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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top 10 movies of 1994

The best films of the year, with the usual caveats

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 26, 1994 -- 1994 was a terrific year for Hollywood both artistically and economically as Americans spent record amounts of money at the box office and saw some new American classic films.

This was the year that ``Forrest Gump'' broke box office records with its whimsical jaunt through the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. It was also the year that a talented young director, Quentin Tarantino, came into his own with the savage, existential and stunning ``Pulp Fiction.'' Based on the success of ``Pulp Fiction'' and the cult film status of ``Reservoir Dogs,'' Tarantino is already a giant talent in the film industry.

The other big movie of the year, ``The Lion King,'' wasn't one of the best films of the year, but it did have one of the best opening sequences of any film of the year with that rousing rendition of Elton John's ``Circle of Life'' and stunning animation.

Here's my best 10 movies of the year with the usual caveats. I haven't seen a lot of films that other critics put into their top 10 lists because I don't get to any film festivals. Here are some of the supposedly good films I haven't seen: Woody Allen's ``Bullets Over Broadway,'' ``The Last Seduction,'' ``The Blue Kite,'' ``Blue,'' ``Blue Skies,'' ``Fresh,'' ``The New Age,'' ``Hoop Dreams'' ``Red,'' ``White,'' ``Guelwaar'' ``Jamon Jamon'' ``Ladybird, Ladybird,'' ``Sugar Hill,'' ``Vanya on 42nd Street'' and the ``Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,'' among many others.

``Red, White and Blue'' are a trilogy of films by Polish-born French director Krzysztof Kieslowski which were all released in 1994 in the U.S., but were actually made over a period of years. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of them, but they are supposed to be quite good. The colors stand for the colors in the French flag.

1. Of those many films I did see, ``Forrest Gump'' was definitely the best with its beautiful photography, great soundtrack, Oscar-quality acting by Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise, great special effects and powerful script. It is a classic, but it probably won't mean as much to those born after the Vietnam war as it does to those of us who lived through it. It probably won't win an Oscar because it won't be considered artistic enough (it isn't depressing enough) by those who actually vote on such things.

2. ``Little Women'' is another classic American story that will stand the test of time. The 1994 version, starring Winona Ryder, has a feminist slant to it that makes it relevant.

3. ``Pulp Fiction,'' the stunning Tarantino film with its endless interwoven flashbacks, is a triumph of form over substance. The film takes a short cut to character development by using entirely stupid and shallow criminal characters who basically have no character to develop. The question is, can this formula work with intelligent characters and with a story that tells us something about the human condition?

4. ``Quiz Show'' is a well-crafted film about the quiz show scandals that rocked the nation in 1954. Directed by Robert Redford, it deftly explores how a noble academic family and a crass opportunist both get sucked into the scandal and how those really responsible got away with it.

5. ``The Shawshank Redemption'' had great performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as prisoners in a brutal environment who don't lose their hope. There's also a nice supporting performance by James Whitmore. It is a great film about faith and hope in the face of brutality and despair.

6. ``Speed,'' the all-out summer action film was one of the best action films I have seen in years. It has one cliffhanger after another. The only drawback is an unbelievable scene of a bus jumping a 50-foot gap in a freeway ramp. Dennis Hopper is outstanding as the mad bomber.

7. ``When a Man Loves a Woman'' is a story of an alcoholic woman (Meg Ryan) and how her recovery threatens her marriage to her husband (Andy Garcia) because he is used to her dependence on him. A fresh, adult look at an old theme in Hollywood.

8. ``The Crow'' is another action film that was long on style. The haunting performance of the late Brandon Lee and the wonderful photography, set design and powerful soundtrack combined for a memorable film experience.

9. ``It Could Happen to You'' was the kind of romantic comedy that Hollywood used to do so well, but you hardly see anymore. The acting by Nicholas Cage, Bridget Fonda and Rosie Perez is outstanding. The music and writing are also top notch.

10. ``Barcelona'' is a Woody Allen-type look at the thirty-something generation. A good follow up to ``Metropolitan,'' it does a hilarious job of developing characters and exposing their flaws. The dialogue is as witty as anything written this year.

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Copyright © 1994 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)