayburgh does a good job of holding the movie together. In my opinion it's not nearly as good as Remember My Name (above), but it tells an interesting story nonetheless.
3. The Medusa Touch
It wastes too much time dancing around its subject matter, but The Medusa Touch is still an interesting study of a man who may or may not have the power to kill people with his mind. Richard Burton steals every scene he's in, and even if it's laborious it has the same kind of creepiness - the same worry over causality - that made The Omen and The Exorcist such hits.
4. The Driver
Ryan O'Neal stars as the titular driver, with Bruce Dern as a cop out to nab him. It's a solid action movie that does exactly what it sets out to do. On a Movie Manliness Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being Clint Eastwood's second-to-last speech in Unforgiven, this movie's a 9.5.
5. Jaws 2
The great Roy Scheider was still on board for this one, even if Spielberg, Shaw and Dreyfuss had already abandoned ship. Of course it's not as good as the first movie, of course it gets silly at times, but it's an enjoyable two hours.
Fun Fact: The guy who directed this film also did Supergirl.
1. The Boys in Company C
Fucking Hollywood has tricked me yet again. Lee Ermey is in this, playing the same role he played in Full Metal Jacket. Seriously. Nine years earlier. So when you hear them talk about how Ermey was some kind of "surprise find" with regard to the casting for Kubrick's Vietnam film, don't listen - they'd already been down this road with him long before.
Kubrick, Stone, De Palma and Coppola aren't behind the wheel for this one, so of course it lacks that kind of polish, but The Boys in Company C covers a lot of territory familiar from later 80s Vietnam War classics - and it was there first. It even anticipates American Gangster by a few decades.
This movie, by the way, would make a good double feature with Coming Home, which was released the same year.
Sad but True: Nominating Andrew Stevens for a Golden Globe - as good as he is in this movie - was bullshit. Stan Shaw, who plays Tyrone Washington, was the one who deserved that kind of recognition.
1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin 少林三十六房
You might recognize the star of this movie, Gordon Liu, from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. The actor who plays the villain was also the "human balloon" in John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. A lot of the bigger Hong Kong stars made transitions to Hollywood later on.
And forgive me if I ramble a bit here, but I live in Taiwan and have studied its history for years. The "tartars" spoken of in the beginning are Ching Dynasty officials, sent to Canton Province to consolidate that dynasty's hold on the southern parts of China. The heroes of this movie are Ming loyalists hoping to restore the "native" (ethnically Chinese) Ming Dynasty to power, which was displaced by the Ching. Many ethnic Chinese regarded the Ching as northern barbarians.
The good guys in this movie, the Ming loyalists, are attempting to establish communications with the court of Jeng Cheng-gong, a pirate-turned-feudal lord who had forced the Dutch out of Taiwan. Jeng Cheng-gong's stated goal was the restoration of the Ming Dynasty in China, and this goal made him a likely ally for the heroes in the movie. In The 36th Chamber of Shaolin the good guys win in the short term, but in the long term the Ching would rule for hundreds of years. The Ching would endure to become China's last dynasty, which would collapse in the early 1900s after years of civil war and the depredations of foreign powers.
And then, kung fu. Gordon Liu has to get revenge, right? Those rascals killed his dad after all. He escapes to a Shaolin temple where he learns kung fu, and you can probably guess what happens after that.
The Shaolin (or Shiao Lin or Xiao Lin) temples were in essence subversive religious organizations, and the Ching Dynasty had a lot of trouble with those. The most famous example is the Boxer Rebellion, but the Taiping Rebellion could be another example. Even now the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has issues with this type of organization, as seen in their persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
But I digress. Or do I? Whether I do or whether I don't, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of the best - if not the best - kung fu movies I've ever seen, and this fact, weirdly, has little to do with the fight choreography. It's just a well-crafted action movie that tells an interesting story.
Definitely not Good, but VERY Late 70s
Just check out that room full of LPs during the credits. This, and special "in concert" appearances by Linda Ronstadt AND Jimmy Buffett. Oh, and I almost forgot the scene in Tower Records - back when they really sold records.
The cast? Let's just say that some of them were in much better movies, others went on to much better movies, and others didn't really go anywhere at all. The plot? As you'd expect it's about an FM radio station. Something something not wanting to play army jingles something something.
Cleavon Little, by the way, deserved the Oscar for Pretending to Like Songs That No Self-Respecting Black Man Would Ever Like.
Some Bad Ones
1. California Suite
I fucking hate plays. And this movie feels way too much like a play. Neil Simon wrote it, Herbert Ross directed it, and even though I like a lot of the cast members it just wasn't working.
People only have certain kinds of conversations in plays. In real life they say "Fuck you" and disappear for several years. They're probably right in doing so.
My One Coherent Thought for the Day: Michael Caine was terrible at picking movies. Great actor, but when he was in a good movie it was almost by accident. He and Maggie Smith are excellent in this movie, but the rest of this film ruins it. For every The Man Who Would Be King there's a Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and for every The Dark Knight there's a Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. I admire his work ethic, but he could have been more selective.
"Did you ever ride in a truck? Do you want to?"
Sam Peckinpah sort of directed this. Kris Kistofferson stars as a trucker, with Ali MacGraw (and a terrible perm) as a woman he meets on the road. This movie could be seen as the highlight of the late 70s trucker/trucking craze, and yes, CB radios abound. It was the most commercially successful movie Peckinpah ever directed, and also one of the last. The first half is solid, but during the second it really wears out its welcome.
Fun Fact: The big afro dude from Car Wash is in this.
Not-So-Fun Fact: As has been discussed elsewhere, Peckinpah was having serious substance abuse issues around this time. During the filming of Convoy it got so bad that his Cross of Iron star James Coburn was called in to act as second unit director. Coburn went on to direct most of this movie.
3. Pretty Baby
Susan Sarandon would go on to star in Louis Malle's Atlantic City, a movie I loved, but this one wasn't doing anything for me. I suppose those involved thought the setting would go some distance toward making this movie interesting, but this story about life in a New Orleans brothel feels very staged. Brooke Shields' nude scenes in this film (she was 12) have caused some critics to label this "child pornography," and even with that aside I'd have to say that this movie just isn't very good.*
4. I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Robert Zemeckis directed this teen comedy about the Beatles coming to America. Critics liked it, but it bored the hell out of me. Reminded me a lot of American Graffiti - another movie I'm not fond of - and I liked this one even less.
Some Other Movies From 1976
Some Other Movies From 1975
Some Other Movies From 1977
Some Other Movies From 1979
*Maybe I'm going to come off as a prude when I say this, but this was the first movie that actually made me feel dirty for watching it. This said, that "dirty" feeling probably falls outside the bounds of a critical analysis of this movie, so I'm just including this footnote as a warning. One of the last scenes in this movie really turned my stomach, and I never want to see anything like that again.