Mike’s Top Ten of 1994
1994. This year almost contained the single greatest crop of Best Pictures in Oscar history. (For starters, my #1, #2 and #3 are in there. So that’ll tell you something.) Still, it’s an incredible year. There’s not a weak movie in the entire top ten. And I feel like, were you to give most people a top ten list from this year, I feel like at least 7 or 8 of my list would be on almost everyone’s list. It’s that strong a year at the top.
This year helped revolutionize cinema, in a way. Pulp Fiction really put independent cinema on the mainstream map. It’s kind of like how, in the 70s, the director/auteur movies became the norm, and the “Hollywood” stuff was secondary to those. Because of that film, independent-style movies really became A-level movies, alongside the big blockbuster stuff. And it stayed that way for a little while. Of course, until all (or most) of those filmmakers became homogenized into the system and we moved on to the next thing.
Still, I can’t get over how amazing this top ten is. Pound for pound, it may be the strongest set of ten this decade.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1994
Leon: The Professional
The Lion King
Natural Born Killers
The Shawshank Redemption
11-20: Blue Chips, Bullets Over Broadway, Chungking Express, Dumb and Dumber, The Hudsucker Proxy, Legends of the Fall, Major League II, Maverick, The Paper, True Lies
Tier two: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Airheads, Angels in the Outfield, Blank Check, Blue Chips, The Client, Heavenly Creatures, Hoop Dreams, Interview with the Vampire, The Last Seduction, Little Giants, The Mask, Nell, Radioland Murders, Renaissance Man, The Ref, The River Wild, The Santa Clause, When a Man Loves a Woman
Tier three: Baby’s Day Out, Beverly Hills Cop III, Blue Sky, The Crow, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Frankenstein, Little Women, Miracle on 34th Street, Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, Nobody’s Fool, North, The Pagemaster, PCU, Il Postino, Ri¢hie Ri¢h, Swimming with Sharks, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, Wyatt Earp
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1. Forrest Gump
“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”
I’ve come to terms with this over the past couple of years. As much as Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece and changed cinema and all that stuff… this movie was always nearer and dearer to my heart. I’d watched this from a much younger age than I’d watched Pulp Fiction and it’s just one of those movies that feels like it’s a part of me, whereas Pulp Fiction feels more like a film I love that I came upon later.
This movie is so good. Tom Hanks is amazing here. He, as I’ve said for years, is one of those guys whose performances are so great, and so nuanced, that you don’t even notice how good he is until the third watch. It’s also one of those movies that just works. Every moment of this movie is watchable, and it feels like a comfortable chair. You can sit in it any time of the day and just be comfortable. It’s the way Goodfellas seems to be for most people. Turn it on at any point and just watch it to the end.
For a while I felt like admitting this was really my favorite film this year was sort of like taking the “establishment” side of things, while Pulp Fiction was more the cooler, rebel way to go. But you know what, kids? You know what’s really cool? Being honest with yourself. And this is my favorite movie of 1994.
2. Pulp Fiction
“You know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?”
“They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?”
“No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”
“Then what do they call it?”
“They call it a Royale with cheese.”
“A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?”
“Well, a Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.”
“Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?”
“I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.”
Look, there was no way this was dropping below #2. It took me long enough to admit this wasn’t #1. Did you think it was going lower than this?
This year is so good that it almost doesn’t matter how you rank them. The top four movies here… it’s like Daniel Day-Lewis rearranging his Oscars. Who cares which one is his favorite… he’s got three of them.
But yeah, it’s Pulp Fiction. It’s one of those movies I don’t even need to explain to people because everyone’s seen it and everyone knows how great it is. So what more can you say?
3. The Shawshank Redemption
“I guess it comes down a simple choice: Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
You know how good a year has to be when Shawshank is #3 and it’s not that weird?
This is another one of those movies you can just watch. Whenever it’s on, no matter what part it is, you just settle in because you’re in the rest of the way. It’s so good. Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman… this is just a masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that just hit the jackpot on alchemy… right place, right time, right cast, right people involved. And it stands the test of time.
Again, this is one of those movies I know everyone’s seen and loves, so there’s really not much to add. Except… I can add one more thing, the fact that this is still one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard:
4. The Lion King
“It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life”
Remember what I said about Shawshank? How insane a year has to be for that to be #3 and for it not to be that weird? Well, fucking Lion King is FOUR! And it’s the greatest Disney movie of all time!
