Movies We Still Care About – 1977

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Star Wars
  • Annie Hall

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Annie Hall (Winner)
  • The Goodbye Girl
  • Julia
  • Star Wars
  • The Turning Point

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Star Wars
  2. Smokey and the Bandit
  3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  4. Saturday Night Fever
  5. The Goodbye Girl
  6. The Rescuers
  7. Oh, God!
  8. A Bridge Too Far
  9. The Deep
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me

Other Notable Films

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Movies We Still Care About

Star Wars

This is going to be the longest entry on this list, because there’s the most to say about it.

In terms of the development of cinema as an medium, art form, and industry, Star Wars is certainly one of the most important movies that has ever been made.  It’s the reason the modern era of film starts in 1977.  If we judge a movie’s quality by how much people care about it, (which is what I am doing in this series of posts) then Star Wars is by far the greatest movie of all time.  It also happens to be my personal favorite.

I could talk about the plethora of fans, the toys, books, comics, conventions, fan clubs, prequels, sequels, TV shows, video games, artwork, lunch boxes, rip-offs, etc.  Any other movie that had inspired so much derivative art and commerce would certainly be worthy of being included on this list for that alone.

But Star Wars is bigger than that. I believe that at their highest level, movies rise beyond art to become mythology.  They are a part of our culture.  Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, Darth Vader, The Emperor, The Death Star, Millennium Falcon, X-Wings – these are all part of our shared cultural experience.  I can mention them and you know exactly what I mean.

And by being such an important part of our culture, they have become part of our identity.  These figures are as much a part of our experience as Zeus and Hercules were to ancient Greeks.  Sure, nobody’s making a sacrifice to Luke Skywalker to ensure a good harvest.  But when Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire, everyone knew exactly what he meant, and he was able to use that to conjure up the emotional reaction he was seeking.

To get an idea of our emotional tie to Star Wars, look at the reaction we had to the prequels.  Think back to 1999 and how huge of a deal Phantom Menace was.  I was a junior in college at the time, and I remember just before the movie started, my roommate leaned over to me and said “Our whole lives have led up to this.”  It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but he was only half joking.

After seeing Episode 1 and the huge drop in quality compared to the original series, there came denial, disappointment, and finally, anger and hatred. Why was there so much hatred for a movie that failed to live up to exceedingly high expectations?  I’m not going to claim Phantom Menace was a great movie, but there are plenty of movies that are much worse which don’t attract remotely as much ire.  For example, look at the Matrix sequels.  People were expecting the sequels to live up to the brilliance of the original.  But when they turned out to be god-awful, we collectively said “Well, that sucked,” and moved on with our lives.  Nobody ranted about their hatred of the Wachowski Brothers.  Nobody made a documentary entitled “The People vs. The Wachowskis.” They were derided as bad movies, and that was the end of it.

But Star Wars is different.  A mediocre Star Wars movie felt like an attack on our culture.  An attack on our souls.  It was an insult on a deep and personal level, savaging the values we hold dear. A mediocre movie was only able to have that much power over us because of just how deeply the original Star Wars had touched us.

Annie Hall

This is a difficult entry for me to write, because personally I don’t care for Woody Allen movies.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with his fans or with him as a filmmaker.  (And his personal life is outside the scope of this article.)  He is highly skilled, and his movies generally achieve what wants them to do.  It just that what he succeeds at doing doesn’t match my personal taste.  I was bored by Annie Hall.

But despite my own opinion, I can’t deny that there are plenty of Woody Allen fans.  In a long career of beloved movies, Annie Hall is widely considered to be his best.  Many people will call it the gold-standard for romantic comedies.  So it deserves to be on this list.

Other Notable Films

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Certainly this is a movie that most people are familiar with.  If you’re like me, as soon as you read the title you heard those famous five notes and could visualize the multi-colored lights of the alien ship cresting the mountain.

So if just reading the title can conjure up such visceral images, why doesn’t this belong in the list of movies we care about?  Because all of that comes from the last 10 minutes of the movie.  The bulk of the film is taken up with Richard Dreyfuss’s slow decent into madness and the collapse of his marriage.  Nobody remembers that because, well, it’s not very memorable.  So despite the compelling ending, I don’t think Close Encounters quite makes the list.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – Introduction

How do we define what makes a good movie?

Sure, there are movies that *I* like.  Perhaps that defines what makes a good movie *to me*.  But you don’t necessarily have the same tastes as I do.  Just as you don’t necessarily have the same taste as any particular critic.

