What Was The Greatest Summer In Movie History? 1994

1994 – Does the greatest year make the greatest summer?

There is a good reason 1994
is considered the best year ever

If you do a search for what was the greatest year in movie history you will see a lot of articles arguing for any number of different years. The two that are at or near the top of most lists are 1939 (hard to beat with Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) and 1994. 1994 packs an impressive list of movie like Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Bullets Over Broadway, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ed Wood, Dumb and Dumber and Belle Epoque (a brilliant Spanish movie directed by Fernando Trueba and starring a young Penelope Cruz), that were littered throughout the year (this year definitely holds the record for number of small of independent movies that became classics). But none of the movies I just listed were released in the summer. So what does the greatest year in movies of the last 50 years (I’m not ready to give it the title of 1939 quite yet) have as its summer lineup? Some good, some bad(ass) and some REALLY ugly.

The Good:

  • Forest Gump – there is no way to talk about 1994 without beginning with Forest Gump. It was everything. It was a drama and a comedy, it was a blockbuster and a very personal story. One other thing it was was a movie of its moment. I remember 2 years after Forest Gump was out in the theaters a friend of mine brought his wife and young brother-in-law over to my house to watch a fight. When the fight ended on HBO Forest Gump came on and we all started watching. My friends wife was younger (maybe 21 at the time) and her brother was younger still (maybe 15). My buddy and I are watching and every time a song comes on we start talking about why we remember that song. Every time Forest goes somewhere or buys something it sparks another conversation of “remember those”. Finally, when Jennie gives Forest his running shoes and Forest says it was the greatest gift you could get, I turn to my pal and start telling him how in high school the Nike Cortez sneaker (the same ones Forest got) were the coolest thing, but we all wanted the red swoosh. My friend says it was true in his school too, but they all wanted the blue. And we look over to his wife and her little brother and they both have nothing but blank stares. Forest Gump is all about nostalgia and inside jokes – the problem is if you didn’t live through any of it the jokes mean nothing and there is no nostalgia. They liked Forest Gump fine, but none of it resonates like it does to a baby boomer, because it is a movie made for and by baby boomers. And one more thing… Run Forest, Run!
The greatest animated
feature of all time?
  • The Lion King – speaking of things that are often at the top of “best of” lists, go check out how many times Lion King is on the top of best animated movies lists. Disney’s animation department was on a bit of a roll in the early nineties with The Little Mermaid, Aladin and Beauty and the Beast. But as great as those other three movies were The Lion King took the thing to a different level. Simba watching his father, Musafa, die is one of the most heart wrenching moments in movie history. Having a story that deals with family, loss, guilt and responsibility in such deep manner isn’t just hard to find in other family films, its hard to find in any other films.
  • Clear and Present Danger – I feel a little bad putting this next to those first two, but while this may not be “classic” it really is quite good. While Harrison Ford’s first turn as Jack Ryan felt clunky and forced and paled in comparison to what Alec Baldwin had done with the character in The Hunt For Red October in his second turn as the professor turned analyst for the CIA Ford and the filmmakers have discovered how he works in this universe. A little long, but well paced and a nice turn by Willem Dafoe makes this movie hum along.
  • Crooklyn – maybe not a Spike Lee classic along the lines of Do The Right Thing or Malcolm X, this personal and autobiographical turn is really elevated by the two lead performances from Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo.
  • Wyatt Earp – yes, this was yet another example of the fact that Kevin Costner takes himself way too seriously and it wasn’t as entertaining as Kurt Russell’s Tombstone which had come out only a few months before, but Dennis Quaid is amazing as Doc Holliday and the rest of the movie is quite good albeit in need of some serious editing.
  • The Client – the last pretty good John Grisham movie adaptation which is helped mightily by the always great Susan Sarandon and one of the better child acting jobs by Brad Renfro. I do have to say however that Anthony LaPaglia’s  Berry “the Blade” is one of the least believable characters I have ever seen in any movie.
The Bad(ass):

  • True Lies – I have been really glad to see that this is a movie that is starting to crawl back into people’s consciousness. In the James Cameron/Arnold Schwarzenegger film catalog this was too often overlooked but this fun and fast spy action/comedy flick deserves better. In fact, what it really deserves is a sequel. But since James Cameron is now stuck in the Avatar business I doubt we will ever get one.
  • Speed – talk about fast and fun movies, this movie flew by and solidified Sandra Bullock as a star. Yes, the sequel is beyond dreadful, but we can’t hold that against the original, can we?
  • The Crow – there has been some chatter that they are going to remake this or relaunch this franchise, that would be a mistake. The fact that the star tragically died in the making of it only adds to the creepy feel of the movie and it kind of breaks the heart watching it, realizing that Jason Lee was on the cusp of becoming something.
  • The Mask – hello Cameron Diaz, you make a solid femme fatal. Jim Carrey is the only person maybe who has ever lived that could make this movie what it was (if you don’t believe me just try watching the sequels). What should be silly and childish was endlessly entertaining and wildly inventive.
  • Natural Born Killers – Robert Downey, Jr. kind of steals this movie for me, but saying that makes it sound like I don’t love Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, which isn’t the case at all. Tarantino wrote it, Oliver Stone directed it. It is out there and violent and funny and the last good movie Oliver has made and may ever make. Check out RDJ’s death if you want to get a feel for how twisted this flick was:
The REALLY Ugly:
Why Billy?
Why’d you bring him back?
  • The Flintstones – the casting seemed right (except Rosie O’Donnell as Betty which was just all wrong) but I suppose we all should have asked ourselves “why are we trying to make a live action cartoon?”
  • The Little Rascals – why did we want to mess with something that endured and yet was so much a product of its own time? Makes no sense now, made no sense then.
  • Angels in the Outfield – man, did I hate this movie
  • Beverly Hills Cop III – here is a tip if you are ever wondering if an Eddie Murphy movie is dreadful – if Eddie does not promote it it is unwatchably horrific. Pluto Nash, Eddie wouldn’t promote it and it would be on a bottom ten list for any of the very few of us who saw it. The liar movie that was finally released after being “in the can” for 2+ years. And Beverly Hills Cop III, which he begrudgingly promoted but you could almost hear him trying to tell you “don’t go see this, it is horrible!” In fact he has admitted as much in recent years.
  • City Slicker 2… – the rest of the title had something to do with Curly and gold and who cares. Jack Palance died in the first one, it was touching and life changing and is completely negated by bringing his twin brother in for this wretched flick.
  • The Shadow – Alec Baldwin’s would be blockbuster. Not as ugly as the others on this list, but that is exceptionally faint praise.
  • I Love Trouble – Julia Roberts has exceptionally few bombs, particularly when she was still at the height of her powers, but here is one. Another horrible attempt to make a His Girl Friday-esque journalist movie.
So, do the Good and the Bad(ass) make up for the Ugly? Enough to make this a contender but I doubt enough to make it a winner. Let’s put it this way, In The Army Now, that Pauley Shore/Andy Dick Stripes wannabe, looks good in comparison to much of this summer’s fare. Maverick, the Mel Gibson/Jodie Foster/James Garner remake of the popular TV show and as forgettable (mildly entertaining but forgettable) a movie as I can’t remember (see what I did there) almost made the good list. Enough said.