best film:  Pulp Fiction from Quentin Tarantino

  •  A three-pronged masterpiece— magnificent writing (on par with or superior to what cinema has yet produced),  tour de force direction behind the camera (the dance contest sequence, the freeze frame on Amanda Plummer with soundtrack drop), and a structural non-linear formal sonic boom.
  • Such confidence from Tarantino- this thing could have gone so wrong: wigs on the three leads, forty (40) minutes longer (153 total running time than Reservoir Dogs 

The freeze frame on Amanda Plummer opening is a jaw-dropper—I have overlooked it in the past- it is one of cinema’s great freeze frames— holy hell. And then we go to the music drop of “The Misirlou” that bridges to the opening titles—an achievement to say the least

  • the dialogue is phenomenal and the skeletal arrangement of the story, but also of just ideas- the idea of royale with cheese, and robbing restaurants
  • QT Trademark beautiful trunk shot—a few here actually
  • Between the big moments (like the opening freeze frame, the long take opening on Willis and then the back of the head of Ving Rhames, and the dance sequence with Travolta and Uma)—we get great little moments like the elevator small talk between Travolta and Samuel L—the awkward silence of the first “date” between Travolta and Uma in the car booth.
  • A nice pairing to the Buscemi/Keitel hallway shot from Reservoir Dogs is one early here with Samuel L and Travolta
  • The narrative interlocks— it’s complex– it is not just three stories split apart—the Uma segment actually starts with that long take of Bruce Willis with Al Green’s music
  • Rarely does Tarantino just sit back and point the camera at these fabulous actors putting forth one of cinema’s great screenplays— there’s almost always work behind the camera. The drug deal sequence between Travolta and Eric Stoltz’s character in his bedroom is shot with a great Wellesian low angles

A perfect shot of the neon light on the windshield as they arrive at Jack Rabbit Slim’s (a marvelous set piece in itself) — this is just still frame museum art quality

  • The camera absolutely floats around Jack Rabbit Slim’s with Travolta—it’s a great shot and married to the narrative and he’s lost in the dizzying place (and high)

The dance contest scene is cinematic bliss— maybe it does not quite touch the bookends from the The Searchers and a dozen other scenes (Goodfellas’ Copacabana is another) but it is in that next tier—it deserves a Psycho shower scene breakdown. We get symmetrical wide shot, the camera glides in on both individually and then again together– and the fade to black at the end is crucial

  • In the very next scene, we actually get another great shot of Uma dancing to “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon” as it’s done in one take and she dives back and forth behind a column in the house
  • A bit of nice homage casting with Walken as a POW (Deer Hunter)- exceptional short story writing and performance—Keitel as The Wolf is incredible, too—amazing performances behind the principals (who are all giving career-best work)
  • The De Palma (from Vertigo) 360 degree shot here is Willis in a phone booth—Tarantino’s favorite director of the American 1970s Movie Brats is De Palma (the casting of Travolta from Blow Out). The split diopter is here (when Rhames is chasing Willis and Willis is behind the brick wall in the foreground) from De Palma as well.

Another perfectly blocked Mexican standoff like Reservoir Dogs

  • The coffee shop discussion in the third act with Samuel L talking about miracles and philosophy is My Dinner with Andre or Seventh Seal-level stuff and there’s a narrative tie—as we know from the story’s structure Samuel L lives and Travolta dies
  • Pulp Fiction on the page alone may be good enough to be one of the best films of the year. The dialogue crackles and Tarantino plays with narrative structure on a level to rival Kurosawa’s Rashomon for its status as a masterpiece in that category.


most underrated:   Natural Born Killers is a wild ride. Oliver Stone takes his flickering collage  montage style (perfected in JFK) and dips it in blood and acid. It should be on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 by now and it still is not. Kieslowski’s Three Colours: White may be the most underrated film of the year though- it cannot find a spot on the TSPDT either.


from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers– “the art of subtlety” phase does not mean that all art has to be subtle

Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is ambitious filmmaking– thought at the time much of the discussion was about the controversial content. Like JFK, the content (which Stone is clearly passionate about) often detracts from Stone’s legacy as a great stylist and artist.


Kieslowski’s Three Colours: White is always going to be sandwiched between Blue and Red and probably for that reason it is unfairly overlooked. I’m guilty of this, too- and was flat wrong with my prior assessment.