(Don’t argue this. The Lion King is the best Disney movie ever made. I’ll settle for arguing everything below it, but this is the best. And while we’re here, for me, Fantasia is #2, Beauty and the Beast is #3, and everything below that changes from month to month.)
This is, from start to finish, a perfect movie. It grabs you from the second the movie starts until the final frame. And it’s only 90 minutes long! Every song in this movie is perfect, and every frame of this movie is perfect (even the S-E-X cloud).
The opening four minutes of this movie are perfect. As someone who loves movies, I’m obviously very much looking forward to one day sharing so many of them with my children. But truly, one of the moments I’m looking forward to most is sitting them in a theater, to watch this movie on the big screen, and watching the opening of this movie hit them. Because it still hits me like a sonic boom every time I put it on.
“Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do?”
I love when what might seem to be a straightforward action movie turns out to be a lasting masterpiece. The Fugitive was one for 1993, and here we are in 1994. This movie is perfect.
As if you needed to know, Keanu Reeves is a bomb squad cop who has an encounter with bomb-maker Dennis Hopper at the beginning of the film and thwarts his plans. Hopper then comes back for vengeance, putting a bomb on a bus that will explode if it goes under 50 mph. So it’s about Keanu having to get on the bus and figure out how to keep everyone alive while his team finds and locates Hopper.
It’s awesome. This made a true action star out of Keanu (Point Break got him most of the way, but this solidified him) and solidified Hopper as one of the great villainous character actors (Blue Velvet got him most of the way… and while Super Mario Bros. should have got him there, this got him there). And it’s got Sandra Bullock and Jeff Daniels too, which only adds to it.
This movie is perfect. And you almost feel like they didn’t expect it to be as big of a hit as it was, because the director was Jan de Bont, who had theretofore been a cinematographer on movies like The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard (and Roar, the literal most dangerous movie ever made). Which makes it even better. It just works on every level and is so watchable.
6. Ed Wood
“This is the one. ‘This’ is the one I’ll be remembered for.”
This, to me, is Tim Burton’s masterpiece. I know people will say Edward Scissorhands, or Big Fish, but this, to me, is as perfect as his films get. (Sorry, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.)
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, kings of the offbeat biopic (they also wrote People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes, People vs. O.J. and Dolemite Is My Name), it’s about Ed Wood, who was, for a time, considered the worst director of all time, famous (or infamous, if you will) for Plan 9 from Outer Space, a movie so bad it only became a cult hit because it was so bad.
So the movie is about Ed Wood and portrays him as this naive optimist, who thinks he’s making great movies even though he’s making the schlockiest of the shit. It’s so good. Johnny Depp stars as Wood, and I think he said he based the character on… let me see if I can remember… Reagan, the Tin Man, and Casey Kasem. Then there’s Sarah Jessica Parker as his first wife and Patricia Arquette as his second wife. And it’s got Bill Murray, Jeffrey Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles, Mike Starr and George “The Animal” Steele. And of course, Martin Landau, playing Bela Lugosi. A performance that is so note perfect that Landau won an Oscar for it. And as much as I wanna try to say that either Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction or Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump should have won Best Supporting Actor this year… Landau blows them all out of the water. It’s impossible not to absolutely love his performance as Lugosi. There’s not a false moment in it.
This movie is so good. And again, it speaks to how amazing this year is that this is only #6.
7. Leon: The Professional
“Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?”
“Always like this.”
To me, Luc Besson made two perfect films. This and The Fifth Element. I can’t necessarily speak to that one as much, but this one feels like one everyone gets to pretty early when they get into movies, mainly because it tends to be on the list of “like these other six, then you’ll love The Professional,” and also because Gary Oldman. He’s one of those first actors people tend to get into because he’s always so great and always seems to be in great stuff.
But anyway, this movie is pretty close to perfect. Luc Besson plays a hitman who lives a solitary life, which is interrupted when a young orphan (Natalie Portman) is suddenly thrust into his life. And pretty soon he finds himself opening up to her and also training her to get revenge on the people (mainly Gary Oldman), who killed her parents.
One thing I learned much later after I got into movies and saw more stuff… the movie Gloria, directed by John Cassavetes, is really similar to this one. Except it’s Gena Rowlands instead of a hitman. Though arguably both movies could have been better if Gena Rowlands were a hitman. But they both feature almost the exact same apartment scene, with the kid knocking on the door to not get killed. Which is interesting.
