The year of my birth produced some amazing, ground-breaking cinema. Here's a selection of watershed movies from the final year of the 70s, in no particular order:
i. The Muppet Movie
My parents rented a VHS copy of this, not long after I was old enough to sit through feature-length videos. Sure, my kid-self was spellbound by Jim Henson's madcap puppetry. But just as significantly, this epic cross-country road movie -- from the Florida swamps to glittering Hollywood -- likely represents the start of my long-standing fascination with overland travel.
It was my first exposure to the misadventure-filled road trip -- all billboards, truck stops, and kitschy roadside attractions. The film laid out my earliest mental topography of the USA, connected via a network of flyovers and open highways. (This impression would later be corrupted by the likes of The Doom Generation, Natural Born Killers, and the other warped progeny of Bonnie and Clyde).
Clearly, Jason Segel was similarly influenced, and it's evident in his script for the tongue-in-cheek, affectionately deconstructionist spiritual sequel, The Muppets (which easily ranks among my favorite movies of 2011).
A tale of neurosis and infidelity among NYC's culturati, set to a lilting jazz score and some great examples of the titular scenery. Wry snapshot of the metropolitan intelligentsia, or ponderous, self-indulgent urbanite wank-fest? (I'm inclined to the former view.) Either way, Manhattan laid the groundwork for ever more youthful iterations of the same themes, often by equally self-obsessed auteur-y types (Whit Stillman and Lena Dunham being the first who come to mind).
iii. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
In a sense, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a highwater mark for geek culture, as a whole. Whereas Star Wars emerged from whole cloth, two years prior, ST:TMP was the culmination of a dedicated cult fandom crossing over into the mainstream. (Note that The Original Series had long been in syndicated reruns, by this point.) It was the vindication of a niche interest, and kicked off a trend of Hollywood cannabilizing genre franchises from the recent past.
ST:TMP functions as a thematic counterpoint to Alien (discussed below); a reminder of the implicit wonders of space travel and discovery. The crew's focus on diplomacy and intel-gathering in dealing with the V'Ger threat frames space-faring as a noble and worthwhile pursuit, in contrast to Alien's cosmic-scale nihilism.
iv. Monty Python's The Life of Brian
This English satire of the New Testament still resonates, in terms of both sheer entertainment value, and hilariously trenchant socio-religious critique. It takes potshots at colonization (via the Roman occupation of Judea) and fractious rebel groups, alongside the more obvious gags about the dangers of blind faith in organized religion. And it remains as quote-worthy as any other Monty Python film.
Alien effectively codified the modern sci-fi horror genre, writ large, and set the template for the abandoned-ship-rescue-gone-awry trope, in particular. In many ways, cult hits like Event Horizon and the Dead Space games owe their commercial existence to Alien's success.
Likewise, H.R. Giger's design for the xenomorph has influenced virtually every insectoid extra-terrestrial threat since, from X-men villains the Brood, to WH40k staples the Tyrranid, and Starcraft's iconic Zerg.