Best Dumb Action Film
Who knows what type of stars need to align to get veteran thespians Jeff Bridges to go head to head with Tommy Lee Jones in a…dumb action movie. Whatever it was, 1994 gave us Blown Away, a film with heart about villainous IRA ex con Jones clashing with Boston bomb squad all-star Bridges. Even cool 90’s action director Stephen (Judgment Night) Hopkins is involved. Put all these pieces together and add a moving soundtrack, you get a curious, confounding, but ultimately absorbing dumb action movie. A rare “B” caliber flick in an “A” list body.
Best Horror Film
Natural Born Killers
Not “Horror” in the standard sense, but horrifying and bone chilling nonetheless. Oliver Stones’ comment about America’s love affair with violence and celebrity caused much controversy ten years ago. Filmed like a nightmare, haunted by demons Juliet Lewis and Woody Harrelson, NBK can only be stomached once before realizing that the truly scary aspect of the film is recognizing Oliver Stone had forgotten how to make engaging movies that matter.
Best Movie to watch on a Fast Day
The Shawshank Redemption
Quiz Show or Shawshank? Shawshank or Quiz Show? Who am I kidding?! The Shawshank Redemption, for an inexplicable reason, is so freaking Jewish its scary. Whether its Tim Robbins doing his at peace Chasid imitation or Morgan Freeman’s sage like advice, Frank Darabont’s revolutionary feature just makes you feel both despair and elation. It’ll take up a few hours, its involving, and after seeing Robbins’ Andy Dufresne crawl through ten miles of fecal matter, you won’t want to eat.
Best spawn of Boyz N the Hood
Above the Rim
Weak year for the urban drama, with the exception of excellent documentary Hoop Dreams (not eligible for this list), however a another basketball picture tried, with some success, to capture the travails and challenges of ghetto life. Above the Rim, starring hot African American actors such as Bernie Mac, Marlon Wayans, Leon, and of course deceased thug Tupac Shakur, tells the story of street ballers, violence, drugs, and redemption, and is certainly beholden to Singleton’s vision. It also mark the Hollywoodization of the “ghetto” film.
Best Tom Cruise Film
Interview with the Vampire
Easy. Forget Oceans 11, 12, or 13, Interview with the Vampire was the star studded event of the day. Put Clooney and Damon together and you still wouldn’t get Tom Cruise. Add Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst,, Stephen Rea, director Neil (Crying Game) Jordan, and a book by Anne Rice, and I am exhausted from all this pop culture prominence. The movie is long and draining (non pun intended) but Cruise is riveting as a tormented, tormenting blood sucker (why is everyone so shocked that Cruise played a bad guy in Collateral when he did this movie ten years ago). Its also a chance to see Kirsten Dunst in a rare performance that requires more acting than jiggling – and she’s unreal. Also, if you stick around to the very end of the credits you’ll see a dedication to the late great River Phoenix, who died of an overdose before his role as the interviewer (eventually given to Slater) was finished shooting.
Best Absurd Comedy
Yes, the arguable winner of best “all-time” absurd comedy is 94’s Cabin Boy starring Get A Life’s Chris Elliot and monkey peddling Letterman, but I would not have made it through my senior year in high school without Droz, Moles, Katie, Gutter, the Daves, Celia, Ruggie, and Deej (i.e. The Pit People). The stars like Jeremy Piven, now on Entourage, and Jon Favreau (Swingers) have become household names. Every line is quotable, every gesture imitable. Hart Bochner’s toast to college campus life made me really not want to go to YU. Damn you terrible grades and sub-standard SAT score!!!
The Last Seduction
Tough year to win this one. Both Wes (Life Aquatic) Anderson and Kevin (Jersey Girl) Smith debuted this year with a resounding “I’m Here!” as Bottle Rocket and Clerks hit theatres. However, the most impressive independent which actually was first shown on cable but garnered such praise that it made it to the big screen, was John Dahl’s The Last Seduction. Strong performances by virtually unknown Linda Fiorentino and Bill Pullman elevated this twisting, turning thriller to the top of the heap. Dahl (Rounders), flopped the next year with Unforgettable, and has subsequently slipped beneath the more prodigious Smith and Anderson on the radar of relevant filmmakers.
Best Date Movie
Obvious choice is Four wedding and a Funeral, but this list would not be complete without Robert Zemeckis’ man-child, baby boomer masterpiece Forrest Gump – and if you think about it, it doesn’t get much more romantic than Gump (Tom Hanks) and Jenny (Robin Wright). The movie is a sweeping emotional roller-coaster which leaves plenty of time for hand holding and discussions over coffee. Also, fooling around with person next to you in a dark theater is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get (especially if you came to the movie by yourself or with a relative).
Best Underrated Drama
I Love Trouble
Bare with me here: I Love Trouble is a very enjoyable movie. Smart writing and stylish direction by Charles Shyer (of this year’s Alfie remake), it stands out as a daring, exciting piece of story telling. Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts play reporters on the trail of a dangerous scoop. Their banter is sharp and chemistry surprisingly good in this battle of the sexes caper. Despite the leads’ fame, the movie didn’t make much of an impact when it was released, but worth revisiting for some vintage Roberts making one of her interesting mid 90’s career choices(i.e., Mary Reilly)
I would go medieval on my own ass if I didn’t pick Tarantino’s post Reservoir Dogs tour de force as the top film of 1994. Oscar voters went with the safer Gump, but for sheer power filmmaking, seamless complex story arch development, and stone cold exhilaration the whole way through, Fiction has no equal. There is even some decent philosophy thrown in if you pay attention. Maybe after listening to all the hacks that have copied Quentin since, some of our appreciation for his writing has been diluted, but at the time, this was just plain refreshing. Jackson, Travolta, Willis, Rhames, and Uma owe Tarantino a royalty for every movie they’ve made since. Pulp Fiction single handedly revived careers and the entire art form.
Worst Film of the Year
Ten years later this may seem silly, but Street Fighter was responsible for destroying the career of Jean Claude Van Damme. Up until that point, he had been on the rise, and the Sega video game movie was to be his first major blockbuster. The director, Steven de Souza was a big-time player in the action community having scripted Beverly Hills Cop and Die Hard movies. When the film tanked – because it was absolutely awful from start to finish – it became glaringly apparent that Van Damme was never meant for the big time and his Arnold-in-waiting card was revoked. The worst and most disgraceful aspect of this affair was that the supporting cast included real actors like Wes Studi and Ming-Na embarrassing the hell out of themselves. To add insult to devastating injury, the movie was released after the death of Raul Julia so it became his last film. How tragic that such a great, vibrant actor needed to be seen in such a ridiculous film where his physical body is on display, clearly wasting away.