Critics, audiences, and scouts for the upcoming Academy Awards
race generally agree: The past 12 months have been a mighty
undistinguished period for high-quality motion pictures.
Hollywood touted prom-ising productions with its usual might and
main, and moviegoers lined up for some of them in impressive
numbers. But in the end, few of the year's attractions proved as
exciting or memorable as ticket-buyers hoped they'd be.
Not that 1994 was a total loss. Major studios churned out some
solid entertainments during the warm-weather season, capitalizing
on political skulduggery in "Clear and Present Danger" and
serving up colorful performances in "The Client," which wrought
major improvements on John Grisham's dull novel.
"Quiz Show" and "Disclosure" plugged into important social
issues, with varying degrees of thoughtfulness, and late-year
releases such as "Nobody's Fool" and "Death and the Maiden"
showed that long-established actors like Paul Newman and Ben
Kingsley were more than ready for meaningful new challenges.
Hollywood also found the nerve for a bit of controversy. Oliver
Stone pushed multiple hot buttons in "Natural Born Killers," a
ferocious look at mass-media glorification of crime, and Quentin
Tarantino took a much-needed step toward artistic maturity in
"Pulp Fiction," an intricately structured blend of outrageous
mayhem and glimmering morality. Both showed more brilliance in
style than in content, but at least they gave audiences something
to debate - as did "Forrest Gump," the year's most vivid triumph
of sentiment over substance.
The very best achievements of 1994 tended to be less flashy than
these also-rans, but each contributed something special that's
likely to be remembered after more superficial achievements have
lost their momentary glow. Herewith are the year's finest films, in
no special order, with runners-up mentioned along the way:
As one of Britain's most socially alert filmmakers, Ken Loach is
ideally suited for this fact-based tale of a working-class mother
whose children are seized by welfare authorities. Crissy Rock gives
a sizzling performance as the aggrieved parent.
Another worthwhile drama based on real events is Peter Jackson's
hard-hitting "Heavenly Creatures," which recounts an awful crime
without losing compassion for the misguided youngsters who commit
Most critics rejected the meandering story of this delicate
drama and positively howled at its most audacious device - a
distorting lens that twists part of the movie into a claustrophobic
shape that mirrors the heroine's psychological distress. What
naysayers missed was the warmth and wisdom Spike Lee brings to a
subject Hollywood rarely approaches: the experiences of an
African-American youngster in an ordinary urban household.
Other first-rate movies dealing with youth and family in 1994
included Boaz Yakin's startling "Fresh," about a boy's childhood
in a drug-infested neighborhood, and Gillian Armstrong's vibrant
"Little Women," an exquisitely filmed version of Louisa May
`Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould'
At a time when high culture has all but vanished from theatrical
movies, this Canadian feature by Francois Girard takes an
unconventional look at a great pianist, composer, and philosopher
of music. It probes his quirky personality as well as his
professional accomplishments. The results are as sassy and
surprising as Gould himself, if not as bold or brilliant.
`The Shawshank Redemption'
Crime, punishment, and transcendence are the concerns of this
thoughtful prison drama, which focuses on two convicted murderers
who become friends behind bars despite their widely divergent