  • It is the “equality” portion of the liberty/equality/fraternity color trilogy from the great master who liked arranging his works in the context of larger themes like that (including the Ten commandments and prior to his death was getting tor ruminate on a Heaven/Purgatory/Hell trilogy). White feels like the least on-the-nose of the three films in this trilogy—“equality” seems like a stretch. It is worth noting that Juliette Binoche shows up at the 4-minute mark. She walks into the wrong courtroom right when the word “equality” is being used.
  • This is the lightest of the three films- Kieslowski’s comedy- but this is not Step Brothers or Bananas– this is a black comedy- closer to A Serious Man or Phantom Thread.
  • Zbigniew Zamachowski plays Karol Karol. He has a brother Jerzy Stuhr (who played his brother in Dekalog 10), a partner, but this is really his story –about his failed marriage with Julie Delpy’s (year prior to Before Sunrise) Dominique. The movie starts with their divorce.  It is a story of his love/fixation and revenge.
  • We get the old person putting the bottle in the recycling again like Blue – Binoche does nothing in Blue, here Karol looks, and looks concerns, but ultimately does nothing as well. I think this also shows that these three actions are happening at the same time in Paris in all three films.
  • Instead of the ornament in Blue the reoccurring object here is a bust (looks like plaster) that comes up again and again as a reoccurring motif. It serves Kieslowski’s purpose (it is white of course) of showing Karol’s fixation and preoccupation with Dominique even when she’s physically absent from most of the film
  • It is a film about impotence (both sexually and power for the relationship)
  • There is a stunning white-filtered scene early in the film. It is their wedding day (via flashback). This is mirrored later with a two-minute prolonged scene (again through these gorgeous whiteout lighting/décor frames and then we get a fade to white). There is another fade to quite as Karol finally achieves his goal of having Dominque in bed (they are getting divorced because he can’t have sex after their marriage)—Kieslowski fades to white after her orgasm.
  • After the divorce he goes back to home to Poland in a suitcase, gets literally dumped into a pile of waste (complete with white seagulls and white garbage) and, hilariously says something akin to “it is good to be home” (as he is back in Poland after being in Paris). It is then like a little gangster movie as he goes from rags to riches—all with revenge/love at the front of his mind (depending on how you interpret it on the film
  • A triumph of location shooting and location design. The white is not just the objects in the frame, costume décor, lighting filters— but the big hallway at the courthouse, the train station—gorgeous set pieces—and then the subway with white lights here. A great shot on the ice as well. The shot of the white cloudy sky (reflecting off the snow) would make for a great trio with the green sky church on a hill landscape in Veronique and the post-crash sky in Blue
  • Kieslowski uses form multiple times with mirroring shots/sequences. One is the final shot—Karol with binoculars looking at Delpy’s character (the location chance of the final shot is part of the sick joke)- this almost exact scene happened earlier as well. There are also two shots of Delpy at the door in the same pose- clearly still thinking about Karol. The wedding flashback happens twice as well
  • It is an odd love story, part black comedy- I mentioned Phantom Thread before and I think that fits. There’s torture/pain/love here.

Edward Zwick’s Legends of the Fall is another underrated film. It doesn’t factor on the TSPDT list (and probably shouldn’t) but it has a 45 on metacritic and it is far better than that.  In a year with all of these superior films, Zwick’s film actually won best cinematography (really meaning photography here by the Academy’s definition). Now to be clear, I’d have given the award to a few films first, but this is a splendidly photographed film shot in big sky country. The narrative is a certainly a tad melodramatic and soapy- but it is well acted by Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Julia Ormond among others in the ensemble. It is a film I revisit often for its ambitiously sweeping narrative and splendid exterior photography.



most overrated:   There are a few to choose from here in 1994 but ultimately, I’ll land on Luc Besson’s Léon or The Professional. I have only seen it once, and it was not recent, so I look forward to a revisit but the TSPDT consensus (which is not usually kind to genre films- so maybe I’m the one who is off here) has it as the ninth strongest film from 1994—and I would get to at least 15-20 before getting to it.


gems I want to spotlight:   Skip the most recent iteration of The Lion King and see the 1994 animated version. It is the pinnacle of Disney’s late 1980s-1990s string of successes. Ed Wood is a quieter Tim Burton than we’re typically used to, but it is hilarious, good fodder for cinephiles with the subject, and both Johnny Depp and Martin Landau are superb. This is a film I always recommend to people. Lastly, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is a film that I never hear brought up, and rarely see on streaming services anymore- and that’s a shame. It features an incisive screenplay, praiseworthy period detail, and one hell of a follow-up performance to 1993’s Schindler’s List from Ralph Fiennes here in the lead.

arguably Disney’s greatest film- inspired by Hamlet, featuring talented vocal work, magnificent music– The Lion King is a standout even in a great year in world cinema. The silent opening is majestic, and the five minute short film of the death of Mufasa is just powerful filmmaking.