But anyway, this movie is incredible and it’s one of those movies… put it this way, if you haven’t seen this movie, you really should. Because you know who likes it?
8. Natural Born Killers
“Mickey and Mallory know the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t give a damn.”
What an amazing movie. This is something most people see early, love, and then forget how great and influential it is.
Originally written by Quentin Tarantino (though it went through a bunch of different rewrites and definitely changed to be more “Oliver Stone”), it’s basically, as True Romance is… a kind of Badlands in a way. A couple in love go on a cross-country crime spree. Only here, it’s not romanticized, the way it is in True Romance. Here, they’re (insert title here). They’re murdering people. And Stone makes it about the influence of TV and the media, sort of fetishizing the celebrity of the killer, and turning them into celebrities, which in turn, kind of enhances their actions and spurs them on.
It’s so good. Woody Harrelson completely changes the course of his career with this performance, and Juliette Lewis is awesome as well. And it’s just got this revolving door of great actors showing up for various parts. Tommy Lee Jones as the prison warden. Tom Sizemore as the cop on their trail. Robert Downey Jr as a talk show host. Rodney Dangerfield as Juliette Lewis’s father? The way they shoot his scenes is amazing, and you know he had no fucking clue what movie he was making. Which makes it even better.
I love this movie. It’s just a fever dream of an acid trip. It’s so great.
“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”
Sneaky important movie. I always forget how important the Kevin Smith movies were to my development as a film fan. Thinking back, I always think about them like those awkward high school phases you have that you’re now ashamed of because they seemed so childish. But man, funny is funny. And also, like all things, eventually you come back around and realize there’s nothing to really be ashamed about, because everything that you went through helped make you, you.
This movie still holds up as a masterpiece of true independent filmmaking. He put up every dollar he had to make this movie, which was shot at the convenience store where he worked and was basically about him and his friends. And it starred him and his friends. And now you cannot write a textbook about independent cinema in the 90s without mention of this movie. However you wanna feel about it, this is one of the most important movies of the 90s.
It’s also still so funny. Whether you like this movie or not, tell me you can hear the number 37 without thinking of this movie. You’re lying.
10. Quiz Show
“It’s not like we’re hardened criminals here. We’re in show business.”
Sneaky perfect movie. This, also, to me, is Robert Redford’s greatest movie. I know Ordinary People won all the awards, but this is the one for me. This is the movie you forget is as perfect as it is until you watch it again.
It’s about the quiz show scandal of the 50s, where they realized the sponsors were rigging the game shows for ratings, and it helped implement laws to make things fair and balanced (or so we’d think). The show in question is Twenty-One, in which contestants are put in separate booths, unable to hear the other’s answers and have to answer more questions correctly to win. And it starts with John Turturro, who had been winning show after show. However, the network sees the ratings are evening out rather than going up, so they decide to have Turturro lose, making him take a dive for money. To Ralph Fiennes. And Fiennes becomes the celebrity du jour because of his impressive winning streak, and Turturro helps bring investigators onto the case, which leads to everyone finding out about it.
It’s so good. Turturro is incredible here. As is Fiennes. And Paul Scofield got nominated for an Oscar for playing Fiennes’ father. It’s great. The cast is fantastic, full of character actors (and a cameo from Martin Scorsese as the head of Geritol). Like I said, sneaky perfect. You forget how good this is until you watch it again.
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Bullets Over Broadway — One of the Woody Allen movies I really like. It’s so good. John Cusack is a playwright who gets backing for his new play from a mobster, who demands his no-talent girlfriend be put in it. And he sends one of his enforcers to make sure it happens. Meanwhile the aging diva cast in a supporting part starts angling to get her part bigger, and things just (comedically) spiral out of control at every turn. Dianne Wiest won an Oscar for her part, but I think it’s Jennifer Tilly who steals the show. And Chazz Palminteri is fantastic as the enforcer who secretly harbors a writing talent as well. This is one of Allen’s best movies. This is one I wouldn’t hesitate to give to people who want a good primer on how good his movies can be.
