In a nutshell, what was 1994 all about?
Oscar arguments, the rise of Jim Carrey, the rise and rise of Quentin Tarantino’s ego, the rise and rise and rise of Miramax, Tom Hanks setting the precedence for park bench small talk, Tim Robbins crawling through a tunnel of shit, Kurt Cobain’s immortalisation, America finding out about soccer, Party of Five. proof of the existence of black holes, the death of Nixon, the birth of Friends and the end of Star Trek:TNG. Oh, and I quite badly broke my arm.
1994 is quite possibly my favourite year of all time for movies, with the greatest concentration of stone cold classics, genre defining moments, breakthrough performances and undeniably guilty pleasures. It was the year that gave us Tim Robbins crawling though a mile of shit, Jeremy Irons voicing a cartoon lion and JCVD delivering a roundhouse kick to science fiction sense in his underpants.
Compete with THAT 1997.
Usually there is a clear deserving Best Picture winner, even if it is not the film that ends up receiving the award. 1994 had a three way race between Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. It is still the year that cinephiles (by which I mean my mate and I after one or two and a kebab) love to debate whether Gump stole it from Shawshank or whether Pulp should have been the dangerous but deserving recipient.
It was also a fantastic year for debut performances from actors and actresses who have gone on to light up the world of cinema: Cate Blanchett (Police Rescue: The Movie); Jude Law (Shopping); Ewan McGregor (Being Human); Natalie Portman (Leon); Claire Danes (Little Women); Greg Kinnear (Blankman); Cameron Diaz (The Mask) and Kate Winslet (Heavenly Creatures) to name a few. As well as breakout year for Jim Carrey, after which he was catapulted into the $20m a movie stratosphere.
And to make you feel old (or at least it made me feel old) Saoirse Ronan and Dakota Fanning were both born in 1994. Christ…
Anyway, without further ado here are my top 25 movies for the year. There won’t always be this many for each year I look at. 1994 just happened to a vintage year. I sense 1997 may be a lot shorter.
The early 90’s were never better for the underpants wearing, mullet loving Belgian action star. He had two major films out in 1994, the other being Street Fighter. Needless to say that never made the shortlist. And while I wont ever sit and argue the artistic or scientific merits of JCVD’s time travelling crime caper I will argue to the death, or at least until I get bored/corrected, that it is a genuinely entertaining action movie. There is everything you could want including fighting in the rain, and Ron Silver doing his best Al Pacino impression as the meglomaniacal McComb. Sure it plays fast and loose with time travel lore. Primer it is not. And it uses the old “matter not occupying the same space twice” trope to unintentionally hilarious effect at the end.
It matters not though because it has JCVD doing ridiculous and unnecessary gymnastic crime fighting with a mullet and trying to deliver lines about time travel with some semblance of understanding. The fact it is being considered for re-make WITHOUT JCVD is upsetting. I just hope that they give the lead to someone as equally unashamedly flexible and with as dubious taste in appropriate kitchen attire.
24: Wagons East
I’m about to make my second Street Fighter reference in as many picks, which is twice as many as I was anticipating to make when I started writing this piece. But just as the Kylie Minogue starring cinematic turd was a less than fitting final film for Raul Julia, Wagons East wasn’t exactly the high note John Candy would have wanted to depart this mortal coil on. Nevertheless, it is not the low water mark that some people would have you believe. Sure line it up against Uncle Buck or Trains, Planes… and there is little to compare. But on it’s own merits Wagons East tickles my purile funny bone in just the same way as Dumb and Dumber or any joke about poo. I’m 29. Don’t judge me.
Candy is James Harlow, an overweight cowboy, tasked with leading a group of Wild West townsfolk, sick of the rough life, against the tide of settlers to go back East. Incompetence and hilarity (mostly) ensue as Harlow is shown to be less than the capable cowboy they believed him to be. It’s no Blazing Saddles but I watched it again a few years ago and it still made me laugh. If I were to do a John Candy top 5 it wouldn’t make it in but it was still one of my favorites for 1994.
