The movie year of 1994 posed several intriguing questions. Among the most pressing were:
Would Tom Cruise make a believable vampire?
Would Tim Allen make a believable Santa Claus?
Would Mel Gibson make a believable Maverick?
Who would boast the lower Tom Hanks, Tim Robbins or Jim Carrey?
How many movies would feature male stars with one-syllable first names?
Not all these questions were answered satisfactorily (though we know one response to that last one is “At least six”). And many more (such as “Whatever happened to the Year of the Woman?”) went unasked.
In fact, as far as years go, opinions are fairly consensual that 1994 was not the best of years, period. It may have broken box-office records, but it did so with product that more than ever began to resemble prime-time television.
What, after all, are the differences between Jim Carrey’s movies and the skits that he once did on “In Living Color”? (Answer: The movies are more family-oriented.)
The year was filled with disappointments. Both the big-budget, big-name-cast productions “Interview With the Vampire” and “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” were gore bores. “Star Trek: Generations” didn’t begin to match the best of what this new version of the popular series has achieved in syndication. The best thing you can say about “True Lies” is that it was an improvement on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last effort, “Last Action Hero.”
The year featured not one but two Keanu Reeves films (“Speed” and “Little Buddha”). It featured not one but three Brendan Fraser films (“With Honors,” “Airheads” and “The Scout”). Mercifully, it featured only a single Sylvester Stallone-Sharon Stone movie (“The Specialist”).
But when searching for how far out of touch Hollywood’s self-appointed magicians can be, we need only offer these three words: “Exit to Eden.”
There were, however, a few mainstream treats.
Child stars: Tina Majorino ably portrayed a troubled little girl in two films, “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Andre.” The sweet girl from “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Mara Wilson, followed up with a nice turn in “Miracle on 34th Street.” Sean Nelson provided “Fresh” with perhaps the year’s most heart-breaking moment.
Kirsten Dunst played a precocious blood-sucker in “Interview With the Vampire” and the youngest sister in “Little Women.”
Character comebacks: John Travolta made what is at least his third comeback in “Pulp Fiction.” Martin Landau made another grab for Oscar in “Ed Wood.” Diane Wiest gives new meaning to the term bravura in “Bullets Over Broadway.”
Casting against type: The obvious one was Pauly Shore starring as a soldier in “In the Army Now.” But then there was credentialed thespian Meryl Streep cast as a river guide in “The River Wild.” Musclebound Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as a pregnant man in “Junior.”
Terence Stamp starred as a transsexual in “Priscilla, Queen on the Desert.” And Bruce Willis starred as a guardian angel in “North.”
Romantic moments: Geena Davis and Michael Keaton sharing a moment under the stars in “Speechless.” Hugh Grant stuttering in the presence of Andie MacDowell in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Winona Ryder looking radiant as Gabriel Byrne prepares to kiss her for the first time in “Little Women.”
Easy laughs: Marilyn Ghigliotti explaining to Brian O’Halloran the significance (or insignificance) of “snowballing” in “Clerks.” Any frame featuring Jim Carrey. Selected jokes from Martin Lawrence’s “You So Crazy.” Christopher Walken’s sequence as a Vietnam ex-POW in “Pulp Fiction.”
Drama: Meg Ryan falling through a shower door in “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Ralph Fiennes admitting to his father, played by Paul Scofield, that he cheated in “Quiz Show.” Simba witnessing his father’s death in “The Lion King.” Tom Hanks witnessing the death of Mykleti Williamson in “Forrest Gump.” Johnny Depp witnessing the disintegration of Martin Landau in “Ed Wood.” Samuel L. Jackson bullying his son during a chess game in “Fresh.”
And many more.
Critic’s choices for ‘94
In any year, even a bad one, there are moments and movies to remember. Following is one critic’s choice for the top 1994 films that played Spokane. There are but nine nominees, and they are listed in no particular order:
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” - Hugh Grant is the guy, always late for his friends’ weddings, who finds love with an American divorcee played by Andie MacDowell.
“The Lion King” - Maybe it isn’t as good as some of the more recent Disney efforts, “Beauty and the Beast,” for example, or even “The Little Mermaid.” But this year it didn’t have to be.
“Barcelona” - Two guys, preppie versions of the characters from “Dumb & Dumber,” try to find love and fulfillment in Spain. Subtle hilarity.
“Fresh” - At first glance, this
appears to be just another grim story of inner-city violence. But there’s uncommon intelligence in this tale of a boy who uses chess strategy to gain revenge on his drug-peddling cronies.
“Quiz Show” - Robert Redford’s respectful look at the television quizshow scandals of the 1950s features riveting performances by Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro and Rob Morrow.
“Pulp Fiction” - It is what its title indicates, a tour of society’s dregs. But it is an uncommonly intelligent trip, making more commentary about our reactions (or non-reactions) to violence than a dozen versions of “Lethal Weapon.”
“Bullets Over Broadway” - Woody Allen doing what he does best, make a comedy about art, love and sex.
“What Happened Was…” - A triumph for independent filmmaking, this two-person comedy-drama offers the offbeat talents of Tom Noonan and Karen Sillas.
“Little Women” - Gillian Armstrong gives an old classic a new feel.
“The Shawshank Redemption,” “High Lonesome,” “Clerks,” “Natural Born Killers.”
The Bottom 10
“American Cyborg,” “Intersection,” “Golden Gate,” “On Deadly Ground,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” “Baby’s Day Out,” “Angels in the Outfield,” “The Specialist,” “Beverly Hills Cop III,” “Low Down Dirty Shame.”
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: TOP MOVIES ‘94 1. Forrest Gump $297,225,072 2. The Lion King $295,132,896 3. Mrs. Doubtfire $219,194,773 4. True Lies $146,233,459 5. The Flintstones $130,495,005 6. The Santa Clause $123,230,876 7. Clear and Present Danger $121,627,039 8. Speed $121,221,490 9. The Mask $118,212,833 10. Maverick $101,619,662 The Hollywood Reporter