Chungking Express — Wong Kar-Wai’s second most notable movie, maybe? In the Mood for Love is unquestionably number one. But this is the other one I’d think to immediately. It’s so 90s. It’s got that 90s home video feel to it. The film is comprised of two stories (not overlapping), both about a policeman and his relationship to a woman. The first involves a man getting over a bad breakup who becomes intrigued by a mysterious woman with ties to the underworld. The second involves a cop overcoming a breakup with a flight attendant and the woman at the noodle bar who harbors a secret crush on him. It’s so good. He made this while in the middle of editing Ashes of Time. In a way, it’s kind of like how the Coens made Barton Fink while stuck on Miller’s Crossing. Arguably the smaller movie ended up being one of his best.
Dumb and Dumber — One of the great 90s comedies. This still holds up for me. It’s utterly ridiculous, but part of the appeal for me is that I grew up with it. I must have seen this movie a hundred times. This is one of those I just can’t explain. I love it, and it’s great. I don’t know how people nowadays come across this movie, but there’s nothing I can say that could ever do it justice. God bless this movie.
The Hudsucker Proxy — This is the Coens. One of their… I don’t wanna say more overlooked movies, but look at how many masterpieces they have. This is just one of the great ones. This one’s much more of a Frank Capra/40s comedy than anything. Tim Robbins plays a naive, Jimmy Stewart/Mr. Smith kind of character who shows up to pitch an idea to a big company but gets taken in by Paul Newman as a play to help him gain control of the company. It’s a lot of fun. Very much a throwback movie, but it’s just really good all around. You know you can never go wrong with a Coen brothers movie.
Legends of the Fall — One of those gorgeous western/outdoor epics of the 90s. It’s about a family living in the upper midwest and their lives throughout the early part of the 20th century. Anthony Hopkins plays the patriarch and Brad Pitt plays the oldest son. It’s just a great family epic of a movie that looks incredible. Ed Zwick directs, and for those who’ve seen his stuff, you know that puts it of a certain quality. It’s just a good movie.
Major League II — The sequel. Not as great as the original, but I’ve seen it so many times throughout my life that I don’t even care. The idea behind this one is that now all these players who were nobodies last season are back and full of themselves because now everyone thinks they’re great. So Charlie Sheen has become a yuppie and Wesley Snipes (who isn’t even in this. Omar Epps plays him here) has went and starred in a movie. So now they have to overcome egos and getting away from who they were in order to be good again. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and it’s definitely a worthy sequel. This movie also features one of my absolute favorite lines ever in a movie, which is mostly a throwaway from Bob Uecker — Hays is up in his first at bat of the season, and this is after his movie tanked over the winter, and Uecker goes, “Wanted to see his movie, but it was only out for about two-and-a-half hours. I’m told, however, it was in focus.” Which still gets me to this day.
Maverick — A film version of the TV show. Mel Gibson stars as Maverick, and James Garner, the original Maverick, also appears. They do a fun thing with that. Jodie Foster also stars, and this is… you know how Tombstone is a fun western, but still a western at heart? This is a fun western that’s basically a comedy at heart. It’s lighthearted and it’s just a good time all around. There’s also a fantastic cameo from Danny Glover, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie. It’s not taking itself too seriously. But it’s also wildly entertaining.
Muriel’s Wedding — Incredible Australian movie and the kind of film that it’s impossible not to like. Toni Collette became a star because of this movie. She plays an outcast who dreams of happily ever after but has just a mess of a life. So one day, she decides to run away and start over. Just trust me on this. It’s one of those movies you need to see if you haven’t. It’s just a joy to watch.
The Paper — Ron Howard’s movie about working at a newspaper. It takes place over a day, and it’s just one day in the life of a newspaper editor. Stars Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Jason Alexander — great cast, lot of fun. One of those movies that, while exaggerated for movie effect, does feel true to life about what it’s like to work at a newspaper.
True Lies — James Cameron. Obviously he’s got “bigger” movies on his resume, but this one seems to be well-liked all around. Because it’s a great premise. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a secret agent. Top notch spy, great at his job. Only… he thinks his wife might be having an affair. And instead he finds out how bored she is, so he decides to create a fake “spy” mission for her to go on… which very quickly becomes real. It’s so good. The comedy and the action here are great. Everyone should see this movie. It’s so good.
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- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
- The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
- Angels in the Outfield
- Blank Check
- Blue Chips
- The Client
- Heavenly Creatures
- Hoop Dreams
- Interview with the Vampire
- The Last Seduction
- Little Giants
- The Mask
- Radioland Murders
- Renaissance Man
- The Ref
- The River Wild
- The Santa Clause
- When a Man Loves a Woman
It’s the 90s, so we need to start with the movies of my youth.
