The year is 1978 and religion dominates the news. Pope Paul VI has passed at the age of 80, followed by Pope John Paul I who dies after a scant 34 days of serving. Thus follows the ordination of Pope John Paul II, who would serve up into the new millennium. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jim Jones convinces over 900 of his followers to join him in mass suicide by "drinking the Kool-Aid." Dead Popes. Dead Cultists. What's a world to do, but turn to cinema?
And it's a strange year. Grasping desperately at the successes of the year before, we are assaulted with terrible science fiction films like Laserblast, terrible Saturday Night Fever wannabe's like Thank God It's Friday, and terrible musicals, like my much beloved Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or my other much beloved The Wiz. There are even deliberately terrible films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes playing in theatres at the same time as the infamous Debbie Does Dallas. And if high grossing pornography isn't your thing, there's the Faces of Death series ready to shock and alarm you.
So what was good? How about ...
1) The Deer Hunter
Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken
Why a fave?: Winner of 5 academy awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken, this film profoundly opened the floodgates to this nation's artistic, healing-of-the wounds of Vietnam. While a handful of films had already existed about the war, this was the one that blew everyone away, and inspired many more to follow.
2) Midnight Express
Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Brad Davis, Randy Quaid
Why a fave?: One of the most affecting and terrifying prison films ever made, this film remains controversial today as the falsehoods, truths and slander are argued and weighed with the fantastic filmmaking.
Director: Randal Kleiser
Stars: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John
Why a fave?: While certainly not among my favorites, the cultural significance of this film cannot be ignored. Despite my attempting to ignore it, my sister's repeated viewings of this film ingrained every single word, sung or not, onto my brain. I can quote it better than Star Wars. And man do people just love this thing.
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando
Why a fave?: Easily my favorite film of 1978. They said we would believe a man could fly, and we did. This superhero film still stands as the benchmark by which all others must live up to. It gave us a hero that we all could believe in -– both on and off screen. Godspeed Mr. Reeve. Godspeed.
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence
Why a fave?: One of the most successful independent films of all time, this $300,000 masterpiece of horror opened the door to the slasher films of the '80's (without which we wouldn't have Michael Myers knock-off Jason Voorhees or his stylistic sibling Freddy Kruger), and still stands as one of the best ever made. My mother saw this at a sneak preview and it scared her so much that for three weeks afterwards she put 2x4's on all the doors at night. Now that's about as glowing an endorsement for a horror film as you can get.
6) Animal House
Director: John Landis
Stars: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon
Why a fave?: This one practically invented the college comedy and still is the very best college comedy ever made. You might know it as the film that every college comedy claims to be on their video box cover. THIS YEAR'S ANIMAL HOUSE! Oddly enough, it never is.
Director: George Romero
Stars: Ken Foree, David Emge, Tom Savini
Why a fave?: This is the true zombie classic, the one that created the zombie craze and spawned a dozen Italian knock-offs. The remake exploded on the scene a few years back and was so good that fans easily accept both. This classic is a must-see for any zombie lover.
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Alan Alda
Why a fave?: It's the story of two lovers who are each having affairs –- with each other. Seeing each other once a year, we see them as time progresses, and get snapshots of their lives over the course of decades. It's the sweet and heartbreaking story of two people who only get to be truly happy once a year. A fantastic play set to film, with two of the finest actors of their generation.
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams
Why a fave?: 4 decades, 4 films –- Terrence Malick pops his head out once in a blue moon to make something genius. This is one of those efforts. I say blue moon, but blue moons actually happen more often than Malick films. But it's always worth the wait.
10) Up in Smoke
Director: Lou Adler
Stars: Cheech, Chong
Why a fave?: I know I'm supposed to say Coming Home, but I can't, because this film is so danged funny. Indicative of its era and easily the film every single stoner comedy ever made wishes it could be, including every other Cheech and Chong movie. I don't care how straight laced you are, this movie will make anyone laugh.
Did I miss a film here? Leave a comment below.
C. Robert Cargill - - - Email Me
Austin-based Cargill, who not only loves but owns The Cutting Edge, writes on movies and DVD five times a week.