1994 Ten Best Movies

It would be a good year to have a counterintuitive pick as Number One, just to avoid a movie that commands so much fanboy love, and inspired so many feeble imitations. Sorry, folks: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an American classic, a movie that — having shed any lingering flavor-of-the month quality — looks better today than it did when it came out.


Allow me to retort.

My introduction to the film was a bang: covering the New York Film Festival for Film Comment magazine, I missed the press screening of Pulp Fiction (that year’s big opening-night event), and thus saw the movie with a bunch of swells at the gala. In the middle of the hypodermic sequence, a man in the audience had some kind of medical event, and the movie was halted as doctors descended on the scene. He was fine, but it was as though the film itself had the ability to agitate audiences in a very, very direct way.

Pulp Fiction outpoints another fave of the 90s, Robert Benton’s Nobody’s Fool, which contains Paul Newman’s greatest film performance, as well as the splendid Heavenly Creatures. I haven’t seen The Kingdom since all five hours’ worth played in theaters in 1995, but I love its ability to sustain satirical storytelling for that long as it spreads itself out over many different characters, which it does with a Godfather-like facility. Here’s the full list of the best of 1994:

1. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)

2. Nobody’s Fool (Robert Benton)

3. Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson)

4. The Kingdom (Lars von Trier)

5. Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami)

6. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai)

7. Wild Reeds (Andre Techine)

8. 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (Michael Haneke)

9. Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski)

10. Hoop Dreams (Steve James)

Through the Olive Trees was my introduction to Kiarostami’s world, and it still seems like the ideal way in, especially when you get to the final sequence. Chungking Express I didn’t love right away, but it’s a movie that, when the penny drops, becomes pretty much adorable. And Hoop Dreams is an unexpected epic, as well as a modern turning point in the way people think about documentaries.

Pretty good year for also-rans. I have a soft spot for Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, and of course Ed Wood. And the pop-culture status of Clerks has somewhat obscured what a smart, finely-structured movie it is. Decent year for sheer pleasure, too: Quiz Show (Redford’s best film as director), Speed, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. Oh, and The Shawshank Redemption was released that year, which some future race, sifting through the remnants of our civilization, is apparently going to think was the best film of all time.

Next week: 1951.