We’ll start with Jim Carrey, who had three monster hit films this year. We already covered Dumb and Dumber, so here’s Ace Ventura and The Mask. Ace Ventura is a comedy that just should not work. It’s a murder mystery with an animal detective solving a murder. How the hell is that a movie? And yet, hilarious. I saw this movie so many times growing up, can practically quote parts of it verbatim to this day, and it’s got some really iconic lines and moments that people still reference even now. And The Mask… another movie that just should not work. I don’t know what it is — a noir? A gangster movie? There’s definitely a throwback film, with all those 30s songs in it. But I guess it’s more of a cartoon than anything. Like if you turned Dick Tracy into an Animaniacs cartoon and put Jim Carrey in it. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and he somehow makes this insane premise work. I feel like he came up at the right time and had the right sense of humor for when a lot of us were kids. He was like that crazy uncle we all thought was hilarious because he was so wild.
Next we have Blank Check. One of those movies that helped shape me as a child. One of the genius concepts of all time: kid is given a check without an amount written on it. And he decides to cash it for a MILLION DOLLARS. And it works. So now he’s totally rich and just starts spending it on all the stuff a kid would buy. And then of course the gangsters behind the money start looking for him. It’s pure 90s kids stuff. And it’s AMAZING. I also think every boy my age had a huge crush on Karen Duffy from this movie. You can say what you will about this movie, but you can’t deny that it has one thing: s-t-y-l-e. The Santa Clause, meanwhile… somehow a sort of holiday classic? Remember when Tim Allen was a thing? It’s kind of a genius concept. Man hears Santa entering his chimney and thinks it’s a burglar. He ends up accidentally killing Santa and having to take his place. So suddenly he’s getting fat and growing a beard and the whole thing. And now he has to go and deliver the presents on Christmas Eve, even though he doesn’t want to. Amazing concept, really good movie.
Next, Angels in the Outfield. Another great one. Remake of a 50s movie, but it still works. In that one it was a coach, in this one, it’s a boy. Boy lives in a foster home and his wayward dad says they can be a family again “when the Angels win the pennant.” So the boy makes a wish, and suddenly an angel comes down to help the hapless Angels start winning again. It’s just a fun family movie. Starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Lloyd, Danny Glover, Brenda Fricker, Tony Danza, Ben Johnson, Dermot Mulroney, Neal McDonough, Taylor Negron, Jay O. Sanders, ADRIEN BRODY and MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY! This movie has FOUR Oscar-winning actors in it! This is also one of those movies that helped people like me start to recognize charatcer actors, because this movie is loaded with them. Sticking with the sports movie theme — Little Giants. Is there a better sports comedy of the 90s than Little Giants? Trick question, there totally is. But also, no there isn’t, because this movie is amazing. Rick Moranis is constantly overshadowed by his older brother Ed O’Neill. O’Neill runs the top kids football team in the town. They’re great, but at the expense of the kids who just want to play to have fun. So Moranis starts a team with those kids, the rejects. And naturally it builds to a showdown between the two brothers. It’s amazing. Is there a better play call in movies than “The Annexation of Puerto Rico”? And is there a better nickname than “The Icebox”? This movie is perfect.
Airheads is one of those movies I must have seen about a hundred times. It was on Comedy Central CONSTANTLY when I was a kid. And I watched it so many times. I’d just pick it up randomly and watch it all the way through. I’ll have that one moment where they randomly cut to Lemmy in the crowd and he goes, “I was editor of the school magazine!” stuck in my head forever. For those who don’t know about this movie, it stars Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler as a band (which, by the way, that casting has only gotten better over the years) who really wants to get their demo played on the local radio station. But, when things go sideways after they get there, they somehow end up holding the entire station hostage with water pistols, and a giant police standoff ensues. It’s so much fun. Also stars Michael McKean, Chris Farley, Judd Nelson, Joe Mantegna, Reg E. Cathay, Ernie Hudson, Michael Richards, David Arquette, and Harold Ramis in a cameo! Loaded with comedy people, and just one of those movies that I think a lot of people my age know and love, but has really flown under the radar as time’s gone by. Renaissance Man, meanwhile… I’m not sure this movie was ever taken seriously. But I’ve seen it so many times, and I love it. Danny DeVito plays a dude who is down on his luck and takes a job teaching army recruits so they can pass basic training. So it’s him with the misfits. It’s like Stand and Deliver meets An Officer and a Gentleman. LOVED this movie as a kid. And the cast is insane. First off, Penny Marshall directs, and aside from DeVito, here’s who’s in it: Gregory Hines, James Remar, Ed Begley Jr., Cliff Robertson and Mark Wahlberg in his first movie! I’m sure time hasn’t been too kind on this movie, but I still love it.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is one of those movies I always knew because the title is so distinct. This and To Wong Foo. I finally got around to seeing it years later, and I was really surprised. It’s a very fun movie. It might not appeal to most people at the outset — three drag queens take their show on the road in Australia — but trust me, this is a really fun movie. Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terrence Stamp. All are incredible here.