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. Tarantino became a name frankly bigger than just about any director not named Spielberg or Lucas. It prompted everyone to rent (or re-rent) Reservoir Dogs as well. The one-two start to his career certainly echoes that of Welles, Truffaut, Godard, Tarkovsky and very few (if any) others.
  • Kieslowski would pass away in 1996 – but 1994 marks his final film(s) and at the time, he had announced his retirement. Three Colours: Red is a brilliant film on its own, but also a fitting finale (with a short coda attached) to the trilogy- this catches Kieslowski going Masterpiece, Must-See, and Masterpiece with the trilogy to end his career (and that is after Dekalog and Veronique). He would at pass at age 54 and it is hard to think of an argument against him being the best working director working at the time.

A meditation on fate and interconnectedness- falling books opening to certain pages and passages

The frames are just inundated with reds—the Marlboro cigarettes, red jeep, red bowling ball- stop signs, costume work, lighting on the streets

  • The Lion King and Forrest Gump are financial juggernauts at the box office. Forrest Gump is a very respectable film that nearly swept the Oscars.  Shawshank has had a different life. It has largely ridden cable television to become IMBD’s #1 film of all-time.

Robert Zemeckis blends an undeniably strong narrative with his usual technical prowess and boundary pushing. Like Roger Rabbit he’s blending real photography, and synthetics (mostly historical celebrity cameos that work but also believable CGI like the floating feather bookends and ping-pong). This takes a cue from Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979) and Woody’s Zelig (1983)- both are necessary texts for anyone studying Forrest Gump—it also will remind people of the historical context/landmark and 20th century storytelling in Scorsese’s 2019 film The Irishman as we go from Elvis and bumper stickers in pop culture to political context with assassinations, Vietnam, Nixon and AIDS in the 1980s. Zemeckis’ film achieves an earned triumph of nostalgia. It is a generation film. There’s great care here in compiling this.

the storytelling may be the film’s greatest strength- but there are beautiful images– like the reflection pool shot (above)- and this sublime composition here

  • Wong Kar-wai becomes an international arthouse sensation with Chungking Express. It is worth noting that the top three films of the year (WKW’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, Red) are all about interconnected lives.

Chungking Express stands as one of the finest works of cinema in the 1990s. It is WKW’s greatest work to date in 1994 (it would take one of the greatest films of all time, In the Mood For Love, to outdo it a few years later). Unquestionably, it belongs in discussion with Goodfellas, Breaking the Waves, Pulp Fiction, Boogie Nights and a few others.

It is impossible to do it justice it in a screenshot- but at the 56-minute mark WKW achieves one of the great shots/scenes of the decade. In the foreground there are the passing pedestrians on the street. The film stock is sped up for them. The background is capturing Leung and Faye Wong in slow-motion. There is a great piece on that shot here.

formal cues- WKW’s Chungking Express has his trademark repeated use of signature songs. The “Things in Life” by Dennis Brown is used 4x- and seems to signify the Brigitte Lin character.

WKW’s handsome Ashes of Time was the 1994 film that was supposed to be his big film


  • In indie cinema Hal Hartley (Amateur in 1994) and Whit Stillman (Barcelona) are working on great trilogies of their own
  • Heavenly Creatures is Peter Jackson’s first archvieable film, ditto for Danny Boyle with Shallow Grave and Eat Drink, Man Woman is Ang Lee’s first archiveable film.


one of the greatest of all the dissolve transitions in cinema– Peter Jackson perfectly juxtaposes and blends to two frames in Heavenly Creatures

a handsome, symmetrical composition from Peter Jackson’s breakout film Heavenly Creatures

an inspired frame design here from Danny Boyle’s true debut- Shallow Grave

  • Ewan McGregor emerges from Boyle’s work and Kate Winslet from Jackson’s. McGregor and Winslet are not alone- Kirsten Dunst (both Interview with a Vampire and Little Women), and Natalie Portman (The Professional) nail big roles in big films at a very young age (Portman eleven and Dunst twelve years old).


