Reader Todd has challenged me to come up with 10 better movies from 1994 than The Shawshank Redemption. (It's not his first movie challenge.)
It's actually pretty easy for two reasons:
1) I'm not much of a fan of The Shawkshank Redemption. I think it's too long and not well structured, with weak scenes, one-dimensional villains and overdone narration. The rousing finale isn't enough.
2) 1994 was one of the better years of the past few decades. It even has the only film of the past quarter century that I think would make my top ten of all time.
Anyway, here's my list of the top ten films of 1994.
First, some films that had good things in them, even if they didn't quite work (like Shawshank):
Hoop Dreams (Yeah, I know how great people think it is)
The Hudsucker Proxy (the first 15 minutes or so, before the plot kicks in, are brilliant, and there are some amazing set pieces)
I'll Do Anything (for Julie Kavner and Albert Brooks--it's a movie where Nick Nolte plays a character in such desperate straits that he lives on the same street where I'm typing this from)
Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle.
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
Natural Born Killers
Swimming With Sharks
Here are films I liked that didn't make the top ten--many of them would have made it in other years:
Barcelona (It might have made my top ten, but since it stars people I know, I can't think about it rationally)
Burnt By The Sun
Cabin Boy (A guilty pleasure, if I believed in the concept)
Eat Drink Man Woman
Forrest Gump (Yeah, I said it. It made so much money and won so many awards--and has such simplistic politics--that there's been a huge backlash, but this is for the most part an unconventional, well-done film that only has its wheels fall off around the end.)
A Great Day In Harlem
Honey I Shrunk The Audience (I think 1994 is the year they introduced it to Disneyland)
The Last Seduction
The Lion King
The Madness of King George (a literate script by Alan Bennett that actually works better than his play (compare History Boys).)
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision
Once Upon A Time In China IV
The Secret Of Roan Inish
Three Colors: Red
Three Colors: White
True Lies (Arnold's best performance)
Finally, the Top 10
10. Bullets Over Broadway No classic, but one of Woody's best in the last 25 years. A good cast, but Chazz Palminteri stands out.
9. Four Weddings And A Funeral Well written romantic comedies are rare. A smart script that surprised me (I didn't know whose wedding would be next, and I didn't see the funeral coming either). Hugh Grant became a star, and his style hadn't been trademarked yet.
8. Speed Brilliantly conceived and executed. Okay, it has third act problems, but I'll take a thrilling first two acts of action over the inaction of Shawshank until it finally gets to its third act.
7. The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert The best gay Australian road movie ever.
6. Dumb & Dumber The Farrelly Brothers' first and one of their best (Todd knows how highly I think of There's Something About Mary). Jim Carrey has never been utilized so well, and Jeff Daniels keeps up with him.
5. Vanya On 42nd Street It shouldn't work--actors hanging out in a theatre doing a play--but it does. The best film adaptation of Chekhov (or Strindberg or Ibsen, for that matter) I've ever seen.
4. Ed Wood Tim Burton's masterpiece? Maybe. Either way, quite a ride, with great work from Johnny Depp and Martin Landau.
3. Drunken Master II Jackie Chan is a gift, like Harold Lloyd or Gene Kelly. We're lucky to be living in a time when he makes movies. By 1994 he was getting a bit old, but this film showed he still had it in him. Also, it's a nice nod to part I, that helped establish him.
2. Chungking Express A vivid portrait of people in Hong Kong. Wong Kar-Wai's best, and that's saying a lot.
1. Pulp Fiction
Note: I don't usually discuss the titles to these posts, but I feel an explanation is in order. Some film titles are harder to translate than others. When The Shawshank Redemption, which no one understood in English, was shown in Hong Kong theatres, the translators threw up their hands and called it Excitement 1994. That wins the award for best title of the year.