The early 90’s was a bit of a boom for long running TV sci-fi, with Star Trek: DS9, Babylon 5 and X-Files all kicking off around this time. After the success of Roland Emmerich’s high concept multi-dimension leaping action thriller Stargate, it too went on to small screen success with Stargate:SG1 and various spin offs. The small screen partnership of Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks couldn’t quite compete though with the big screen pairing of Kurt Russell and James Spader as they jump through a newly discovered wormhole into a conveniently human looking other world.
It is Emmerich in full pomp with cheesy dialogue, questionable acting and plot holes you could lose a worm hole in. But it is a reminder of when there was a subtlety to his popcorn film making that has been lost amongst the noise of his recent CGI “extravaganzas”. And while Independence Day is probably his high watermark in terms of sheer silly entertainment, Stargate is probably my favourite Emmerich movie. Watching it always makes me pine for a time when Kurt Russell was a go to leading man. It was also the cinematic debut of French Stewart. Don’t say I don’t give you interesting dinner party conversation starters.
22. The River Wild
With Speed taking the bus and Terminal Velocity jumping out of plane, it was left for The River Wild to set it’s action in a canoe. I’ll give you this 1994; you were creative with your action modes of transport. The middle of a trio of great Nineties films from Curtis Hanson that started with Hand That Rocks The Cradle and ended with L.A. Confidential, The River Wild sees Greatest Actress of her Generation ® Meryl Streep and family embark on a canoe trip down to their home. Along the way they inadvertently find themselves on the wrong side of fleeing criminals Kevin Bacon and John C Reilly, who force them to navigate the dangerous rapids in order for them to meet their accomplices at the other end.
The River Wild should by rights be a TV movie level production. The presence though of Greatest Actress of her Generation ® Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn and a young John C Reilly under the steady guidance of Hanson, raises this above the average into a genuinely tense and action packed drama. Hanson uses the power of the rapids and some uncomfortable camping moments to great effect. Kevin Bacon’s crocodile grin has never been more slimy.
21. True Lies
James Cameron’s next project coming off the back of the epic Terminator 2 was not necessarily as you’d have expected. An action thriller, that is a comedy at it’s core, was not something Cameron had really explored before. Teaming up with his T2 star, and the biggest movie star in the World at the time time, provided a solid foundation for what was ultimately a funny and thrilling popcorn movie. Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the parents of Eliza Dushka has got to be up there with one of the weirdest cinematic family units of recent memory. Schwarzenegger is great at firing guns, flexing his muscles and blurting out quips. Historically though he is not great at building on screen romantic chemistry with anyone. Partnering up with Jamie Lee Curtis though, who exudes sexy, there is a genuine spark that drives the movie along. Also includes one of the more awkwardly sexy cinematic strips and some of the most ridiculous set pieces of all time.
Cameron is an obviously talented film maker who has made some of the defining movies, for better (Aliens; T2) or worse (Titanic) or overhyped (Avatar) in the last few decades. I’d like to have seen him do more of this sort of high octane comedy action, so popular at the time, because he really can elevate an average film to a great film. It’s a husband/wife spy dynamic that was tried again, less successfully for my money, in Doug Liman’s Mr & Mrs Smith 10 years later.
20. Beverly Hills Cop III
I will concede that it is the weakest of the three Beverly Hills Cop movies, and Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley schtick was feeling tired by the time it got to the third movie. But I still love it nonetheless. It could have been a lot worse had it not been handed to legendary John Landis, who 7 years after number 2 maintained enough of the 80’s original sensibility to keep it the right side of Tony Scott’s action comedy classics. In fairness there is little original or groundbreaking from Landis’s effort, but there didn’t need to be. Plus it kept Judge Reinhold in work for another year. And who wouldn’t want that?
After this Eddie Murphy’s career took a Robin Williams turn as he went family friendly with Dr Doolittle and also gave us the start of the fatsuit phenomenon with the Nutty Professor. So technically he is to blame for Big Momma’s House. Arguably there hasn’t been a character better suited to his smug fast mouthed comedy than Axel Foley, and I am surprised with the recent surge in resurrecting old franchises (Rambo, Die Hard etc) that we haven’t been subjected to a Beverly Hills Cop 4. There is still time…..
19. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
1994 was a career defining year for one Jim Carrey who exploded into the A-List with Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber and The Mask. Ventura was the first to hit screens and, for me, the weakest of the three. Which is not to say I didn’t find it utterly hilarious and still do to this day. As bumbling, gangling animal crime detective Ace, Carrey was given free reign to gurn and flail to his hearts content. Few roles were quite so perfect for showcasing the unique elastic faced comic talents of it’s star. After seeing Venutra many an opportune and inappropriate moment was spent talking to people with my butt, much to the dismay of my parents. And few comedies from the time spawned quite such an annoying and well used catch phrase as “aaaaaaaaallllllllllrighty then”.
The unexpected worldwide success of Ace Ventura went on to spawn a far less funny sequel a year later, a TV series, an awesome cartoon series and an Ace Ventura Jr film in 2009 that no one wanted or asked for thank you very much David M Evans. As he has gotten older Carrey has diversified his roles a little more, and most recently has taken to Twitter as a platform for his political and social campaigning. Occasionally though he still reminds us that he is the king of rubber faced comedy, albeit never to the same effect as he did in 1994.
18. The Lion King
Along with Aladdin in 1992 Disney’s The Lion King, the 32nd animated feature from the House of Mouse, marked a real resurgence in the popularity of big budget, heavily marketed cartoons. It also marked the beginning of the end for the traditional 2D classic Disney hand drawn animation in favour of the 3D CGI look Pixar made the industry standard, starting with Toy Story a year later. More than Aladdin though The Lion King became on ongoing cultural phenomenon that lasts to this day with a Broadway musical version of the film opening in 1997, winning six Tony Awards in the process and continuing to run all over the world to packed out audiences.
While other animated features have done big business, few have ever succeeded in such a way as The Lion King on all fronts. As well as the theatrical success in Broadway it spawned a Worldwide hit for Elton John’s Circle of Life and has, as of it’s 3D re-release in 2011, taken nearly $1b worldwide at the box office from a $50m budget. Those are not numbers you see all too often in Hollywood. More than the economics of it though the film was a success and one of the finest animated features of it’s time because the script and animation walked the fine line of comedy and sentiment to near perfection. Backed by a stellar voice cast, including a deliciously villainous Jeremy Irons it, again more than Aladdin, had an emotional resonance with adults as well as children that was missing from previous animated features. A trend that would continue with Pixar to great success.
17. Spanking The Monkey
Spanking The Monkey falls into that category of skewed and cynical social satire that feeds the conservative reactionary press like a blind and hungry lion. In this instance David O. Russell’s debut feature peered with a leering eye into the life of a bored, prodigious and privileged suburban boy (Jeremy Davis). When his attractive mother breaks her leg he is forced to take care of her, leading to an uncomfortable amount of physical contact and the development of an Oedipus Complex. Bless him all he wants to do is be left alone and masturbate in peace.
Spanking The Monkey was a brave debut which looked to settle Russell in with a small group of indie filmmakers looking to push the boundaries of social commentary, most notable Todd Solanz. Unlike many of his peers of the time though Russell’s work has become slowly more mainstream, if no less interesting, culminating in his Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook. In 1994 though, far from the Mann’s Chinese Theater, Spanking The Monkey was a challenging debut from an unknown film making entity.
16. The Hudsucker Proxy
At the time 1994 was not a good year for Tim Robbins, financially anyway. The Shawshank Redemption was a critical success but a box office bomb. His other film, The Hudsucker Proxy, a fast talking high trousers kind of a movie, was the Coen Brothers’ homage to those 1950’s screwball capers where everyone speaks in odd pitched voices, at 100 miles an hour and everything is laced with an odd inflection. It too didn’t fare well with audiences, or to that matter critics. The issue was that the machine gun dialogue and bonkers storylines about cooperate fraud, stock scams and the invention of the hula hoop was too much for many who saw it as a zany step too far. It divided critics, struggled to find an audience and tanked.
