Welcome to a VERY DIFFERENT yearbook column. This and the next column are an experiment where I’m going to record a bunch of microsodes and post them under one umbrella. My goal is to then use the column to focus more on the analysis rather than listing all the films and boring you before you even get to it. This is a podcast after all and frankly I had more fun with it this way. I’m giving you 17 clips to listen to covering 18 movies. Is it comprehensive? No. I’ve covered New Nightmare, The Lion King and Star Trek: Generations while The Professional and Speed just aren’t films I have much to say about. If I’m really pushed I will add a few more. But this is my column.
So here goes:
The Films of 1994
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Angels in the Outfield
D2: The Mighty Ducks
Dumb and Dumber
The Little Rascals
The Pagemaster/Richie Rich
The Return of Jafar
The Santa Clause
The Shawshank Redemption
The Swan Princess
The Themes of 1994
Nostalgia ruled. 1994 is almost repulsive in how drenched in baby boomer nostalgia it was. The Flintstones and Forrest Gump were the big examples but other films like Star Trek Generations, Lassie, Maverick, Miracle on 34th Street, Car 54 Where Are You, The Little Rascals, and The Shadow tried to tap the same vein to varying effect. It was more than a bit cloying if you were a kid.
Jim Carrey was a god. I’m not sure what to make of his annus mirabilis from the perspective of 23 years later really. It was a fluke few actors will ever see. He just hit the zeitgeist at the perfect time. I think 2 of the 3 films are at least good but they typecast him hard.
Family films were (in theory) huge business. There were a ton of family films in 1994, seemingly one a week. They really were everywhere. So here’s the funny thing: they weren’t as successful as you’d think. Most of them struggled to break 50 million. Only 3 made the top 10 highest grossers of the year. so why was that: I have an easy theory: these were meant for video by and large. Blank Check was never meant for a big screen nor was Monkey Trouble. But they got hype and headed on to their real markets.
There were sequels and they were weird. Sure some sequels made sense like Beverly Hills Cop III (even if it was bad) and Clear and Present Danger but the vast majority were strange. Comedy sequels like Major League II and City Slickers 2 explained why comedy sequels are a bad idea. Death Wish 5 and the barely released Police Academy 7 were way too late. There was no reason for The Next Karate Kid but it existed anyway. My Girl 2 isn’t bad but it’s so unneeded.
There was need for change. Looking at this year’s slate, I’m struck by how much the films resembled the movies of the early 80s rather than even 1993. The industry was stuck in a rut of sitcom style comedies (which wouldn’t abate until 1999) and cheap action. The revolution did come and it came due to several key voices. Quentin Tarantino had a nearly universe reshaping impact on the business, introducing a level of wit and originality that set a tone for the serious films to come. Kevin Smith’s very minor Clerks also provided a similar impact, turning comedies from broad Francis Veber type outings to the dialogue fests of late.
Did the Oscars get it right? Sure. I’m not sure how I feel about Gump but not bad overall. Acting categories were right and just the Oscar hype started the redemption of The Shawshank Redemption. So yeah, not bad.
The worst of 1994
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Trash then. Trash now.
- North. No need to go further.
- Milk Money. I feel like I need to know what made this movie exist.
- Star Trek: Generations. The ultimate wasted opportunity.
The best of 1994
- The Shawshank Redemption. Some classics are indeed classics
- Pulp Fiction. Tarantino arrives.
- Quiz Show. Classic style filmmaking defined.
- The Lion King. Another deserved classic.
- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The finest hour of one of our most underrated geniuses.
- Dumb and Dumber. I’m allowed to put this here.
Next up: 1995.