1994 tends to be one of those years people refer to as great film years. It’s hard to disagree too vehemently with such a statement, as it had plenty of quality movies to offer in a wide variety of genres. About half of these films are long-time favorites of mine, wheres the others are newer acquintances that I’ve seen for the first time within the last few years.
As always, this is going by listed release year on IMDB.
Honorable mentions: Ace Ventura – Pet Detective, Airheads, The Crow
10 – SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (George Huang)
“You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it! My bathmat means more to me than you!”
While Kevin Spacey recently played a horrible boss in the aptly named Horrible Bosses, this was hardly his first outing as that character type. In Swimming with Sharks, he plays a movie mogul who takes great delight in putting his new employee Guy (Frank Whaley) through all kinds of torment. Spacey is teriffic in the part, but praise should go not just to the delivery but to the material as well. A well-written black comedy with a brutal ending.
9 – HEAVENLY CREATURES (Peter Jackson)
“It’s all frightfully romantic.”
What’s really interesting about Heavenly Creatures in hindsight is how it encapsulates everything else Peter Jackson had done or would go on to do. There’s drama, there’s fantasy – in dream sequences -, and there’s bloody murder. Based on a true story, this harrowing tale of the obsessive friendship between two teenage girls is one that sticks with you. Also notable for being the film debut of Kate Winslet.
8 – TRUE LIES (James Cameron)
“I’m beginning to like this guys. Oh, we’ve still gotta kill him. That’s a given.”
It has Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a horse into a hotel elevator! What more do you want? True Lies is just a damn fun action comedy. It never takes itself too seriously and is all the better for it.
7 – REALITY BITES (Ben Stiller)
“My goal is… I’d like a career or something…”
Reality Bites is often cited as one of the defining films about Generation X. While it does a good job of capturing this era, it also works really well as both a comedy and a romance film. The cast impresses; Winona Ryder in particular was in that phase of her career where she could do little wrong, but co-stars Ethan Hawke and Janeane Garofalo also put in strong work. An impressive directorial debut by Mr. Stiller.
6 – DUMB & DUMBER (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)
“She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Some time shortly after this movie arrived, I remember watching a Swedish talk show that had John Cleese as a guest. The talk drifted to modern comedies and this film in particular. Cleese said that he didn’t find Jim Carrey funny, but that Jeff Daniels totally cracked him up. At the time, I found this to be a weird opinion, but with time, I too have grown fonder of Daniels’s more grounded character than Carrey’s obnoxious loudmouth. Dumb & Dumber as a whole has aged pretty damn well. If the Farrelly’s brand of low-brow humor is your thing, of course.
5 – LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL (Luc Besson)
“I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven. Can you hear it?”
Another personal anecdote: Having recently moved to my new apartment, I took the time the other day to try to organize my DVD collection by genre. Léon: The Professional had me a bit stumped, though. Is it a revenge drama? Is it a carefully paced action movie? Is it a thriller? Or is it in fact a love story? I think I eventually settled on action for sorting purposes, but it’s really all these things and more. A rich and entertaining film, helmed by a number of great performances from Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, and the chronically undervalued Danny Aiello.
4 – INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (Neil Jordan)
“The world changes. We do not. There lies the irony that finally kills us.”
I really don’t know where on the list this film belongs, but it deserves to be here somewhere. It was a long-time favorite of mine, and back then I loved it at face value. A recent rewatch made such frank appreciation difficult, and yet there’s still lots of things I really enjoy in this one. From the cheese of it all, to the story that takes itself so gosh-darn seriously, not to mention the campy and confused acting – there are times where Brad Pitt looks like he has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing with his character. For me, this all adds to the charm of it though, and it blends in with the genuinely strong qualities of the movie: the impressive art direction, the atmosphere, and the teriffic performance by Kirsten Dunst who even at a young age shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with.
3 – FORREST GUMP (Robert Zemeckis)
“My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”
I often hear people deride this movie for being overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative. For me, everything in it works like a charm. It hits all the right buttons, both in its drama and its comedy, and Tom Hanks does a great job in the sympathetic title role. Also, let’s not forget the technical innovation involved in seamlessly fusing together historic footage of famous persons with newly recorded material. Forrest Gump will be remembered for a very long time.
2 – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (Frank Darabont)
“Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?”
While I can’t say I agree with its IMDB status as best movie ever, it’s probably about as good a film as one could hope to have a public consensus flock towards. It has no real flaws; the direction, writing and acting are all rock-solid, and the end result makes for a very potent heartstring-tugger.
1 – THE LION KING (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff)
“A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.”
Obviously, nostalgia has a lot to do with my fondness for this film. I don’t know how many times I watched this one as a kid, but it was a lot. What makes it stand out compared to other animated Disney films, though? There’s no one single quality, but rather a case of everything just coming together. The songs are a bit more memorable, the visuals a bit more gorgeous, the story a bit more investment-worthy, and the characters a bit more colorful. Who can forget Scar, or Mufasa, or Timon and Pumbaa, or Zazu, or Rafiki?