Friday, April 10, 2020

The 100 Project: The Top 10 Movies of 1994

I knew that 1994 had a reputation as a good year for movies. Somehow, I was still floored when I went to my Letterboxd account and pulled up all the movies I watched from that year. Narrowing it down to my ten favorite was a tough task. My next ten would all make the cut in a lot of other years. Given the number of films I'm working with, I didn't feel making this a top 20 was warranted. I'm saving that for years when I reach triple digits. So, here we are.

My Top 10 Movies of 1994

  • According to my Letterboxd account I watched 70 movies released in 1994.
  • I saw 8 movies in theaters, only one made the list. Two others are honorable mentions.
  • For the first time, a documentary makes the list.
  • I saw 3 of the 5 movies nominated for Best Picture. All 3 made the list. 

10. The Crow
I'd given up reading comic books five or six years before this came out, but when it comes to movies I'm still a superhero nerd. And two decades later, this is still a unique superhero flick. Not only is it truly gothic, and dark in both the literal and figurative sense, it refuses to dull our hero's edges with humor or even a moral dilemma. He's out for revenge, plain and simple. And I enjoy every minute of it.

9. Ed Wood
I didn't see this until a few years ago and the first thing I loved about it is that it's a good movie about one of my favorite subjects: bad movies. It elevates itself from good to great by being passionate about showing the passion of the eponymous Ed Wood. Director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp are at their best, quirky yet incandescent, full of the humanity absent from so many of their later collaborations. (full review)

8. The Shawshank Redemption
Right now, you're either nodding your head and saying, "Of course, this is on the list," or you're shaking it in amazement that it's only number eight. After all, it's got the iconic turns by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. It pulls you in and makes you care deeply about the men of Shawshank. And it wraps everything up in a bright, sunny package made of pure feel-good. If this is your number 1 movie of 1994, I am more than okay with that. (full review)

7. Natural Born Killers
If you make a movie with tons of action, over-the-top gore, twisted humor, a few oddball sequences, and loads of self awareness, there's a good chance I'm going to like it. When that material is in the hands of a gifted (if polarizing) director (not that you're not gifted, but ya' know) and an equally talented cast then I'm probably going to love it. That's what happened here. Director Oliver Stone directs Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, and plenty more A-listers in the story of Bonnie & Clyde taken to absurdist extremes.

6. Leon: The Professional
This is THE movie about a hitman with a heart of gold. There have been plenty of others, but they all pale in comparison to this one. Jean Reno is perfect - an unassailable killer, yet vulnerable in most areas of life. This is also my intro to Natalie Portman. Then there's Gary Oldman. He walks off with every scene, as he tends to do. And that finale!

5. Hoop Dreams
I'm an introvert. Before I learned to impersonate an extrovert as an adult, I only spoke to a very small group of friends. The only way most people knew me was because I loved playing basketball and played it whenever, wherever I could with anyone who happened to be at the park, or in gym class. And despite my lack of stature, I'm pretty good. Some of the people I've come across seemed destined to play in the NBA, if they could get around certain obstacles. This movie is about two such youngsters. It dives deep, pulls out all the reasons, circumstances, and the emotions involved, and puts them on full display.

4. Crooklyn
Poignant social commentary is both Spike Lee's gift and curse. He normally seeks to comment on the world through his stories. In the case of Crooklyn, he tells a story first and lightly sprinkles it with trace amounts of cinematic reporting. The result is the warmest movie in his catalogue by a Brooklyn mile. Because of that, it's become a favorite in the Dell household. It helps that this is the one Spike Lee joint that I won't ask them whether or not they got it and/or how they feel about it. (Women in Film Blogathon: Troy Carmichael of Crooklyn)

3. Pulp Fiction
Copy everything I wrote about Natural Born Killers and paste it here. Change the director's name and the names of the stars appropriately. Now, add the fact that the dialogue is out-of-this-world good, and quotable. It's so good it literally changed the way dialogue is written. Ever since, writers have been aping Tarantino's style because on the surface it's easy: insert lots of pop culture references and some grandiose speechifying. Unfortunately, they all miss the nuances of this movie. I know, I know. Reservoir Dogs and True Romance came out before this. You know when most people saw either of those movies? After they saw Pulp Fiction.

