Friday, August 10, 2007

Excitement 1994

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):

Fresh

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)

The Mask

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle.

Muriel's Wedding

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Natural Born Killers

Nobody's Fool

Only You

Quiz Show

The Ref

Shallow Grave

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

Heavenly Creatures

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

Il Postino

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.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Todd said...

Once again, your encyclopedic knowledge of movies impresses and concerns me.

That being said, I'll restrict my rebuttal to your list of the Top 10 movies of 1994 that you think were better than "THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION". Here it is:

HA!

Actually, only (0.5)HA! because I only saw half the movies on your Top 10 list. However:

"Speed"? It's a fun ride, sure, but also a one-way ticket. Meaning, you take this bus once and then try not to think too hard afterward about how ridiculous what you've just seen is (and I'm not just talking about Keanu Reeves' acting). In other words, "Speed" certainly doesn't hold up to repeat viewings the way "Shawshank" does.

"Dumb and Dumber"? Clearly, we perceive the Farrelly brothers from different viewpoints (one of which, I believe, involves a brain posture equivalent to having one's finger up one's nose), but one thing we all seem to agree on: This film was appropriately titled.

"Ed Wood"? "Tim Burton's masterpiece"? The guy who's never filmed a third Act in his entire life? "Quite a ride"? What, in the same way that "Plan 9" stretched the imaginative limits of Sci-Fi?

Actually, the non-radar-blip that was "Ed Wood" is way too easy a target, so I'll pick a cow that's much more sacred:

"Pulp Fiction".

Talk about being in the minority. I'll say this now, forever chiseling it into the Blogosphere in indelible pixels:

"Pulp Fiction" is overrated.

Like so many other arenas of public interest, moviegoers need Heroes. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino was annointed. It's easy in hindsight to see that bestowing upon him the title of The Next Coming was, ahem, a little off, but let's stick to the matter/movie at hand.

"Pulp Fiction". Wow, he told a story in a nonlinear fashion with dirty words and discussions of foreign cheeseburgers. Never mind that much of the story, as the title is eager to point out, consists of elements we've seen way too many times before. There's a reason they don't make movies with these elements anymore: People don't want to see them. A lesson non-learned due to an outpouring of public adulation which directly resulted in the misstep that was "Grindhouse".

By the way, what's the difference between "Pulp Fiction" and "Grindhouse"? Ah, you caught me: There's isn't one. Unless you count a faint but crescendoing chant of "The Auteur has no clothes".

Finally, and more to the point,
"Pulp Fiction" was not better than "The Shawshank Redemption".

And when your #1 pick doesn't hold up, neither does your Top 10.

Let the jeering begin.

Todd

8:46 AM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'm not going to bother to defend my choices. I put them out there, take 'em or leave 'em.

But just a few words about Pulp Fiction (which seems to be suffering a mini-backlash--not the Forrest Gump tsunami, but a certain number of people who are saying "it's not THAT good.")

I'm afraid I'm going to have to Fisk you:

Like so many other arenas of public interest, moviegoers need Heroes. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino was annointed.

First, if he ever was annointed, it was in 1992 when Reservoir Dogs came out. But the idea that we were sitting around with nothing to do, and decided to make someone our king, is bizarre. Tarantino was simply a very talented, original voice who hit two grand slams in a row and delighted a lot of people, or do you think everyone from the Cannes crowd to regular moviegoers were faking their enthusiasm?

First,"Pulp Fiction". Wow, he told a story in a nonlinear fashion

Actually, the nonlinearity of his work is not that big a factor to me--it's just a bonus.

with dirty words and discussions of foreign cheeseburgers.

I'd heard a lot of dirty words in films before, and also a lot of pop and everyday references. It wasn't that QT did it, but how he did it. In fact, it's one of the glories of his work.

Look at the opening sections with Jackson and Travolta. First, there's a classic dialogue scene in a car. Followed by an even better dialogue scene in a hallway. Followed by an even better dialogue scene in a room. It's tough enough to have good dialogue, but hearing reams of it (and having a filmmaker who's willing to let people talk this much) is almost unheard of these days. And everyone gets good lines, not just the stars.

Never mind that much of the story, as the title is eager to point out, consists of elements we've seen way too many times before.

Ah, but it's how it's recombined. There were plenty of biopics before Citizen Kane and plenty of gangster films before The Godfather. In fact, one of the central items that make PF a classic is how the stories unfold. Usually you know within ten minutes how things will end, but in PF, the plot keeps going off into unexpected territory, giving us moments we've never seen before.

Tell me, when John Travolta took out Uma Thurman, did you say to yourself "oh no, not that plot where she ends up with the needle in her chest again"? And did you figure out where Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames would find themselves when their chase began? And then, even though these are tales of people whom we'd normally dismiss as lowlifes, we actually get stories of humanity and redemption.

There's a reason they don't make movies with these elements anymore: People don't want to see them.

Another great thing about PF. It's full of unconventional elements that they teach you to steer away from in screenwriting 101, but they work, here. This is a film that looks too specialized, violent and weird to make much money, but it cleared $100 million+ domestic and over $200 million worldwide.

A lesson non-learned due to an outpouring of public adulation which directly resulted in the misstep that was "Grindhouse".
By the way, what's the difference between "Pulp Fiction" and "Grindhouse"? Ah, you caught me: There's isn't one.


This statement doesn't make me question QT, or the movie audience, so much as your critical faculties.

Unless you count a faint but crescendoing chant of "The Auteur has no clothes".

Let me end with a compliment. Congratulations on using "crescendo" properly--not to mean "climax", but "gradually rising." If I didn't know already, this would mark you as a musician.

9:59 AM, August 10, 2007  
Anonymous Todd said...

You make some good points, well reasoned and written. However, we're still not in agreement on "Pulp Fiction" and I doubt we ever will be.

So I'll try to keep this reply shorter.

...about Pulp Fiction (which seems to be suffering a mini-backlash...)

First of all, I'm not a revisionist. I felt the same way about "Pulp Fiction" after walking out of the movie theater 13 years ago as I do now.

First, if he ever was annointed, it was in 1992 when Reservoir Dogs came out.

Come on, the HUGE groundswell-antino didn't happen until after "Pulp Fiction".

But the idea that we... decided to make someone our king, is bizarre.

I don't think so. I think it's more evident than ever nowadays that the public is looking for idols, whether they're ready or not - and whether we have to make them up ourselves or not.

This statement [about "Pulp Fiction" and "Grindhouse" being genetically related - and in a hillbilly way] doesn't make me question QT, or the movie audience, so much as your critical faculties.

Come on (#2) - you don't think there are similarities? Pictures based on worn out genres but (supposedly) tweaking, winking, and updating them for a contemporary audience? Do you really think they greenlit "Grindhouse" because QT did such a bangup job with his segment of "Four Rooms"?

Let me end with a compliment. Congratulations on using "crescendo" properly--not to mean "climax", but "gradually rising."

Here's another: "Rallentando". A musical way of describing Tarantino's career since the "triumph" of "Pulp Fiction".

Ah, well, so much for a shorter reply.

Todd

2:20 PM, August 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Shawshank Redemption" was not called "Excitement 1994" in Hong Kong. It was called "Excitement 1995" since that's when it was released there.

I'm not sure either LAguy or Todd like Quiz Show enough.

2:41 PM, August 11, 2007  

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