Tag Archives: Animal House

Movies We Still Care About – 1979

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

Movies We Still Care About

  • Alien
  • Life of Brian

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Kramer vs. Kramer (Winner)
  • All That Jazz
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Breaking Away
  • Norma Rae

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Kramer vs. Kramer
  2. The Amityville Horror
  3. Rocky II
  4. Apocalypse Now
  5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  6. Alien
  7. The Muppet Movie
  8. 10
  9. The Jerk
  10. Moonraker

Other Notable Movies

  • Apocalypse Now
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • The Muppet Movie
  • Mad Max
  • Meatballs
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture

 

There are lots of films people still remember from this year.  I had some difficulty deciding which ones count as movies we still care about.  I’m sure there will be lots of disagreement in the comments.

Movies We Still Care About

Alien

Alien is widely considered to be among the best horror films of all time.  I can’t think of a better sci-fi/horror.  It’s a masterpiece of slow-build suspense and terror.

The only flaw in this movie is that it loses a lot of its impact once you’ve seen the alien.  So it doesn’t hold up quite as well on repeated viewings, or if you’ve already seen any of the sequels, or if you’ve seen any of the myriad references to the xenomorphs that have become mythology over the last 35 years.

But even if you won’t be able to replicate the experience of watching for the first time, this still holds up in every other way, and is worth revisiting.

Life of Brian

Life of Brian isn’t as funny as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but then again, what is?  But while Holy Grail was just silly fun, Life of Brian did an excellent job mixing humor with social commentary.  For example, the brilliant “You’re all individuals” scene.

This was the Pythons’ only foray into telling a complete story, rather than a series of unrelated or quasi-related sketches.  Or course it was riffing off the Gospels, but it works.  And the audience knowing the story they were spoofing made us appreciated the choices they made when they deviated from that.

Other Notable Films

Apocalypse Now

This is considered an all-time classic.  It’s discussed in film school.  It’s full of famous quotes such as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” and “The horror, the horror.”  Plus everyone knows the attack helicopters playing Ride of the Valkyries.  It’s one of those movies that everyone is supposed to respect.

But I don’t include it in the list because I’m not convinced that anyone outside of film snobs actually likes it.  It’s rather dull and plodding, with a barely coherent plot and characters that are intentionally designed to keep you from caring about them.  It’s one of those movies that people only pretend to love because they think it makes them sound sophistimacated.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Another one of those movies that is considered great and discussed in film school, but that few people actually like.  Plus it doesn’t have all the cultural touchstones that Apocalypse Now has.

The Muppet Movie

I grew up watching the late 70s/early 80s Muppet movies over and over in reruns.  (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan.)  These movies and the Muppet Babies cartoon are where I formed my impression of the Muppets, and I thought they were great.  The films did an excellent job of appealing to both kids and grown-ups.  (I haven’t revisited Muppet Babies as an adult, so I’m not sure how that holds up.)

It was somewhat of a surprise to me a few years ago when I checked out the 70s Muppet Show, and found that it was quite lame.  Just a lot of joke-free versions of the Muppets singing songs, and some variety show fare that had already been played out long before the 70s.  I can’t offer an explanation as to why the movies were so much better than the show, but they were.

However while I have a personal fondness for The Muppet Movie, I don’t think it still has much widespread appeal, so I can’t quite count it as a movie we still care about.

Mad Max

References to Mad Max have risen to the level of mythology.  Mad Max has become a synonym for post-apocalyptic civilization, barren wastelands, and a certain style of dress.

But the thing is, when you close your eyes and picture something out of Mad Max, you’re almost certainly picturing its sequels The Road Warrior or Beyond Thunderdome instead. The original Mad Max was a small budget revenge story that wasn’t set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and doesn’t feature any of the iconography that people imagine when they hear the name.  So while The Road Warrior is something people still care about, the original Mad Max is not.  (Even if they erroneously think they do.)

Meatballs

This created the summer camp movie, which became its own genre in the 80s, and has been spoofed and referenced countless times.  But on the other hand, when’s the last time you actually watched Meatballs?  When’s the last time anyone you know watched it?

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

We still care about Star Trek.  We still care about several Star Trek movies.  But even hard-core Trekkers don’t care about the first movie, or consider it to be remotely worth watching.

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

Movies We Still Care About – 1978

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

Movies We Still Care About

  • Superman
  • Grease
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Halloween

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Deer Hunter (Winner)
  • Coming Home
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Midnight Express
  • An Unmarried Woman

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Grease
  2. Superman
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House
  4. Every Which Way but Loose
  5. Heaven Can Wait
  6. Hooper
  7. Jaws 2
  8. Halloween
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. The Deer Hunter

This is a year in which the box office numbers were a much better predictor of long-term quality than the Oscars.  The top 3 (and 8th) box office movies have stood the test of time, while most people are at best dimly aware of the existence of the Academy Award Nominees.  The Russian Roulette scene in Deer Hunter is memorable, but beyond that, I think only a tiny minority of people could picture a single scene from any of the nominated movies.

Movies We Still Care About

Superman

On an objective level, Superman is not a very good movie.  It’s a lot better in our memories than if you actually watch it.  It has poor pacing, and an incoherent plot.  (The best summary I can come up with is “Superman does some stuff, and Lex Luthor has a ridiculous scheme involving missiles.”)  Plus it has the single worst ending from a writing perspective that I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture.

It also is the eponymous example of what I call “The Superman Problem.”  That’s when a hero is so incredibly powerful that the only way he can possibly be challenged is for him to be so incredibly stupid that he forgets his own abilities.  Since on a fundamental level, a movie is about the hero overcoming difficult challenges, it’s very difficult to make a movie work when the hero can’t be challenged.  Which is why this “How it Should Have Ended” cartoon for Superman makes a lot more sense than the actual movie.

So why is it on this list?  Two reasons: The first is that nobody was trying to make the movie work well as a story.  Superman is what I call a Spectacle Movie.  This is a movie that gives such a compelling spectacle that the viewers don’t really care about the story or characters.  The spectacle can come in the form of jokes, song-and-dance numbers, fight scenes, action scenes, or in the case of Superman, special effects.  Note that the tagline for Superman had nothing to do with any sort of story.  It was simply “You will believe a man can fly.”

The other reason it’s on this list is that Superman created the comic book tentpole movie.  That’s a genre that really came into its own in the 2000s, but it can be traced back to this.  Before 1978, comics were considered to be kids stuff, relegated to Saturday morning cartoons.  Superman demonstrated that, done right, comic book movies could be big business that would play to a general audience.

Grease

Does this appeal to everyone?  No.  But if you like musicals, you’ve seen Grease.  When I mention the songs “Summer Lovin,” “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” “You’re the One That I Want,” and “We Go Together,” you probably heard those songs in your head, and possibly started humming them.  In general, this is just an all-around fun movie to watch.

Halloween

Halloween is generally seen as creating the modern slasher genre.  The idea of a soulless killer slaughtering promiscuous teenagers dates back to this movie.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you almost certainly have a fondness in your heart for this.  And even if you don’t care for horror, you probably still know who Michael Myers is.  He may not be quite at the level of mythology as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Norman Bates, but I can’t think of any other horror movies characters that are better known.

National Lampoon’s Animal House

This is the trailblazer of both the gross-out comedy and college comedy genres.  Like Superman, it is more of a spectacle movie, working due to jokes rather than story.  The characters are mostly a bunch of obnoxious jerks who could easily be the villain in another movie, but are funny enough that you end up caring about them.

Plus in my personal opinion, John Belushi’s guitar smash is one of the all-time funniest moments in film.

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