Blue Chips is an awesome, overlooked film about NCAA corruption. It looks really on the nose now, but it’s still a fun movie. Directed by William Friedkin of all people, and written by Ron Shelton, who’s made a career on sports films. It’s about Nick Nolte as a college coach who starts paying players and breaking all sorts of rules in order to keep his job and keep the team at a championship level. Shaq and Penny Hardaway play two of the players, which is awesome. And you get great character actors in this like Ed O’Neill and J.T. Walsh. It’s dated, but solid.
The Client is part of the John Grisham run of films of the 90s. For you younger people, he was the legal Dan Brown of the 90s. All his books ended up as movie, starting with The Firm and The Pelican Brief, moving onto this, and A Time to Kill and The Rainmaker, and eventually Runaway Jury. That was the last major one. Most of them are pretty solid films. This one managed to get Susan Sarandon nominated for Best Actress. Which is kinda crazy, since it’s just a straight thriller. It’s about a young boy who witnesses a murder and has to be protected in order to testify at trial, and Sarandon plays the lawyer trying to do just that. It’s solid. Joel Schumacher directs, and like all the early Grisham films, it’s got an amazing cast.
Heavenly Creatures is Peter Jackson’s breakthrough film. He started with low budget horror fare, but this was his first big critical success. It stars Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as two teenage girls who start a very close friendship, eventually drawing the ire of their parents, who think the two are a bit too close. And eventually things boil over. I’ll leave it there in case you haven’t seen it. But it’s really solid.
Hoop Dreams is generally considered one of the greatest documentaries ever made. I found this (as I imagine most people do) when I saw that Roger Ebert listed it as his top film of this year and his top film of the decade. Plus it’s always on that list of “I can’t believe this wasn’t nominated for an Oscar,” since this was the most critically acclaimed and loved documentary of the year, and it never even got nominated (which is still a constant refrain at the Oscars). It follows two top basketball recruits over several years, originally starting as something pretty straightforward, and then turning into much, much more. It’s one of those things where they were just in the right place at the right time, so you see a real up and down struggle of these kids as they try to make their dreams come true and change the lives of themselves and their families. It’s really terrific. I’m generally not big on documentaries, but this one is one of the ones everyone should see.
Interview with a Vampire feels like one of those movies that’s a classic because everyone knows about it. And because it has both Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise at the height of their “sexiest man alive” powers. And it’s vampires. There’s a lot going on in this movie and every time I see it I am amazed that it got made with these stars in it. It just doesn’t feel like them. Yet… pretty good movie.
The Last Seduction was a sensation at the time. In that Sex Lies and Videotape mold of real independent film. It was shot on video, and because of that, looks way more dated than it should. Still, it’s a very well-made movie with a terrific Linda Fiorentino performance. It’s a neo-noir, about a bored wife who decides to start using the men in her life for some fun. It’s good. But be prepared for a very dated look.
Nell is one of those “love it or hate it” movies. It all comes down to how you feel about the central performance. It stars Jodie Foster as a woman found in the attic of a hermit woman after she dies. Foster speaks in a language no one can understand, and has no conception of the outside world. Liam Neeson plays a doctor who is sent to study her. I don’t know — I like it. I get why a lot of people don’t. Foster’s performance is… you could accuse her of going “full retard” here. But I think it’s the kind of thing you don’t often see and she went for it.
