Two Notable Films from 1994
1994 has two movies that I wanted to talk about and since I couldn’t choose between them, I decided to just do both. Those movies are Tim Burton’s ode to a terrible filmmaker Ed Wood and Steve James’ documentary about high school inner city African-Americans trying to make it in basketball, Hoop Dreams.
Ed Wood in the hands of most any other filmmaker would have been a light comedy about an incompetent director making schlock movies and how crazy his ideas and antics were. Writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander along with director Tim Burton though saw something far more interesting in the Wood’s story-celebrating somebody who had a genuine love for filmmaking even if he had no talent for it and was incapable of seeing this himself. While Martin Landau (deservedly) won an Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi, Johnny Depp gives the best performance of his career as Ed Wood, playing him with incredible energy and an innocence that establishes the tone for everything. For Burton, it feels out of place-it’s the only film of his that is both humanistic and has a non-fantastical in premise; it’s also probably my favorite film of his.
Hoop Dreams on the other hand is a powerful documentary that follows two promising basketball talents in inner-city Chicago (William Gates and Arthur Agee) and their trials and tribulations trying to live out the American dream through athletics, their only real avenue to escape from poverty. By following its subjects over a five year period you can really feel the growth and change of its subjects and you get a better sense for just how perilous the journey of escaping poverty can be, that things can be going great and one setback can send everything tumbling down. Both Siskel and Ebert named it the best film of 1994, and Roger Ebert even declared it the best film of the 90s, documentary or otherwise; however, it not only didn’t win Best Documentary, it wasn’t even nominated. According to Ebert, members of the Academy’s documentary nomination committee had a system in which one would wave a flashlight on screen when they gave up on the film. When a majority of the lights flashed, the film was turned off; Hoop Dreams didn’t even make it to 20 minutes. This snub (along with that of the film Crumb a year later) was considered so egregious that they changed the entire procedure for voting on documentaries as a result. Regardless, it is considered one of the greatest documentaries of all-time and is still as relevant today as when it was made.
Other Notable Films from 1994
The Madness of King George
The Lion King
Bullets over Broadway
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask & Dumb and Dumber (aka the year Jim Carrey conquered the universe)
Leon: The Professional
Three Colors: Red
1994 in Review
The Shawshank Redemption: A-
Pulp Fiction: A-
Forrest Gump: B (Won Best Picture)
Quiz Show B-
Four Weddings and a Funeral: C-
This would have been a something truly special if you replaced Four Weddings and a Funeral, a totally disposable rom-com that just happened to make loads of money, with Bullets over Broadway (which had 7 nominations but not Best Picture). I liked Forrest Gump, but it just wasn’t on the same level as the timeless Shawshank or the high-energy Pulp Fiction. Still, give the Academy credit for even nominating a movie as different for the time as Pulp Fiction or as overlooked in its initial release as Shawshank.
For 1995: The only movie to win Best Picture from the PGA, DGA and SAG but not from the Academy; nearly 1000 animals were used in the making of this film; A film considered to be one of the most historically inaccurate ever made; The writer and star of this film died of a heart attack the day after filming was completed; and with this film Emma Thompson became the only person to ever win an Oscar for both acting and writing.