For me though it is one of their most underrated and overlooked films. Like so many of their earlier efforts it is full of quotable lines, absurd set pieces and the attention to detail of the film’s design is astounding. All art deco board rooms and smoky offices. Tim Robbins puts in a fine performance as the hapless patsy Norville Barnes, opposite Paul Newan’s Machiavellian Sidney Mussburger. Ultimately it was a minor blip for the Coens who went on a year later to make Fargo and then The Big Lebowski to cement their place as two of America’s finest film makers. And while not on a level with either of the aforementioned The Hudsucker Proxy should certainly be considered in the upper ends of their impressive back catalogue.
15. Interview With The Vampire
Back before vampires were contemporary moody teenagers with trust funds and faces like slapped arses, the early 90’s was awash with classically moody Gothic vampire’s with faces like slapped arses. To be fair, regardless of the decade I lived in as a Vampire I would be pretty moody from sleeping all day and having a very limited diet. Anyway, enough about me. Following on from the, in my opinion, superior Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldman as the titular bloodsucker, Interview With The Vampire was a sweeping romantic epic love story of betrayal and loss. Like Gone With The Wind, but with more Tom Cruise neck biting.
Directed by Neil Jordan, fresh from the critical acclaim of The Crying Game, it was certainly as dark and brooding as you would expect from as serious a film maker as Jordan. He also used his elevated status to pull in an impressive supporting cast to Cruise’s Lestat De Lioncourt, including Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Thandie Newton, Antonio Banderas and a young Kirsten Dunst. While it wasn’t the critical hit that The Crying Game was it was a commercial hit pulling in $105m in the US alone, making it the 11th highest grossing film of the year. Jordan would later mash up the Gothic and contemporary vampire genres with Byzantium (2013) to less commercial success.
14. Heavenly Creatures
In 1994, prior to the release of Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson was best known as the fat beardy New Zeland director of gross puppet films and weird Cronenbergian horrors. So it was a real deviation from his previous work when Heavenly Creatures premiered at Venice in 1994. A dark story of a forbidden love between two girls entrenched in a fantasy world that becomes so strong they exact revenge on the parents that separate them, it introduced the world to a young and impressive Kate Winslet, who only three years later would be thrust into the A-list with Titanic. Melanie Lynskey, best known as the hot crazy neighbour in Charlie Sheen “comedy” Two and a Half Men, starred alongside Winslet in a role she would arguably never better on the big screen.
Obvously we all know Jackson then went on to do bigger and better things with The Lord of The Rings. It is when he allows himself to get lost in a simple story with a tragic central character, like Heavenly Creatures or more recently The Lovely Bones, that he shines through as someone with more than just a talent for the grandiose.
13. Red Rock West
One year before his Oscar winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas and two years before the start of his box office bothering action triple whammy of The Rock, Face/Off and Con Air, Nicholas Cage was considered to be an interesting talent willing to throw himself into strange, twisted and perverse roles. In John Dahl’s underrated noir thriller Cage finds himself stuck in small town Red Rock, Wyoming on the wrong side of Dennis Hopper’s hitman, Lyle, after mistakenly being asked to complete one of Lyle’s contracts by a local business man (the late great JT Walsh).
Nic Cage’s late 80’s and early 90’s roles are a great reminder of a time when he was respected for playing crazy, rather than ridiculed for being crazy. His performance as the unlikable Mike who, when presented with an unusual moral dilemma, makes a terrible choice, is on par with his other standout roles of the time, as Sailor Ripley in Wild At Heart and H.I. in Raising Arizona. It was also the start of Dennis Hopper’s career resurgence, having put in one of the greatest scenes in modern pop culture cinema alongside Christopher Walken in True Romance (1993) and delivered an iconic baddie in Speed (1994).
12. Quiz Show
Robert Redford’s fourth time behind the camera is a master class in creating palpable tension without the need to shout and scream. It’s arguably Redford’s finest film as a director, although he benefits from an outstanding cast, not least a post Schindler’s List Ralph Fiennes. Based on a true story Fiennes plays Charles Van Doren, a well educated blue blooded American who, in the 1950’s, goes on an impressive game show winning streak leading to consistently high TV ratings for the show in question. When a young DC lawyer finds out game shows are being fixed he focuses his attention on Doren, and a working class Jewish contestant (John Turturro).