2. The Lion King
The first time I saw this I didn't have any kids, yet. And I loved it. Somewhere around their first day home from the hospital, I watched it with each of my three kids. And they loved it with me. I even told my son that everything the light touches is ours. He bought it when he was 2, but by 3 he figured me for a idiot. But he still loved it. Over the years, we've all seen at least a dozen times before I became a teacher. And we still love it. After I became a teacher, I've watched with my classes in those last days before summer, or long field trips. And almost every one of those kids had already seen it before I showed it to him and already loved it. That just makes me love it even more. 

1. Forrest Gump
You know all that stuff I said about The Shawshank Redemption being a big ball of feel-good? You know what I like even better than that? When I can get that same insane amount of sweetness with a little bitterness mixed in; not enough to pucker my face (like the heinous dark chocolate), just enough to give it some gravity. That's what I get from Forrest Gump. After all (26 year old minor spoiler alert), he doesn't actually get what he chases the entire film. However, in a sense, he gets the best parts. On the way to that, I just enjoy his journey. The places he goes and the people he comes into contact with make it one of the most satisfying movie watching experiences of my life. Lately, it's become cool to hate on this movie. I hear the complaints, and some of it makes sense, but when I pop into my 4K player, it still puts me in the same place it did when I watched it on VHS all those years ago, my happy place.

Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically): Above the Rim, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Blankman, Fear of a Black Hat, Fresh, Interview with the Vampire, It's Pat, Little Giants, The Mask, Mi Vida Loca: My Crazy Life, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Serial Mom, Speed, The Stoned Age True Lies


  1. 1994 is a damn fine year. I'll get the points of disagreement out first: I seriously hate Forrest Gump, and I'm not the right age group to really love The Lion King the way most people do. We'll just agree to disagree on Gump--I'm not gonna sway you, and you're not gonna sway me. I don't movie shame--you love what you love.

    I still need to see Crooklyn; it's the one on your list I can't comment on.

    But like I said, this was a good year. Some that didn't make your main list and mentions are:
    Wes Craven's New Nightmare--a great reimagining of the basic story.
    Clerks--not as funny now as it was, but still a great example of dialogue writing
    Once Were Warriors--poor and frustrated Maori try to find and keep any sense of culture in the modern world
    Crumb--one of the weirdest and oddly upsetting biography/documentaries ever made
    Heavenly Creatures--track this one down. No spoilers. It's amazing
    Muriel's Wedding--sardonic and funny and sometimes cruel, but always great
    Chungking Express--another one for no spoilers. Just watch it
    Three Colors: Red--not my favorite of the Three Colors Trilogy, but it is the concensus favorite
    The Last Seduction--the greatest neo-noir ever made and Linda Fiorentino's absolute apex
    Stargate--c'mon! It's Stargate!
    Shallow Grave--Danny Boyle's big-screen directorial debut, and it's a hell of a ride
    Nobody's Fool--probably Paul Newman's last really great performance

    1. Funny enough you mention being the right age for The Lion King. For what it's worth, I was in my 20s and single with no children, not exactly the target audience. I forget why I even watched it, but I did and it worked on me. Fair enough on Gump.

      Sadly, I haven't seen most of the movies you mentioned. Of those, the ones that have been on my radar forever are Crumb, Chungking Express, Three Colors (the entire trilogy), and The Last Seduction. Of the ones I have seen:

      New Nightmare is really good, but despite owning it and being a big fan of the franchise I've only watched it once years ago. Planning on changing that soon.
      Clerks doesn't really do it for me. Has a few good moments, but honestly I like Clerks II better.
      Stargate - Another I watched only once many years ago, and honestly, I didn't love it.

  2. So many great films! The year I was born in really was good cinema-wise :-D

  3. I instantly thought of Lion King, Pulp Fiction, Gump and Shawshank as well. Interview with a Vampire is another good one, and D2: Mighty Ducks which is a nostalgia pick for me.

    Honestly now that I look at what else was released that year, damn. It would be hard to pick 10.

    1. One of the toughest years since I've started doing this.

  4. I sometimes forget how great cinema was in 90s. Amazing year. Another I would add to the already great picks is Atom Egoyan's Exotica (1994) which is arguably his best. It might count as a 1995 release in the US. The Danish classic Nightwatch/Nattevagten (1994) is an effective thriller and often gets overlooked, just avoid the 1997 remake with Ewan McGregor and Nick Nolte which was weaker.

