best film: Pulp Fiction on the page alone may be good enough to be one of the best films of the year. However, when you consider Tarantino’s work as director you have, quite easily, the highlight of the year in cinema and one of the landmark films of the 1990’s. Pulp Fiction features dazzling performances, a genius screenplay and plays with narrative structure and film form on a level to rival kurosawa’s rashoman for its status as a masterpiece in that category. Although he’s made great films before and since Tarantino’s sophomore entry here has rightly been singled out by the consensus as his zenith one of the truly great films over the past 30-40 years. The masterpiece is wholly consumed with standout sequences and scenes but for my money the direction during the dance sequence (pictured above) rivals the greatest scenes in film history.
most underrated: The two most underrated films of 1994 couldn’t be more different. I have both the lion king and natural born killers as borderline top 500 films of all-time and neither can find a spot here in the TSPDT consensus top 1000. Since I have the lion king rated closer to the top I have to single that out as my most underrated. Disney’s update of hamlet is the highlight of the 1990’s animated musical Disney rebirth (technically started in 1989 by little mermaid) edging out beauty and the beast slightly. The death of Mufasa sequence is one of the great sequences of the year, and that is saying something because 1994 is filled with great ones.
most overrated: I’m a Bela Tarr truther so it comes with some regret that I must admit that satantango is the most overrated film of 1994. It’s at #101 on the top 1000 TSPDT list. Now, I’ve only seen it once and Werckmeister Harmonies took me 2-3 times to fully appreciate but I saw this after his 2000 masterpiece so I should’ve been prepared for it. For example, I had no problem absorbing and fully appreciating the turin horse (which I also think is superior to satantango).
gem I want to spotlight: For this category I typically have been picking films from my top 10 of the year to highlight but I’m going rogue here in 1994 and going with Edward Zwick’s legends of the fall. In a year with gorgeous films zwick’s film actually won best cinematography (really meaning photography here) and I don’t think it’s that outrageous. Now to be clear I’d give it to a few films first but this is a stunningly photographed film shot in big sky country. The narrative is a certainly a tad melodramatic and soapy but it’s well acted by Pitt, Hopkins, and Julia Ormond among others in the ensemble. It’s a film I revisit often for its ambitiously sweeping narrative (no it’s not perfect at all but far better than the 45 on mc) and splendid exterior photography.
trends and notables: 1994 is a big year. Pulp Fiction was a justifiable cultural and artistic talking point for cinema and more generic “movie” lovers alike. Red and chunking express are major international works. Forrest Gump is a very good film that nearly swept the Oscars and Shawshank has ridden cable television to become IMBD’s #1 film of all-time. After reservoir dogs in 1992, 1994’s pulp fiction puts Tarantino in the elite auteur category for sure. Above I’ve already mentioned that the lion king is peak of the new 1990’s Disney renaissance. In indie cinema we have Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman working on great trilogies. Heavenly Creatures is Peter Jackson’s first archvieable film. I believe ed wood is probably peak- Tim Burton. To date, 1994 is also peak WKW as he gives us two archiveable films (apparently during the day he was shooting the larger budget “A” epic film ashes of time and at night was shooting chunking express). Eat Drink, Man Woman is Ang Lee’s first archiveable film. Shallow Grave is Danny Boyle’s archiveable debut and he gives us Ewan McGregor’s in the process. McGregor is hardly the biggest new actor in 1994 though as we have firsts from Kate Winslet (heavenly creatures), Kirstin Dunst (both interview with a vampire and little women), and Natalie Portman (the professional).
best performance male: Best director, screenplay and best actor would’ve gone to pulp fiction if it were up to me. I think there’s room enough here in my top 5 for all three pulp fiction male leads but if forced to choose I think I’ll pick Travolta for my #1 slot. He’s followed closely by Samuel L. Jackson who gets my #2 overall slot. Third behind the two pulp fiction co-stars would be Morgan Freeman for his work in shawshawnk. It’s a brilliant performance on its own and that voice over, an all-timer, puts it over the top. My last two mentions are for Bruce Willis (again from pulp fiction) and for Johnny Depp for his excellent comedic performances as Ed Wood…. in Ed Wood.
best performance female: This category is loaded as well. I’m going to give the edge to Faye Wong in chunking express ever so slightly over Uma Thurman in pulp fiction. The best scenes in chunking express are WKW and Wong in a room along with Christopher Doyle’s camera. Uma snatches some of the best vey sequences in one of the decade’s best films away from Travolta and even holds her own in the pinnacle dance sequence. Bravo Uma—that’s a feat. I think Kate Winslet’s debut (true screen debut here) ranks among the better acting true debuts of all-time. Irene Jacob is on this list again for a collaboration with Kieslowski (she was here in 1991 for the double life of Veronique) and Julia Ormond is beauty and then fragility embodied in legend of the fall.
- Pulp Fiction
- Chunking Express
- The Shawshank Redemption
- The Lion King
- Forrest Gump
- Natural Born Killers
- Ed Wood
- Heavenly Creatures
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Borrowed Life|
|Ashes of Time- WKW||R|
|Before the Rain||R|
|Bullets Over Broadway- Allen|
|Chunking Express- WKW||MP|
|Clear and Present Danger-Noyce||R|
|Death and the Maiden- Polanski||R|
|Eat Drink Man Woman- A. Lee||R|
|Ed Wood- Burton||MS|
|Forrest Gump- Zemeckis||MS|
|Four Weddings and a Funeral||R|
|Heavenly Creatures- P. Jackson||HR|
|Interview With a Vampire- Jordan||R|
|Legends of the Fall- Zwick||R|
|Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle- Rudolph||R|
|Natural Born Killers- O. Stone||HR/MS|
|Nobody’s Fool- Benton||R|
|Pulp Fiction- Tarantino||MP|
|Quiz Show- Redford||HR|
|Shallow Grave- Boyle||R|
|The Hudsucker Proxy- Coen||R|
|The Last Seduction- Dahl||R|
|The Lion King||MS|
|The Madness of King George||R|
|The Paper- R. Howard||R|
|The Shawshank Redemption||MS|
|Through the Olive Trees- Kiarostami||R|
|To Live- Yimou Zhang|
|True Lies- Cameron||R|
|Vanya on 42nd Street- Malle||R|
|Vive L’Amour- Ming-Liang|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still