Still at the infant end of what has turned out to be an impressive and diverse film career for one of Britain’s greatest living actors, Fiennes gave everyone reason to take note with two captivating back to back roles in Schindler’s List (1993) and Quiz Show. He nails a note perfect WASPish American accent and delivers a delightfully uncomfortable performance as the privileged Van Doren caught up in a strange and intriguing deception. Nominated for Best Picture, in any other year without Forrest Gump and Shawshank you’d have given it a good should at taking home the gong.
11. The Mask
In any other year the second of Jim Carrey’s career defining trio of movies would probably have been higher. Notable almost as much for the debut of a young stunning Cameron Diaz as it was for Jim Carrey’s face contorting performance, it cemented, along with Dumb & Dumber, his place as a true physical comedian of his time. As hapless bank teller Stanley Ipkiss transformed into the yellow suit wearing whirlwind purveyor of comic mischief, Carrey took a dark comic source material and turned it into a family friendly franchise.
Like Ace Ventura before it, The Mask spawned a TV series, a cartoon series and, just like Ace Ventura, a Son of Mask film that no one asked for thank you Lawrence Gutterman. On it’s own though it was a financial cash cow taking in $121m from a fairly meager budget of $18m, mostly due to the films stars being fairly unknown when they signed on the dotted lines.
It’s not often that after nearly 20 years of consistently producing films you can honestly say that a director’s first film is their best. But in Kevin Smith’s case I think it’s a fair assessment. With Clerks, Smith captured the pop culture slacker zeitgeist of the time perfectly with his semi-scripted black and white comedy, that essentially amounts to a series of profane vignettes about blow jobs and Star Wars, yet somehow was emotionally engaging as well as pant wettingly funny. It’s a magic that he has spent a career trying to recapture without ever quite succeeding, although he came close with Mallrats and Chasing Amy.
As a well known purveyor of his opinions on movies, cartoons, comics and anything else people will listen to him talk about Smith has made a career out of static cameras pointed at conversations of all these things. When he tries to diversify we get Red State, which is a mess. And while Clerks 2 was funny in it’s own right, it never had the honesty of Clerks. A debut high point.
9. Four Weddings And A Funeral
Floppy haired, stuttering upper middle class Brits were never sexier following the international box office smash that was Four Weddings & A Funeral. Legendary director Mike Newell’s interpretation of Richard “Blackadder” Curtis’s script struck a perfect chord of comedy and sentiment that many rom-coms have tried and failed to emulate since. Making an overnight star of Hugh Grant with his foppish hair and boyish charms, along with the quintessentially Home Counties, middle-class English backdrop, US audiences lapped it up with a $50m box office haul.
It was a worldwide hit though taking over $250m across the globe. An astounding amount of money for a small British comedy, with very British humour about a very British affair. It also contained some top drawer British swearing. Richard Curtis has gone on to become the premier British rom-com writer. And while he came close with Notting Hill, his talent for writing characters who are equal parts empathetic and loveable, but more importantly funny, has never been more evident that in Four Weddings.
8. Ed Wood
There were few better characters to capture Tim Burton’s love of wide eyed, kitsch underdogs than Ed Wood. Burton’s love letter to 1950’s B cinema, and more specifically the eponymous worst-director-of-all-time, also showcased the larger than life slightly off-the-rails batshit crazy side of Johnny Depp that we’ve all come to grow a bit weary of in recent years. At the time though it felt like a perfect combination of Burton’s eye for the quirky and Depp’s charismatic bohemian. In telling the (almost) true story of Edward D. Wood Jr and his battle to fund and make Plan 9 From Outer Space, now widely considered, rightly or wrongly, to be the worst movie ever made that was genuinely intended to be awesome, Burton also gave Edward D Wood the kind of posthumous platform he could only have dreamed of during his lifetime.
Shot in glorious black and white, it is a joyous and loving tribute from one successful filmmaker to a failed peer with never anything less than respect for Wood’s passion and unwavering optimism for cinema’s power to inspire imagination. Financially it was one of Burton’s least successful efforts taking just over $6m box office in the US. However critics were fairly unanimous in their praise of Depp’s central performance of Wood as well as the ensemble cast of Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker and in particular a Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning role for Martin Landeau as Bela Lugosi.
7. Natural Born Killers
Oliver Stone’s 11th feature, based on Quentin Tarantino’s violent satire on the proliferation of mass media, 24hr news and the celebrity of fear and tragedy, suitably riled up the exact outlets it so unsubtley set it’s sights upon when released in 1994. Playing out like Terrence Malik’s Badlands filtered through Fear and Loathing with a hint of Falling Down, it is not always an easy watch as Stone pulls out a plethora of stylistic toys over the two hour running time, meaning it often plays an assault on your senses as much as anything. Yet such is the quality of QT’s original script, significantly edited by Stone, at a time when Oliver Stone was still at the top of his movie making game, that you can’t help but be drawn in to the weird, twisted and violent world of Woody Harrelson’s and Juliette Lewis’s star crossed psychotic lovers.
Unsurprisingly it courted a fair amount of controversy upon its release, not least in the UK where conservative newspapers like The Daily Mail latched on to it’s graphic violence and themes to hold it up as an example of cinema inspiring real life violence. It had it’s UK release delayed until 1996 after the heartbreaking primary school massacre in Dunblane, Scotland in 1995, although this was more out of respect than any link between the event and violent cinema. The controversy didn’t adversely affect it’s box office with a solid $50m. It was at home though, where repeat viewings could be undertaken, that Natural Born Killers could be appreciated for the cinematic head fuck that it really was.
6. Forrest Gump
While Shawshank quietly gained a cult following and Quentin Tarantino made all other film makers look remarkably dull with Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump stormed the box office and delivered an iconic performance from Tom Hanks. Littered with quotes, references and characters that have since embedded themselves in pop culture it was nothing short of a phenomenon. And while it may not have aged well it was also a highly impressive technical achievement for it’s time. Zemekis made full use of advancing green screen and CGI techniques to create a multi-era spanning love story charting Tom Hanks recounting of his eponymous character’s life through a series of fantastical adventures. Most impressive was Zemekis’s ability to integrate Hanks into old stock footage to give the impression he was actually with Nixon, or conversing with John Lennon.
With it’s sometimes cynical levels of emotional manipulation it unsurprisingly cleared up at Oscar night delivering the big three of Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Director. It was Gary Sinise though who missed out as he was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as Lt Dan, the man Forrest refuses to stop helping.
5. Dumb & Dumber
The third and final installment in the prolific and meteoric rise of Jim Carrey during 1994 is for me the best of the three. Whilst it wasn’t as globally successful as The Mask, it had a bigger US box office and still took in $247m Worldwide. Taking Carrey’s global box office total for the year to $705m. Not bad for a rubber faced Canadian who in 1993 was best known for Earth Girls Are Easy, and a success rate most A-listers would kill for. In a year of heavy emotional hitters like Shawshank, and violent masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, Leon and Natural Born Killers, Dumb & Dumber was a purely childish escape to a land of poo jokes and pratfalls.
What was most wonderful though, compared to say Adam Sandler’s recent output, was that Carrey and Daniel’s portrayal of the naive and accident prone Lloyd and Harry was never cynical and always sweet. You were laughing at them, but you always wanted to give them a hug. Rather than punch them in the nutsack which is what I want to do everytime I see Sandler these days. After a failed attempt at a prequel, Dumber and Dumberer, Carrey and Daniels finally signed onto do a long awaited sequel. Lets hope after all this time it’s more Odd Couple 2 than Fierce Creatures.
It’s all to easy to forget sometimes just how long Keanu Reeves has been making memorable movies for. Three years after his iconic role as Johnny Utah in Kathryn Bigelow’s surfing bank robber classic Point Break (yes, I think it’s a classic) Reeves set himself up as a brooding alternative to the greased up muscle bound action stars of the 90’s that were dominating the genre. The beauty of Speed was it’s simplicity in that you could describe it in a sentence; if a bus goes below 50mph in crowded LA then it blows up along with all it’s passengers. It was the mixture of a sizzling chemistry between it’s leads Reeves and a young Sandra Bullock, a wonderfully malevolent turn from Dennis Hopper and some truly adrenaline pumping set pieces that raised this far and above many of the alternatives of the time.
Following the success of Speed, Reeves walked in the box office wilderness for a few years with duds The Devils Advocate and Chain Reaction before two brothers and an SFX genius put him squarely back on the map with The Matrix. For some reason Sandra Bullock thought it would be a good idea to try and recapture the magic of Speed by signing on for one of the worst sequels of recent memory, swapping the bus for a cruise liner and Keanu Reeves for Jason Patric.
3. Leon (a.k.a. The Professional)
Luc Besson’s English language debut presented one of mainstream cinema’s more intriguing, and at times uncomfortable, relationships. It also introduced the World to an exciting new talent in a 12 year old Natalie Portman, who managed to hold her own against her formidable co-stars Jean Reno and Gary Oldman. When ficus loving, monosyllabic killer for hire Leon is forced to take in a smart but loud mouthed girl recently orphaned by Oldman’s crooked DEA Agent, what ensues is a beautifully drawn version of blossoming love as Leon and Mathilda give to each other what the other is missing. For Leon it is how to enjoy the little things in life. For Mathilda it is how to be responsible and learn how to look after herself.
Equal parts sweet, funny, thrilling and heartbreaking Leon is essentially a chastise Lolita with lots of guns and more laughs. Gary Oldman is in full neck cracking, classical music enthused, psycho killing bad guy mode. Book ended by two brilliant set pieces it never feels like it slips into saccharine. Equally, while it occasionally takes you to the line of where the relationship between a middle aged French hitman and a 12 year old smart mouthed girl becomes inapproriate, you never question Leon’s purity to allow it to become something more seedy.
2. Shawshank Redemption
This number two is more accurately a joint number one. But in a list someone always has to come in second and in this case the only separating factor was the sheer cinematic and pop culture impact of QT’s defining sophomore effort. I don’t know that there is another year though in which my top two films are so almost inseparable. Tonally there also couldn’t be a more chalk and cheese top 2. While Pulp Fiction is a complex, daring and unique homage to a myriad of obscure cinematic influences, Shawshank is a majestically crafted and detailed homage to the Capra-esque cinema that Frank Darabont soaked up as a child and filmmaker.
After a critical circle-jerk failed to light audiences interest at the box office, it was down to the continued rise in VHS sales and word of mouth to turn The Shawshank Redemption into one of the most highly regarded films of all time, regularly straddling the upper ends of numerous high profile lists. Not to be outdone by the film that pipped it to the post on here it also gave us some enduring iconic moments, most famously Andy Dufresne emerging victoriously from the mile of shit he crawled through to drop to his knees and throw his hands up in mercy to the rain. Simple. Beautiful. Enduring.
1. Pulp Fiction
And here it is. In a year that I will happily say is my all time favourite for movies, the one that topped them all. Quentin Tarantino’s hyper-iconic, hyper-violent, hyper-cool and hyper-quotable homage to every pop culture influence you can imagine. And sadly it never got this good again. While Jackie Brown was a fantastic exploitation movie, and a fine way to pay respect to Pam Grier’s impact on 1970’s cinema, Tarantino became fat and bloated on the never ending supply of plaudits naming him “the most influential filmmaker of his generation” and “the most original voice in cinema”, eventually becoming a poor parody of himself as the next generation of screenwriters he inspired found ways to write his dialogue better than him. He also forgot how to edit a movie succinctly and has failed to emerge from the prison of his own rectum for some time.
It’s easy to see why he would become so egotistical though as the plaudits for Pulp Fiction were never less than accurate and deserved. For it was one of the most brilliantly original pieces of screenwriting, editing and directing to come from someone so inexperienced. Like many great films it has been so influential and heavily referenced/parodied over the years it’s all to easy to forget just how original it really was, with it’s endlessly quotable dialogue and time looping narrative. How many times, 20 years on, do you still hear people asking, in their best/worst John Travolta accent, “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder With Cheese In Paris? A Royal With Cheese”.
So celebrate the best film of 1994 by dancing with Uma Thurman, freaking out about an OD, getting shot leaving the toilet, surprising a gimp and generally being the coolest cats in the theatre.
What would make your list for 1994? Should anything here be higher or lower? What do you think should have made the list instead?
You can find the full list of movies released that year right here http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?view2=worldwide&yr=1994