The Best of 1994

Pulp Fiction
Let's see...we've got a gangster's moll overdosing and getting stabbed in the sternum with a foot-long hypo, a hitman inadvertantly blowing the brains of a young punk all over the back window of a car, two sadistic rednecks who keep a leather clad geek chained in their basement for those special occasions..."Ernest Saves Christmas" this ain't and if you simply detailed the plot elements for the average moviegoer, they'd likely opt to stay home and see what's on the tube. But it's Quentin Tarantino and somehow, he can pull this stuff off.

Bullets Over Broadway
Woody Allen's most fully realized comic vehicle in ages, BOB is a charming period piece. It's witty, brainy and evocative. The acting is all top-notch, too, though John Cusack made perhaps not the wisest choice in opting for a bald-faced impersonation of Woody himself. I mean, the role of the young playwright clearly is Woody's stand-in, we didn't really require a stuttering, stammering Cusack to accentuate the connection. But I'm nitpicking.

The Hudsucker Proxy
The Coen Brothers' lush, gorgeous tribute to the glory days of the movie comedy offers a tip of the hat to the likes of Sturges and Capra, gives Jennifer Jason Leigh an opportunity to work through some Hepburn/Stanwyk/Roz Russell issues and allows Paul Newman to haev some fun as the bad guy. A charming, quirky film that deserved a bigger audience.

Quiz Show
This thoughtful portrayal of the quiz show scandals of the 1950's is, quite simply, one of the two or three best American releases of the year. Quiz Show offers an insightful script, well-paced direction, terrific acting (save for questionable accents on the parts of Rob Morrow and Ralph Fiennes) and, alas, a dearth of graphic violence and special effects. No wonder it disappointed at the box office.

32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
The late Glenn Gould, acclaimed pianist and eccentric, is well-serve by this cinematic biography. As the title suggests, this is a compendium of short films about the artist, each focusing on a different aspect of the man. He is revealed to us, little by little, in small revelations that slowly create a picture of the artist. And though his music is present throughout the film, we never actually see Gould performing. Even the segment entitled The Last Concert takes us right up to the moment the climactic performance is to begin and then, a fade...

This tale of the Beatles' earliest days is an enchanting piece of work. The script is taut, the music rocks, the acting is aces and Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer) frees herself from a sweater with an elan and an aplomb unparalleled in the history of the silver screen.

Ed Wood
As an unabashed paid-in-full member of the Cult of Ed and an admirer of Tim Burton's work, I eagerly anticipated this film and was not disappointed. What delight to see the behind-the-scenes strivings of the angora-ed one brought to life onscreen. Burton gets it. He digs just what it is that draws Edwoodians to the Master's motley handful of movies time and time again. Ed would have loved this film, I'm convinced.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
You say you've had your fill of movies about drag queens traversing the Australian Outback on the way to a gig? You and me both, brother, but give this one a chance. Priscilla seems to be this year's entry in what seems to be an ongoing pattern: the annual importing of a quirky, low-budget film from Down Under. In essence, Priscilla is this year's Strictly Ballroom and I mean that in a good way.

Natural Born Killers
This is undeniably powerful film-making and it is easy to buy into Oliver Stone's assertion that he meant this violent fable to be taken as satire. And yes, the tabloid media and our society's growing indifference to, even glamorization of, violence take some hits here. But I caught NBK at a Supersavers cinema in Oklahoma City, amidst an audience comprised largely of fourteen and fifteen year-olds and I'm not sure they were picking up on the irony. They were just grooving on the gore. One man's incisive satire is another man's sleazy exploitation flick.

The Shawshank Redemption
This gritty prison tale of redemption, not the rather saccharine Forrest Gump, was, for my money, Hollywood's feel-good movie of the year. While the latter suggested that all life requires is a good heart, the former suggests that a brain clicking on all cylinders doesn't hurt.

Four Weddings and a Funeral
It's a shame but I just don't like many modern comedies. Too often they are merely star vehicles featuring some TV star or other (witness the long string of SNL alumni who have made the move to the big screen). The producers seem to feel that having the TV personality parrot his small screen stuff overrides the need for a quality script and nuanced acting. 4W+F is the welcomed exception to this rule. The script has wit and heart, the direction is crisp and the acting, save the floundering work of Andie MacDowell, is top-notch.

Spanking The Monkey
I approached this one with extreme caution. I'd heard it described as a comedy about incest, which, frankly, struck me as a tough nut to crack. However, if this is simply a comedy about incest, then The Graduate is merely a comedy about adultery. Forbidden sex, as it turns out (to my great relief, I'll admit), plays a relatively small role in the film. This is an alternately funny and depressing portrait of ennui and familial dysfunction in the suburbs, of a young man who is so down-trodden, so paralyzed by his disturbed and unhappy parents, that he clearly hasn't a clue how to break free and make a healthy life for himself. A very crisp script, interesting camera work and believeable acting make this disturbing subject matter rather compelling.

Red Rock West
A hapless, out-of-work ex-marine travels from Texas to Wyoming in search of work. Through a twist of fate, he winds up in bad company, caught up in a web of murder, deceit and dirty money. Oh, and, surprise, there's a woman involved who's nothing but bad news. This film carries on the film noir tradition in fine fashion. And somewhere, James M. Cain is smiling.

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