#23. All That Jazz (1979)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Written by: Robert Alan Aurthur, Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking
All That Jazz is Bob Fosse’s semi autobiographical masterpiece about his experiences as stage dancer and director, as well as his time working on his previous film Lenny and the stage production of Chicago simultaneously. All That Jazz follows stage director and performer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) as he splits his time between editing a feature film and directing an ambitious new Broadway show. In order to cope with the stress, Joe relies on his a trusty cocktail of cigarettes and pills, which eventually catch up to him. Joe eventually begins to experience serious chest pains and is rushed to the hospital – where he is forced to stay for a number of weeks. With his projects on hold indefinitely, Joe is forced to deal with his health issues and reevaluate his life decisions. What follows is a surreal and dreamlike series of bombastic musical numbers and existential angst, imagined only as a visionary like Bob Fosse could. Roy Scheider gives a career-best performance as Joe Gideon, who is a compulsive, workaholic visionary who never comes across as anything short of genuine. Scheider’s Joe is perfectly understated and subtle – something I had never seen from the actor before All That Jazz. Bob Fosse’s work behind the camera is highly energetic, self-indulgent, and full the director’s stylistic flares – the dream sequences in particular are some of the highlights of All That Jazz. The director’s attention to detail pays off in spades in the incredibly well-choreographed musical numbers, proving that his time on the stage could translate perfectly to the big screen. The screenplay by the duo of Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur is entirely self-aware and death-obsessed – it’s clear that these themes and ruminations are coming from a very intimate and personal place. All That Jazz is Bob Fosse’s brilliant take on a subject many all-time great directors have tackled – a self-aware exploration of the tortured mind of an artist, obsessed with their legacy and their untimely death. It’s easy to argue that Fosse’s film is self-indulgent and more impressed with itself than it should be, but to deny its sense of passion and the artistry involved would be plain foolish. All That Jazz is not always an easy or joyful watch (especially for a musical), but it’s one hell of an affecting film.
#81. Manhattan (1979)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne
Woody Allen’s best years came between the late 1970’s and throughout the majority of the 1980’s, with the occasional classic being released afterward. Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan uses the winning romantic comedy formula that saw Annie Hall win Best Picture in 1977, creating a funny, charming, and highly intelligent film in the process. While Manhattan never quite reaches the highs of the aforementioned Annie Hall, it easily places second among Woody’s prolific career. Starring Woody Allen himself as Isaac, a TV writer obsessed with New York City who is dating a 17-year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Things become complicated when Isaac begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton), the mistress of his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). The love triangle dynamic is a classic trope in the romantic comedy, and one that Allen has used throughout his filmography. The difference here is that Manhattan feels much more genuine and heartfelt than many other Hollywood rom-coms, doing its best to avoid falling into cheap cliches. The way Woody Allen portrays forbidden romance in a place like New York City comes straight from the heart, with the writer-director turning the bustling city streets into a romantic figure of its own. Allen uses black and white photography to its full effect here, supported by the legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis. The pair would create one of the most famous and enduring images of Woody Allen’s entire career (pictured above). Mariel Hemingway’s Academy Awards-nominated performance is the standout of Manhattan, driving the film’s main theme of bittersweet romance almost singlehandedly in moments. Familiar comedic turns from Woody Allen and Diane Keaton certainly don’t hurt the film, using their famous chemistry to play off one another in performances that rival those found in Annie Hall. Manhattan is one of Woody Allen’s most beautiful films, which in a career spanning fifty years is saying a great deal.
#99. The Jerk (1979)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, Michael Elias
Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh, Jackie Mason, Dick O’Neill, Mabel King
Carl Reiner’s famous Steve Martin vehicle The Jerk may just be one of the funniest movies ever made, owing almost entirely to its star’s completely dedicated performance, and a healthy dose of classic absurdism. Martin stars as a dimwitted (but good-natured) and hapless young man named Navin. After finding his “rhythm”, he becomes set on travelling to St. Louis in order to make something of himself. Along the way he adopts a stray dog named Shithead, has a close-call with a maniacal sniper, joins the circus, gets married, and very suddenly becomes rich – all the while trying to find himself and carve out his own place in the world. The script by Martin, Carl Gottlieb, and Michael Elias features a hilarious mixture of absurd and slapstick comedy, gross-out gags, and visual humor. The Jerk is still funny nearly forty years after the fact, despite being outdated in a variety of ways. It’s a true testament to the natural comedic talent of Steve Martin – who in his prime I would consider to be one of the all-time great screen comedians. It’s impossible not to smile during The Jerk, and that’s what makes it such a treat.