When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1979, it gave its Best Picture award to Kramer vs. Kramer. That isn't a bad movie, but it's a tad too earnest for me. I prefer these:
1. Being There Directed by Hal Ashby Written by Jerzy Kosinski and Robert C. Jones, from a novel by Kosinski
Hal Ashby may be the most undersung American filmmaker of the '70s, and this satire, released in the final year of the decade, is his crowning achievement. After this the hammer came down, the New Hollywood era ended, and he spent the last few years of his life snorting cocaine and directing crap like Let's Spend the Night Together and 8 million ways to die. RIP.
2. Manhattan Directed by Woody Allen Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman
Watching this today, the Allen character's romantic entanglement with a teen might seem too uncomfortably close to the auteur's later life. If you can get past that, though, you'll find the best effort in his C.V.
3. Life of Brian Directed by Terry Jones Written by Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin
"Yes, we're all individuals!"
4. Apocalypse Now Directed by Francis Ford Coppola Written by Coppola, John Miluis, and Michael Herr, from a novel by Joseph Conrad
When the New Hollywood died, Coppola did a better job of surviving than Ashby did. But as with Being There, there's a line separating the movies he directed up through this one from all the pictures that came afterwards.
5. Wise Blood Directed by John Huston Written by Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald, from a novel by Flannery O'Connor
The book is too good for any adaptation to equal it, but this one comes much closer than anyone had a right to expect.
6. The Third Generation Written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Experiments with overlapping sound, a large cast with no clear protagonist, withering satire that doesn't spare anyone -- if Robert Altman made a movie about German terrorists, it would look like this.
7. Winter Kills Directed by William Richert Written by Richert, from a novel by Richard Condon
JFK with a sense of humor.
8. Escape from Alcatraz Directed by Don Siegel Written by Richard Tuggle
Number Six is the new Number Two.
9. Murder by Decree Directed by Bob Clark Written by John Hopkins
The Sherlock Holmes adventure as '70s conspiracy thriller.
10. All That Jazz Directed by Bob Fosse Written by Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur
I've seen artists attack themselves before, but I had no idea a musical could be so self-lacerating.
11. The Great Santini (Lewis John Carlino) 12. The Tin Drum (Volker Schlöndorff) 13. Alien (Ridley Scott) 14. Bye Bye Brazil (Carlos Diegues) 15. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) 16. The Brood (David Cronenberg) 17. Scum (Alan Clarke) 18. Going in Style (Martin Brent) 19. A Perfect Couple (Robert Altman) 20. The Muppet Movie (James Frawley)
Of the films of 1979 that I haven't seen, the two that interest me the most are Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre and Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter.