|"Life is like a feather? But mama always said life was like a box of|
choc-o-lates. My whole life has been a lie."
And so it came to pass, that after three years of choosing Best Pictures (Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, Schindler’s List) that upon retrospect actually lived up to the name, the Academy finally started (arguably) screwing up again, making this blog series considerably more interesting. Thank you, Academy!
This wasn’t as strong a year for movies as ’92 or ’93, but the strong movies were very strong. Let’s get this out of the way: 1994 in retrospect is a pretty much a discussion about three movies, and those movies are Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption. The first two got a little early retrospective ink when the AFI put them on their sorta-famous Top 100 List. Best Picture winner Gump hit #71, and Oscar runner-up Pulp came in at #95. Meanwhile, Shawshank, which was nominated but won no Oscars, is a fan favorite that spent a goodly amount of time at #1 on the IMDB.com fan rating of Best Movies of All Time.
That’s pretty canonical.
But let’s not break with tradition.
|John Travolta, answering the question "How many more|
good movies are you going to be in?"
And Those Not Forgotten:
Ace Ventura, Pet Detective – Yes, it’s a really dumb movie. Nevertheless, it deposited Jim Carrey, a genuine talent, onto the national consciousness, and uploaded a half-dozen or so phrases into the cultural lexicon. It earned its spot.
The Chase – I’m cheating; nobody remembers this ridiculous Charlie Sheen/Kristi Swanson romance/comedy/chase film. But rent it and see if it isn’t a big fun pile of dumb with notable appearances by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Henry Rollins. Also fun, notice that Sheen realizes he is in a terrible and ridiculous movie and has fun with it, while Swanson apparently seems to think she is in an Important Movie. This is, of course, the funniest thing about the film.
Clerks – The film that launched Kevin Smith, a million Jay and Silent Bob movies, crashed through at least two or three barriers for ribald language, and looked like it was filmed using the location’s security cameras. Still arguably Smith’s best effort, though that’s been a case of diminishing returns for a while now.
Dumb and Dumber – Wow, Jim Carrey made a lot of movies all at once. He also made The Mask in 1994, which I didn’t list here. I remember Dumb and Dumber best for the moment when Jeff Daniels just BLASTS that lady in the face with a huge iceball. That snow way to treat a lady, Jeff. (See what I just did there?)
Ed Wood – Will probably be remembered as Tim Burton’s best film. I actually didn’t like it all that much when I saw it back in the day. It probably deserves a revisit, but Burton’s career since at least Sleepy Hollow doesn’t really encourage a retrospective. I remember thinking that Johnny Depp was pretty good and Martin Landau was over-rated. I am pretty sure that this was because I wanted Samuel L. Jackson to win for Pulp Fiction, and Landau eventually scooped the Best Supporting trophy. Anyway, Ed Wood still has many admirers. Maybe someday I will be one.
Forrest Gump – This movie was huge in 1994, Jin-Naaay. HUUUUGE! In retrospect it’s still a pretty solid movie, though tonally its all over the place, and at times it feels like a soundtrack first and a movie second. I think Gump has lost the most ground of 1994’s Big Three. It’s so much a paean to the Boomer generation that I wonder if it might not turn into an oddity after a few more decades. Then again, you’ve gotta love that ice-cream linen suit. Did you know Haley Joel Osment plays Forrest’s love child?
Heavenly Creatures – Critics are somewhat divided on Peter Jackson’s enduring mega-hit trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: What Do You Mean, There Are Eagles That Can Just Fly Us Anywhere? However, they are pretty much in accord on this, the movie that gave New Line the confidence to hand a cubic crap-ton of money over to the unproven director of (up until now) schlock gross-out horror comedies. It’s very likely that if you handed the Oscars over solely to critics groups, Heavenly Creatures would win Best Picture and be in the running for best of the decade. This movies is also notable for giving Kate Winslett her first major role.
Hoop Dreams – This is largely considered to be one of the greatest documentaries of all time, one of the great sports movies, an invaluable social document, and a great story. This movie will run you through the ringer.
Legends of the Fall – And the Reign of King Pitt will last a million years. Lock up your women. Was this movie any good? I never saw it. I understand that Brad is fairly dreamy here.
The Lion King – It’s the ciiiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiife! This was actually a fairly artfully made Disney movie, and I think it remains the pinnacle for them in terms of overall success in hand-drawn animation. Hakuna matada, fool. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Natural Born Killers – Don’t actually remember how well-remember this movie is. It was a pretty big deal at the time. Might have been Oliver Stone’s last gasp.
Nell – I don't think it is actually still watched, but I keep hearing this movie get referenced, mainly to say that somebody who makes no sense is “like Jodie Foster in Nell.” Did anybody see it?
Nobody’s Fool – Paul Newman is perfection, in general and in this movie. This was his last great role, and this movie is one of the most under-rated of the decade.
PCU – A movie that was trying to be Animal House for the 90s, and you know what? I think it succeeded. I know I’m not the only person to remember it fondly. Early exposure here for Jeremy “Ari” Piven and Jon Favreau.
Pulp Fiction – Hold on . . .
