A year of the Bee Gees, the creation of Garfield the cat, Halloween, and Grease (both of which have been purposefully excluded from this list), 1978 was a year I wish I was alive to experience. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to, so the closest way I can is by watching the greatest films from that year. After watching tens of films, I have narrowed down my top picks for the best movies of 1978.
dir. Ingmar Bergman
“A sense of reality is a matter of talent. Most people lack that talent and maybe it’s just as well.”
I've been trying to get into Ingmar Bergman for a while and every film of his I've watched has left me pondering it for days. Autumn Sonata did not fail. The color palette is warm, inviting, and deceitful to the movie's serious subject.
Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), a classical pianist, comes to visit her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her husband Viktor (Halvar Björk). She had given up the duties of motherhood to pursue her career. The visit initially seems normal and sweet – it's a mother and daughter reuniting. But as the night goes on, their unresolved issues are the main topic of discussion. Charlotte learns that her other daughter Helena, who is paralyzed, is living with Eva and not in the hospital she put her in. The scenes of them arguing are tense and sometimes uncomfortable, as if I shouldn't have been listening in. It appears that the story is told from Victor's point of view. He has a brief monologue in the beginning but serves as an observer for the remainder of the film, like the audience.
Autumn Sonata is not the typical kind of movie I would watch, and I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I wasn’t digging into 1978. I was pleasantly surprised by the complex and plausible story, and I look forward to watching more Bergman movies.
Available on HBO Max and the Criterion Channel.
dir. Claudia Weill
“How can you be sure when you’re unsure?”
I'd heard that Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (2013) was heavily inspired by Girlfriends, which is true, but Girlfriends has a warmer, grainier feel despite it taking place in the dead of winter. It is probably the lowest quality compared to the rest of the films on this list; regardless, it has the vibes. Susan (Melanie Mayron) is a twenty-something photographer living with her roommate in New York City. Most of her job entails photographing weddings and pre-pubescent bar mitzvah boys until she successfully publishes some of her photos in a magazine. Soon after, her roommate, Anne (Anita Skinner), moves out to live with her fiancé. Although Susan claims she enjoys her newfound independence, she becomes very lonely in the big city.
I thoroughly enjoyed Girlfriends. It's a meticulous movie about the duality of friendship and loneliness. Susan is a very relatable character with her stubbornness and ambition. Oh, and character actor Eli Wallach plays a Rabbi, and they almost have an affair? But, Christopher Guest and Bob Balaban play the women's love interests, so I'm not one to complain.
Available on Prime Video.
Graduate First (Passe ton bac d'abord)
dir. Maurice Pialat
“Life is really fucked.”
Set in a working-class town in the north of France, a group of school friends shares their last few weeks before their lives diverge into the uncertainties of adulthood. They spend their final days in school being berated by their parents and teachers about their futures. It's a plotless movie, but it really works, considering the subject. The plot is deceiving because it seems like it would be more of a coming-of-age film, but it's not. It doesn't specifically focus on any one character but instead on the dynamic of the relationships within the friend group.
Pialat captures the last few moments of soaking up one another's company and ignoring impending responsibilities. I have yet to experience the feeling of leaving my hometown for college firsthand, but the portrayal in the movie seems relatively accurate. It's almost like a French version of Dazed and Confused (1993); they both include stoned teenagers faking their sobriety to adults and failing, among other classic tropes.
Available on Kanopy and Prime Video.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
dir. Robert Zemeckis
“I want you to be prepared for excessive screaming, hysteria, hyperventilation, fainting, fits, seizures, spasmodic convulsions, even attempted suicides. All are perfectly normal.”
I Wanna Hold Your Hand, derived from a song of the same name, is a film that explores the hysteria of Beatlemania in the early 60s. A group of teens from New Jersey go to New York City to catch a glimpse of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show without having bought tickets. Through their adventure to get access to The Ed Sullivan Show, they form close friendships and meet fellow crazed fans along the way.
I was particularly impressed by Wendie Jo Sperber’s performance of Rosie, a crazed Beatles fan obsessed with Paul McCartney. Her mannerisms and dialogue are so genuine; I would be shocked to hear that she didn’t adore Paul in real life. I like the Beatles, not nearly as much as Rosie, but I could feel her frustration through the screen, especially during her interactions with Richard (Eddie Deezen). Eddie Deezen does what he does best, and that is to act nerdy. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a lively coming-of-age movie with excellent music, most of which is from The Beatles. It’s a perfect movie if you are longing for something lighthearted and full of music.
Available on Prime Video.
The Last Waltz
dir. Martin Scorsese
“This film should be played loud!”
Before watching The Last Waltz, I had no idea what The Band was. I didn’t recognize any of their music or band members. However, I would now consider myself a fan after watching this two-hour heartfelt performance, and it is my favorite on this list by a long shot. Martin Scorsese captures the final, most zestful show on The Band’s final tour on Thanksgiving day in 1976. I don’t typically enjoy musician movies –the extent of them that I have seen is limited to Elvis, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, which probably explains why I feel the way I do about them.
I was hesitant to watch The Last Waltz because I recognized more of the featured artists than the main subject. But it is really just so well done, and dare I say, beautiful?
Neil Young’s performance of “Helpless” gave me chills, and Joni Mitchell never disappoints. The energy is exciting, sentimental, and celebratory. The final performance of “I Shall Be Released” brought me to tears. I was genuinely sad that this was their last show, even though The Band has been broken up for twenty-two years, and I was introduced to them an hour before. That is extremely remarkable, and props to Martin Scorsese for capturing that. A part of me is glad that I didn’t have any expectations because the experience was phenomenal; The Last Waltz introduced me to new music as I caught a glimpse into a different era. It is a movie without conflict and one that celebrates its subject matter. Regardless if you are a fan or not, it is worth the watch.
Available on Kanopy, Tubi and Prime Video.