Radioland Murders is a movie that was originated from an idea by George Lucas. I think he wrote the first outline or script for it and was a producer. It’s about a new radio station about to go on the air for the first time, when all the performers and staff start dying one by one. So it’s a murder mystery that takes place during a chaotic opening night with an ensemble cast. It’s fun. Very much a throwback to those 30s mystery movies.
The Ref is one of those classic 90s comedies. I feel like I grew up with Comedy Central airing this all the time. Basically, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are a married couple on the brink of divorce on Christmas, with their families about to show up. Enter Denis Leary, a criminal on the run, who ends up taking the family hostage and also ending up as a pseudo marriage counselor during their Christmas dinner. It’s really good. A nice dark comedy.
The River Wild is an awesome thriller. Meryl Streep is a river rafting guide with marital problems and she takes her son rafting. On the river, though, they run into Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly, two criminals on the run after a robbery. So eventually she ends up having to take them down the (very violent) river. It’s a 50s B movie plot with an A-list cast. And it’s awesome. Something very different from what you’d expect Meryl to be doing, and you get young Reilly and Kevin Bacon. Oh, and David Strathairn as the husband. Awesome, purely 90s movie.
When a Man Loves a Woman is a really cool romance with Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia. Well, cool is a relative word. Mostly it’s about Meg Ryan being an alcoholic and Garcia trying to help her. But it is a romance, because he loves her, but it’s about whether or not she can overcome her issues for the sake of her family. But both are really good in this, and it’s got young Philip Seymour Hoffman as well as Ellen Burstyn. Good stuff.
- Baby’s Day Out
- Beverly Hills Cop III
- Blue Sky
- The Crow
- D2: The Mighty Ducks
- Four Weddings and a Funeral
- Little Women
- Miracle on 34th Street
- Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult
- Nobody’s Fool
- The Pagemaster
- Il Postino
- Ri¢hie Ri¢h
- Swimming with Sharks
- A Troll in Central Park
- Wyatt Earp
More films of my youth to start:
The Pagemaster is one of those movies that I remember so well from childhood that somehow feels like it never really happened. Macaulay Culkin plays a risk-averse child who ends up in a library where he gets transported into a magical literary adventure. Very NeverEnding Story, but with animation. Also very much of that 80s/90s animation style where they didn’t care about scaring the shit out of kids. Which I appreciate. Richie Rich is Macaulay Culkin again, based on the comic strip. He’s just a rich kid who gets to do rich kid stuff. And then there’s a villain plot that ends up with a laser shooting at them on their own personal Mount Rushmore sculpture. Sounds weird when I say it out loud, but it made total sense when I was 7. D2 is the Mighty Ducks sequel. And it’s straight up a version of the Miracle on Ice, though with the addition of the immortal “knuckle puck.” And finally, Baby’s Day Out. John Hughes wrote it. And it’s about a bunch of bumbling criminals who try to kidnap a rich family’s child for ransom, but lose him on various adventures throughout the city. So it’s basically adults chasing a baby as it crawls through various city locations, leading to all sorts of chaos. It’s awesome when you’re a kid, and even more awesome now. Don’t hate fun.
Miracle on 34th Street, meanwhile, is a 90s remake of the 1947 film, with Richard Attenborough as Santa, Mara Wilson in the Natalie Wood role, Elizabeth Perkins in the Maureen O’Hara role and Dylan McDermott in the John Payne role. It’s cute. The original is still the best, but this one works. The Naked Gun 33 1/3 is the end of the trilogy. It’s fun enough, even though nothing can ever capture the magic of the original. Blue Sky is the movie that Jessica Lange won her second Oscar for, and is a very strange film. She plays a free-spirited housewife (Woman Under the Influence style) who lives with her husband (Tommy Lee Jones) on a military base. And her behavior constantly causes issues. We’ll say that. It’s… they weirdly held it on the shelf for three years before releasing it, which might tell you something. But I enjoy it. It gets nuts in the third act (I mean, what the fuck), but watching the two of them for the first half is enough for me to say it’s decent.