best performance male:  In the late 1970s with Saturday Night Fever and Grease in back to back years, John Travolta went from nobody (he’s a nobody in Carrie in 1976) to a massive star. He is solid in De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) but by 1994 his star had fallen and for my purposes here he is invisible as far as the archives for a long period of time. Tarantino is now well known for resurrecting old stars and his heroes and gets his first chance with Pulp Fiction and Travolta. Vincent Vega is an awesome character. Samuel L. Jackson’s (a more normal rise to fame here ascending after catching a lot of people’s attention in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever) Jules may be just as strong. Bruce Willis’ “Butch” may be third banana, but that is no insult to the character or Willis- it is says more about the other two characters and performances. Jean-Louis Trintignant is here for best work in decades playing the cynical judge in Kieslowski’s final act. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins form one of cinema’s great friendships in The Shawshank Redemption. And this is the voice over that spawned another one hundred Morgan Freeman voiceovers (and rightly so). The Tony Leung/Faye Wong story in Chungking Express gets a little more love from WKW as far as the split stories so he is the choice here from that masterpiece. Zbigniew Zamachowski plays Karol Karol in Kieslowski’s Three Colours: White. He is in just about every frame of the film and this is a black comedy about revenge— not an easy ask for any actor.


Frank Darabont is at the helm for The Shawshank Redemption. There has been mention above for Deakins, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins- but I would be remiss if I omitted the name of Thomas Newman (musical score) on a page about cinema in 1994.


best performance female: There are three standouts here in 1994 and they are all on the same plane of excellence. Faye Wong levitates in Chungking Express. Some of the best scenes simply Wong alone in a room along with Christopher Doyle’s camera. Irene Jacob is on this list again for a collaboration with Kieslowski (she was here in 1991 for The Double Life of Veronique). Jacob plays Valentine (yep, red)- a genuinely good person (shown by Kieslowski as the only three in the trilogy to help the woman with the glass in the recycling)- she helps a dog and that leads her to Jean-Louis Trintignant’s character. Uma Thurman snatches some of the best vey sequences in one of the decades best films away from Travolta and even holds her own in the cinematically transcendent dance sequence- bravo Uma—that is a feat of the highest order.



top 10

  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. Chungking Express
  3. Three Colours: Red
  4. Satantango
  5. Three Colours: White
  6. The Shawshank Redemption
  7. Exotica
  8. Natural Born Killers
  9. The Lion King
  10. Forrest Gump



Bela Tarr’s sixth film (and big artistic breakthrough) clocks in at 439 minutes (just under 7 ½ hours)- Santantango is a momentous beacon of 1990s cinema—an important film for camera movement aesthetics and grayscale photography.

through Tarr’s trademark use of shot duration– we often get a very long hold on these cinematic paintings

Tarr has been compared to Jarmusch (meh- maybe a little), Aki Kaurismäki, and Tarkovsky. Surely, he is most similar to Tarkovsky in the camera movement and the sheer length of the average shot. Also, though, look at the high angle where Tarr points the camera. In many cases at least 50% of the frame is the ground, mud, puddles in front of the characters or landscape. This is Tarkovsky— and both of them sort of the opposite of those who use low angles to highlight the ceiling as mise-en-scene (Welles for one), this is using the floor or ground as mise-en-scene- again and again.

Atom Egoyan’s sixth film and the best of his career- Exotica is Altman’s Nashville or Sayles’ Matewan– except for this ensemble mosaic has a jungle exotic-themed strip club meeting place as its linking device instead of a city. Egoyan infuses a believable color design throughout– the stalls in the bathroom at the club, the exaggerated (almost luminescently green) fish tanks in the pet shot.

a remarkable camera position and shot selection from The Shawshank Redemption

the now legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins shot both the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (a great frame here) and The Shawshank Redemption in 1994



Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Borrowed Life – Nien-Jen Wu
Amateur- Hartley
Ashes of Time- WKW R
Barcelona- Stillman R
Before the Rain- Manchevski R
Bullets Over Broadway- Allen
Chungking 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 HR
Exotica – Egoyan MS
Forrest Gump – Zemeckis HR/MS
Four Weddings and a Funeral- Newell R
Heavenly Creatures – Jackson HR
Interview With a Vampire – Jordan R
Legends of the Fall – Zwick R
Léon: The Professional – Besson R
Little Women – Armstrong R
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle- Rudolph R
Natural Born Killers- Stone HR/MS
Nobody’s Fool- Benton R
Pulp Fiction – Tarantino MP
Quiz Show- Redford HR
Three Colours: Red – Kieslowski MP
Satantango – Tarr MP
Shallow Grave- Boyle R
Stargate – Emmerich R
The Hudsucker Proxy- Coen R
The Last Seduction- Dahl R
The Lion King- Allers, Minkoff HR/MS
The Madness of King George- Hytner R
The Paper- Howard R
The Shawshank Redemption – Darabont MS
Three Colours: White – Kieslowski 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
Wyatt Earp – Kasdan R



*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 in the archives