    1. Wow. I haven't seen any of these. Just so, Exotica has a September '94 release date in the US according to its imdb page.

  5. Oh dear Dell! I thought at first we were going to match up a bit better this year than in ’93 but it didn’t turn out that way.

    We have only one actual match-Shawshank and Leon made my runner-up list (almost made my top…probably my number 12). It took me forever to watch the first but a friend kept extolling how great it was so after some arm twisting I finally sat with her and gave it a chance. It was so much better than I expected.

    I’ve only seen bits of The Crow. It’s not really my kind of film and the backstory is so tragic I’ve never been drawn to seek it out.

    It took me a long time to catch up with Ed Wood too but I was glad it did. I didn’t like it as much as you but it was decent and Martin Landau was great. I felt the same about Crooklyn which is another I’ve recently seen only this time it was Alfre Woodard who was brilliant, but then she always is.

    I’ve only watched Hoop Dreams the once but it was a very fine doc.

    You know I’m not an animation guy but I’ve probably seen all of The Lion King, from being in the room when my nieces and nephews were watching at different times, just never from start to finish. From what I’ve seen I have no desire to change that.

    And then it gets rocky. You couldn’t pay me to see Natural Born Killers! I abhor Juliette Lewis and from what I’ve been told the rest of the film just ain’t my deal.

    I hate to say it but your remaining two-Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump-I actively detest. I know mine is a minority opinion on Pulp Fiction, one of the people I saw it with in the theatre (it was her fifth or sixth time) said I must hate roller coaster rides when I told her I hadn’t liked it and that’s very true. I even thought I might have been in a bad mood when I saw it so tried it again a few years later. Nope still hated it. Forrest Gump despite my admiration for Tom Hanks, Sally Field and Gary Sinise was just torture. But it seems to be a love it or hate it film. I’m glad you get so much out of it.

    Out of your runner-ups one of them made my main list and I liked True Lies, Serial Mom and Naked Gun 33 1/3 but none enough to make my list.

  6. My number one made your runner-up list and your number eight is my tenth but otherwise we seem to be miles apart!

    1. Speed-When his first extortion/terror attempt is foiled by LAPD cops Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) whacko Howard Payne (a deliciously hammy Dennis Hopper) rigs a bus to explode if it drops below 50 miles an hour then calls Jack to challenge him to stop that from happening. Jack catches up with the bus and when the regular driver is injured passenger Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes the wheel and we’re off on a literal thrill ride.

    2. The Sum of Us-In Sydney gay plumber Jeff (Russell Crowe) lives with his widowed super supportive father Harry (Jack Thompson) as they both look for permanent relationships. All seems to go well with each finding a promising partner until several events bring challenges that might prove to be insurmountable.

    3. Legends of the Fall-A big sweeping melodrama of three brothers (Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas) in love with the same woman Susannah (Julia Ormond) and the travails that befall them all as well as their father (Anthony Hopkins) in Montana’s Big Sky country.

    4. Four Weddings and a Funeral-A group of friends, lead by the slightly bumbling but charming Charles (Hugh Grant in his star making turn) and cynical Fiona (Kristin Scott-Thomas), go through the titular events with joy, humor, sarcasm and heartache.

    5. Iron Will-After his father drowns in an accident near their South Dakota farm young Will Stoneman (Mackenzie Astin) takes their team of dogs and enters an international sled race with a prize of $10, 000 to save the family’s home! At first denied entry until canny newspaperman Harry Kingsley (Kevin Spacey) threatens the organizers with bad press he soon finds himself in the thick of not just a battle for his farm but his life.

  7. 6. The Client-A boy, Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) and his younger brother witness a mafia connected lawyer’s suicide and now the mob and the DA are out to get him to talk. Pursued on all sides he hires Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon) a compassionate lawyer for a dollar and together they try and keep him safe. A terrific cast, Tommy Lee Jones, Mary Louise Parker and Anthony LaPaglia among others, make this one of the best John Grisham adaptations.

    7. Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-A different kind of road movie. When three Sydney drag queens (Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving) accept a gig in central Australia they journey across the Outback in their faithful bus Priscilla on an odyssey of discovery and evening gowns. The performances are strong and the wardrobe amazing.