The Academy Awards are supposed to list the best movies of the year.  But these are generally limited to dramas.  Comedies and action movies get short shrift when it comes to award season.

You can look at box office numbers, which is a reasonable measure of how many people wanted to see the movie.  But that doesn’t tell you how glad the audience was that they saw it.  Plus there are often a lot of weird factors at work in box office numbers that don’t relate to the quality of the film.  For example, what are you feelings on Shrek 2?  You probably think that at best it was reasonably entertaining, though a step down from the original.  Yet Shrek 2 is the highest grossing animated movie of all time, and the eighth highest grossing movie of all time (US box office).  It outgrossed the original Shrek, any classic Disney animation, any Pixar movie, E.T., Jurassic Park, any Harry Potter movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, and countless other movies that any sane person would agree were greatly superior to Shrek 2.  So box office numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Rotten Tomatoes is a bit better.  This measures what percentage of the audience likes a movie.  But that has its own drawbacks.  It’s limited to people who bother to go to the site and vote, and is further limited by people who actually chose to see a movie.  For example, as I’m writing this I looked at the Rotten Tomatoes home page.  Two of the top three ranked movies opening this weekend are ones I’ve never heard of, and the third is a biblical epic that appeals to church groups but won’t have any interest to secular audiences.

So how do I define what makes a good movie?  I say that a movie is good if it makes the audience care about it.  This definition applies equally well to action, comedy, and drama.  It takes into account whether a large audience wanted to see the movie – if people don’t see a movie, they can’t care about it.  But it doesn’t use box office numbers as the sole judge of quality.

And the best movies are those that we still care about when we look back at them years later.

This series of posts will be looking back at the best pictures of each year by this criteria.  I’ll identify what movies that I think a significant percentage of people still care about.  I’ll start this process with 1977, which is when the modern era of film began, and end it with 2009.  (I think five years is a reasonable minimum for looking back.)

For comparison I’ll also be listing the best picture nominees, top ten grossing movies at the box office, and the top movies on Rotten Tomatoes.  (The Rotten Tomatoes listing will start with 1980, as they don’t have yearly rankings prior to then.)  It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between these different lists.

For the movies we still care about, I’ll offer a brief analysis as to why we still hold these movies in our hearts.  I’ll also have some brief commentary of other notable movies from that year which don’t quite fit the category of films we still care about, but are worth discussing for some reason.

I hope that you’ll enjoy this journey, as we reflect back on what makes movies great.

(Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to Cinema Badger

I’m a struggling screenwriter with an MFA from USC.  In the years since I’ve graduated, I’ve had some gigs writing dialogue and trivia for video games, and have had a few near-misses in terms of selling my scripts.  But I certainly can’t be said to have “made it.”  I have to work a day job and do my writing on the side.  But I still regularly write, and I believe that through practice my writing is continually improving.

 I have a love for the craft of storytelling and how it can be done most effectively.  This love leaves me feeling personally hurt and offended when a story fails to live up to its potential.  My attitude toward movies can be summed up by Anton Ego in the film Ratatouille.  When he is told “You’re thin for someone who likes food,” he responds with, “I don’t like food, I love it.  If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.”

Many years ago, I had a somewhat popular LiveJournal where I frequently blogged about movies from a cranky and snarky perspective.  Sometimes I would give a detailed analysis of exactly where a movie went wrong and how it could have been done better.  But more often, I would give an off-the-cuff mockery and dismissal of a film.  “From the writer of [some comically terrible movie] and the director of [some other comically terrible movie], comes a yet another blatant rip off of [some movie that keeps getting ripped off.]”  Or “The Emperor has no clothes and [some critically acclaimed but pretentious director] can’t direct his way out of a paper bag.”  Things like that.

While these posts were popular with my readers, I eventually realized I needed to quit doing this.  I felt that relentlessly focusing on the negative was hurting me, both in terms of my writing and as a person.  I had to protect my anonymity for fear of alienating someone that might be hiring me in the future.  And I just got burned out on hate in general.  I used to claim that even though almost all of my reviews are scathing, I’d much rather write a positive one, because that means that I got to see an excellent movie.  Perhaps that was true, but I certainly didn’t act like it was true.

But I did enjoy blogging, and since I quit I’ve missed having that creative outlet for critical analysis.  I can write essays on Facebook that will be seen by some of my friends, but that’s not the same.  So I’m starting this new blog, with a more positive focus.

Which is not to say that everything I write will be roses and sunshine.  I can’t highlight the positive without contrasting that against where things fall short.  But I will endeavor to direct this blog toward what’s great about movies, rather than what’s wrong with them.