PCU is one of those 90s comedies I got to later on, especially when I realized it was based on the college I went to. It’s very 90s teen comedy. Might be one of those movies I hold more dearly had I seen it at a younger age, but it’s fun. North, meanwhile, is one of those movies… Rob Reiner was on the most amazing run of any director ever and then this movie just completely derailed it. Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men. That’s his filmography before this. And then this happened, and it bombed so hard and was so synonymous with garbage that he just never made another great movie again. He did The American President after this, which is really good, admittedly. But then Ghosts of Mississippi, The Story of Us, Alex & Emma, Rumor Has It, The Bucket List, Flipped, The Magic of Belle Isle, And So It Goes, Being Charlie, LBJ, Shock and Awe. That’s where we’re at as of this publishing. Some of the ones in there I like, but they’re nowhere near that initial run. And it’s partially, I guess, because of the failure of this movie. The plot is basically: Elijah Wood is tired of his parents so he decides he wants a divorce from them. So he travels the world, looking for new parents. It’s… very heightened and very much a kids movie. It’s ridiculous, but it’s not awful. I guess it’s awful if you expect Rob Reiner, coming off A Few Good Men, to make something similar to that. But on its own, it’s fine. It’s more a curiosity than anything else.
Wyatt Earp is a three-hour Wyatt Earp movie starring Kevin Costner. That’s pretty much all I need to say. Either that’s for you or it is not. I’ll tell you that it’s no Tombstone. Which you should know and acknowledge. But I think it’s totally fine and watchable. Epic western with Costner, Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday and Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore and Tea Leoni? Sign me up. Il Postino is a pure 90s Harvey Weinstein Oscar special. Massimo Troisi, who starred in the movie and co-wrote it, put off heart surgery to star in the movie and died literally twelve hours after finishing shooting. So Harvey ran with that and used it to get the movie nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay. It’s about a poor Italian postman who meets Pablo Neruda and learns poetry from him so he can woo the woman of his dreams. It’s nice enough. Nobody’s Fool is a movie that is really noteworthy because it’s Paul Newman. It’s that old, stubborn iconoclast character. It’s a real showcase for Newman, and a fun movie. It’s got Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s definitely worth seeing.
Frankenstein is Kenneth Branagh doing Mary Shelley. With Robert De Niro playing the Creature, Branagh himself playing Frankenstein and Helena Bonham Carter playing Frankenstein’s wife/the Bride. It’s an interesting telling, but I think that’s because it’s really faithful to the source material. It looks really good. Great production values, great score, great costumes, great makeup, all of that. But then… it doesn’t fully come together, but I was also fascinated by it when I saw it. I can’t explain it. It’s not amazing by any stretch, but I really liked seeing it. Thumbelina and A Troll in Central Park are both Don Bluth movies. Thumbelina is the more well-known of the two, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, and it’s cute. Not one of his absolute best but solid. And A Troll in Central Park is… kinda weird, but fun. A troll get banished to New York by a witch and befriends some kids. It’s cute. This is the kind of shit my generation grew up with, animation-wise. The kids now are spoiled. Little Women is the third major adaptation of that novel. There’s the 1933, 1949 and now this one. This one has Winona Ryder, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon and young Christian Bale. There are a lot of women my age who have everlasting crushes on Christian Bale because of this movie. It’s good, too. It’s worth seeing. I don’t think they’ve made a bad version of this story. Which is interesting, because of how hard it is to make films of novels as famous as this one.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is the first of the 90s British crossover mega hits. Written by Richard Curtis, pretty much the first of his films, it’s about Hugh Grant as a guy who said he’s never gonna get married but starts falling in love with Andie MacDowell, who he sees over the course of (insert title here). It’s fun. Other people love this more than I do. But it’s definitely one of those classic rom coms of the 90s. Beverly Hills Cop III is another one. Kinda like how Lethal Weapon III veered more into comedy than action by the third one, this kinda does the same thing. It’s Foley at an amusement park, and John Landis directed it… it’s definitely the weakest of the series, but it’s still fun. It’s Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley. You know what you’re getting, by and large. The Crow is that famous movie you’ve heard of because Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, was killed while filming it. There was a scene where his character gets shot, but for some reason real bullets were in the gun. That aside, it’s one of those 90s movies… like Dark City (also Alex Proyas) or The Matrix, where it’s this heightened, noir type city where it’s always night time and always raining. Which I like. And it’s basically a dead guy coming back as an avenging angel of sorts to get back at those who killed him. It’s fun. Though definitely more known for the production than the quality. And Swimming with Sharks is a movie that most people getting into movies find out about pretty quickly because it crosslists with those 90s movies we all seem to like. It’s a movie about a disgruntled Hollywood assistant who kidnaps his boss. Kinda like 9 to 5, but darker. It’s very solid.
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