    8. Three Colors: Red-Valentine (Irène Jacob) a part time student and model accidentally hits a dog on her way home one night. Finding the owner, retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant) lives in her neighborhood she contacts him once the dog recovers. The judge gives Valentine the dog in gratitude, but her possessive boyfriend won't allow her to keep him. Returning the dog she discovers the judge listening in on his neighbors' phone conversations. Outraged Valentine debates with the judge over his behavior but they find common ground and form a strange bond. The last in the Three Colors trilogy.

    9. Bullets over Broadway-A struggling not terribly talented young playwright (John Cusack) grabs at the chance to have his work produced on Broadway when a mobster agrees to back him with the proviso that his moll Olive (a hilarious Jennifer Tilly) be given a significant part. He even manages to snag a legendary star Helen Sinclair (an even more hilarious Dianne Wiest who won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress) to headline the show. There are only two problems the play in its present form stinks and Olive has absolutely no talent. The first problem is solved by Olive’s unexpectedly insightful bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) the other takes a bit more trouble.

    10. The Shawshank Redemption-Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in a brutal prison for the murders of his wife and her lover. What only Andy knows is that he is innocent. While adapting to the rough world of incarceration he forms a friendship with fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman). Based on a Stephen King short story.

    8 Seconds, Heavenly Creatures, The Last Seduction, Leon: The Professional, The Madness of King George, Muriel’s Wedding, The Paper, Queen Margot, Quiz Show, Stargate, Three Colors: White, Wild Reeds

    1. Sorry I'm so late replying. I think the reason we're so far apart is because I haven't seen many of the movies you've listed. Wow. I've got lots of catching up to do.

  8. 1994 was such a great year for films, and you picked some very fine ones. My number one would have been Pulp Fiction though. I still can't believe Forrest Gump won over it and The Shawshank Redemption.

    1. Regardless of how I feel, Gump is just more Academy friendly a drug-fueled, violent, labyrinthine plotted swear fest that includes man-rape, lol.

      Sorry for the super-delayed reply.

  9. Ah... 1994... one of the best years in film ever... Here is my list as I like all of your picks in your top 10 as my list is more all over the place between art films, blockbusters, and comedies.

  10. I hate Natural Born Killers and I would probably not have Forrest Gump in the top 10. Shawshank Redemption would be #1 for me. I saw Hoop Dreams which was excellent but I am not into sports so I would not have it in the top 10 either but that’s because of the sports side of things. I know it was not about sports per se but it was hard for me to get through. I love Leon which put Jean Reno on the map as well as Natalie Portman. I do like the rest of your picks but I would have to include Immortal Beloved which is a great film about Beethoven. Gary Oldman was superb. I would add Legends of the Fall which is long but so good.i love Leslie Nielsen so I would add Naked Gun 33 1/3 because it makes me laugh. The Santa Clause is another I would add as well.

    1. Sadly, I haven't seen Immortal Beloved or Legends of the Fall, yet. 33 1/3 is an HM.

  11. Yey for nNtural Born Killers! It's been years since I last saw it, I need to rewatch it some time. I bet it didn't age a day

  12. Wow, you weren't kidding. That's some year. Legends of the Fall, The Mask and Clerks are just some of the ones that come to mind first. I'd never really heard about 1994 being an exceptional year but now I'm struggling to think of a deeper reservoir for a year. Wouldn't normally promote a blog post, but there's a fun 90s picture quiz I'd love for you to try I put up a few days ago.

    1. Sorry I'm so late with this but I will still go check out that quiz.

  13. Holy crap, 1994 is MY happy place. Being 15 at the time, all of these movies mean the world to me. And I have absolutely ZERO problems with your ordering of them, too. We're damn near lock-step on all of this (not that that matters, but still).

    Full disclosure, basketball also meant the world to me, so it pains and shames me that I've never seen Hoop Dreams. I have no good reason, just never got around to watching it.

    Shit...I don't know if I could leave Blank Man outta my top ten. I love that movie so much, same with Ace (and True Lies!).

    Awesome post, Dell. So much fun.

  14. Old is always gold. I like Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption the most.

  15. Great list! Pulp wins out for me, but I love that Hoop Dreams and NBK made the cut.