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Rob's Top Ten Movies of 1994


 

#10: Speed

As I've said elsewhere in these lists, you have to recognize genius where you find it, and this one has a genius for momentum -- it is the perfect summer thriller, almost Zen in its purity.

#9: The Madness of King George

The late Nigel Hawthorne didn't have a lot of chances to capitalize (in movies, anyway) on his attention-getting performance here, but he's not the only show in town -- see it also for Helen Mirren as the loyal and despairing queen, and Ian Holm as the severe and forbidding court physician.

 

#8: Clerks

Straight out of Jersey. Kevin Smith's debut was instantly recognized as a Gen-X spritz of endlessly quotable dialogue; its status as a modern comedy classic is by now unquestionable and writ in stone.

 

#7: I Like It Like That

Why didn't Darnell Martin get lots of other chances to direct? Her debut does everything right (she and three of this film's actors would reunite for the series premiere of HBO's Oz), and she gave every indication of being a forceful, original, and undeniably female voice in film.

 

#6: Cobb

The best Tommy Lee Jones performance you've probably never seen (the second best is in Tony Richardson's Blue Sky). Ron Shelton's ornery drama doesn't pretend to be a conventional biopic -- it's more about Cobb biographer Al Stump's time with the dying old bastard in his twilight years.

 

#5: Forrest Gump

Yes, yes, you got sick of it, I got sick of it, we all got sick of it. But see it again detached from the hype and Oscars -- it's an enthralling fantasia about recent American history as seen through the eyes of a man who can't possibly comprehend it.

 

#4: The Hudsucker Proxy

The Coens' most expensive flop is also among their funniest -- Tim Robbins goofing around ("Y'know, for kids!"), Paul Newman relishing the chance to play a cynical power-grabber, and Jennifer Jason Leigh lightening up and putting some Moxie into her line readings. A beautiful machine, unaccountably a pet project of Joel Silver, who took a bath on this and atoned for a lot of the summer crap he was responsible for.

 

#3: Quiz Show

Years later, I can't get over how perfectly constructed Paul Attanasio's script is -- he takes the opening scene (Rob Morrow shopping for a car) and turns it into a summation of all the film's themes. Robert Redford's liveliest, smartest movie as a director, with Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro only the most obvious among the top-rank performers.

 

#2: Pulp Fiction

Long but seldom boring (though the Butch-Fabienne scenes tend to drag a bit), Quentin Tarantino's ultimate-cool triptych juggles its plots, characters, and themes so lightly and expertly it's as if this were Tarantino's 22nd film instead of only his second.

 

#1: Heavenly Creatures

Strange and beautiful. Peter Jackson creates a world for his addled heroines from which there is no easy or sane exit; he follows them every step of the way, and so do we.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
The Brit crossover hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, even though I'd pick Kristin Scott Thomas over Andie McDowell any day ... Denis Leary tormenting Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis in The Ref ... the moving documentary Hoop Dreams, which stupidly didn't get nominated for an Oscar ... John Waters' witty, very-much-of-its-time Serial Mom ... Jeremy Piven keeping PCU going pretty much by himself ... The Lion King, one of the few Disney films I'm not allergic to ... James Cameron's full metal comedy True Lies ... Richard Rush's endearingly ridiculous Color of Night ... a pig standing trial in the offbeat The Advocate ... Frank Darabont's somewhat self-important but still solid The Shawshank Redemption ... Roman Polanski's upsetting Death and the Maiden ... Tom Noonan's disquieting What Happened Was ... Neil Jordan's lush bloodsucker fantasy Interview with the Vampire (yes, Tom Cruise is Lestat -- got a problem with that?) ... Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Luc Besson's The Professional ... the Farrelly brothers' gross-out hit Dumb and Dumber ... Barry Levinson's better-than-it-deserved-to-be Disclosure ... Stephan Elliott's glitzy and ingratiating The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert ... and Woody Allen's fine period comedy Bullets Over Broadway.


SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION

 
Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers was the lightning rod of the year. Sure, its satire was sometimes (okay, often) hamfisted. And sure, for some the Popeil's Slice-and-Dice cinematic style was headache-inducing. Still, it gets under your skin like few other films, and pretty much no other major-studio releases.


Rob's Top Ten WORST Movies of 1994

 

#10: StarGate

You probably need to be a sci-fi-obsessed 10-year-old to follow the plot. Since I'm not...

 

#9: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Kenneth Branagh going way over the top. Sometimes this works for him. This time it didn't.

 

#8: Barcelona

Whit Stillman's sophomore effort already showed signs of been-there, done-that -- his talky, literate style worked better with teenagers. We see enough movies with jaded twentysomethings blathering endlessly.

 

#7: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Here's Jim Carrey all too aware that he's got something to prove -- his undeniable talent at physical comedy -- and acting as though this film were the only chance he had left to reach us before he died. As a result he never lets up for even a second. It's exhausting to watch. Later he would learn to dial it down a bit.

 

#6: Killing Zoe

Roger Avary didn't make a very good first impression with his directing debut, which played like a wannabe-hip Reservoir Dogs without the narrative dexterity or verbal dazzle.

 

#5: Legends of the Fall

Macho grandiloquent nonsense, with Julia Ormond treated like a coveted baseball card passed from man to man, Brad Pitt attending what seems like a dozen funerals, and Anthony Hopkins squinting like Popeye after a stroke and grunting "Screw 'em! Screw 'em!" Screw this.

 

#4: Wyatt Earp

It goes on for about 19 days; Dennis Quaid's compelling turn as Doc Holliday almost makes it worth the epic sit, but Kevin Costner is a complete whistling vacuum at the film's core, and most of our time is spent with him.

 

#3: The Crow

This was Brandon Lee's last movie. It should've been the director's last. A fashionably "dark" and incoherent botch, destined to be a cult favorite among those who dote on such things.

 

#2: Blown Away

Bottom-drawer performances from the usually great Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones -- yes, lean back from the computer and wrap your mind around that concept: bad performances from those guys -- made this routine kaboom garbage all the more painful, though better acting probably wouldn't have redeemed it much.

 

#1: Nell

"Chick-a-bay." Who didn't cringe through this? What did Jodie Foster think she was doing? Can't Liam Neeson keep his pants on?


SPECIAL DISHONORABLE MENTION

 
Kim Henkel's The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (later released in 1997 under a different title -- see artwork, left) set the bar lower for belated, needless horror sequels. Much lower.


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