The Shawshank Redemption – Hold on . . .
Speed – The first big role for Sandra Bullock. The birth of Keanu as a credible action hero (we now understand Point Break to be a comedy). Also, a city bus jumps about 7 city blocks. Big fun.
Three Colors: White – Actually, even among fans of the Three Colors trilogy, White is usually considered the least of the three. But if I left it out, you’d be all like, “Hey Goat! What is the third color? Huh, Goat? WHAT IS THE THIRD COLOR???” So, here it is.
Three Colors: Red – And then we have the movie in the trilogy that is best-remembered. It even got Kieślowski a nomination for Best Director. I know that of the listed movies, the Three Colors films are the ones your average movie fan is least likely to have heard of (though it’s not super-obscure). But you should do yourself a favor and check them out. They are most worthy.
True Lies – If there can be a James Cameron film that is considered “little known” it would probably be this one. A big hit 16 years ago, sort of a footnote today. I have a theory that action movies, while obviously the huge money makers of their times, are tied so closely to the rapidly rising bar of expected spectacle that they start to seem quaint more quickly. Check out The Towering Inferno today, and you may see what I mean. Anyway, I don’t know if anybody will be thinking about True Lies in another ten years.
|"Oh man, this feels great. I've been avoiding the shower for 32 years.|
You know, because of all the rape."
And the Time-Delayed Oscars Go To . . .
Real List: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
Today’s List: Heavenly Creatures, Hoop Dreams, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption
My Pick: Pulp Fiction
The Winner: Of the 1994 big three, I love Pulp best, and always will. I think it’s the most audacious, the most iconic, the most creative and clever, the best characters, ultimately the most influential. It’s great. It’s pretty obviously surpassed Forrest Gump in terms of film history. But it wouldn’t win Best Picture in a redo. Another film has leapfrogged it in overall Oscar-winning juice.
That film is The Shawshank Redemption. Remember that 1997 AFI list? The one that placed Gump as the 71st best movie of all time? The one that put Pulp at 95th? Well, the AFI re-did that list in 2007 (basically the same sort of thing that I’m doing here, except a whole lot more people read it than read this). They cut out around 20 movies. They moved Pulp up a notch, to #94. They moved Gump down five pegs to #76. And they installed Shawshank above both of them at #72.
Some movies are the big movie of the moment. Others are iconic, and creative, and audacious. Some are just classics, and classics are a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
I have a feeling that by 2017, AFI will have realized that Gump isn’t one of the 100 best movies of all time. I expect that Pulp will have moved up the chain a bit, as well. And I have a feeling that Shawshank will have notched just a little bit higher, just a little bit. Slowly working its way up, as patient as a convict chipping away his wall with a tiny rock hammer.
Time to read in my Morgan Freeman voice: Shawshank Redemption was a box-office flop when it first came out, but I could see something in it. A shine, a sort of an easy way of being. Yes, I suppose you could say I liked Shawshank from the first. I hope it will be waiting for me on AFIs 2017 list. I hope that its still as uplifting as I remember in my dreams. I hope . . .
I’m going to go ahead and say that Forrest Gump wouldn’t have a prayer at respectability if not for Tom Hanks. Without the choices he makes in a fairly limiting role, Gump could have been a total mess. It’s quite possible he’d still win the do-over. Frankly, I still think Newman is more deserving, and he might edge Hanks, but I don’t notice a whole lot of attention paid to his Donald “Sully” Sullivan these days. Johnny Depp would be in the hunt. Travolta was really good in Pulp but he’s hurt himself badly since with a raft of truly horrid movies.
Truly, Morgan Freeman is the only credible threat in this year. I think it would be very close, but it’s probably still Hanks in what remains his most recognizable role. Who do you think would beat him?
Jessica Lange won for Blue Sky. If you’re saying to yourself, ‘What on earth is Blue Sky?’, then congratulations! You’re just like everybody in 1994! This was one of the most obscure movies in a long time to pick up a major Oscar, and it hasn’t gained much heat since. Little-known then, not at all known now. There are often very sparse years when it comes to juicy roles for actresses, and I think Lange’s win here probably indicates that 1994 was a particular famine in this way. Lange is a fine actress, and she may well be deserving, but I have a feeling that in a re-do, she’d just be overlooked. Here’s my guess: I think that given how highly regarded Kate Winslett now is, and how critically beloved Heavenly Creatures is, Winslett might just take it for her murderous schoolgirl. I also think that Uma Thurman's Pulp role, though considered "supporting" in 1994, might warrant some consideration; certainly there have been roles with less screen time to win one of the majors. Other left-field options include Jamie Lee Curtis (whose True Lies striptease scene is far and away the most remembered part of that movie), Irène Jacob in Three Colors: Red, and Juliet Lewis in Natural Born Killers, but the first actress is probably not taken all that seriously (even though the movie utterly fails without her), the second one is probably still a bit too arthouse obscure, and the third went batshit crazy about 12 years ago. I think Winslett is my pick.
What was the Best Picture of 1994? You'd better vote, because I reckon this is going to be a three-way race.