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The Best Movies Of The Year — From 20 Years Ago


Twenty years ago, movies were movies. Great, good, bad, iconic, worth remembering.


HANNA HALL: (As Jenny) Run Forrest run.


DENNIS HOPPER: (As Howard Payne) Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50 it blows up.


JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Vincent Vega) Do know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Jules Winnfield) What do they call it?

TRAVOLTA: (As Vincent Vega) They call it a Royale with cheese.

JACKSON: (As Jules Winnfield) Royale with cheese.

MCEVERS: "The Lion King," "Forrest Gump," "Speed," "Pulp Fiction" - all of them came out in 1994. The website Grantland has been remembering the movies of 1994 in the order they came out, the week they came out. So far they have published essays about the blockbusters and the duds - anyone remember "Maverick?" Now let's be clear here, movie critics don't think 1994 was, like, way better than other years. And Grantland isn't really saying it was way better than other years. They're just saying, let's spend some time thinking about the movies of 1994. Wesley Morris has written some of these essays. He says, the best is yet to come.

WESLEY MORRIS: The year didn't really get very interesting until around summer movie season. So "Hoop Dreams" is a good example.


MORRIS: Of, you know, it's a basketball documentary.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR 1: From city streets, to the brink of fame - Isaiah Thomas - the amazing story of two boys and two families struggling against the odds.

MORRIS: That movie means something to the culture. It is worth talking about and it's worth going back and looking at how that movie changed a certain kind of documentary filmmaking.

MCEVERS: What was your favorite movie that year?

MORRIS: At the time, my favorite movie from that year was probably "Quiz Show."


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR 2: Geritol presents the exciting quiz program - Twenty One.

MORRIS: Quiz show is basically the story of the Twenty One answer fixing scandal and how that scandal managed to go all away up to Congress.


JOHN TURTURRO: (As Herbie Stempel) What if we would ask you questions that you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Well, I think I'd really rather try to beat them honestly.

TURTURRO: (As Herbie Stempel) Just an idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Was that part of the test?

MCEVERS: So, you guys have spent all of this time thinking about 1994, you've been looking at this year, looking at the movies of this year. Other than the 20 years ago thing - Why 1994?

MORRIS: Yes, it was a convenient number to choose. I think it was an excuse to, at some point, have these really big discussions about "Hoop Dreams" and "Shawshank Redemption" because they will both set the world on fire when they happen.


MORRIS: And being surprised by a lot of what else happened in that year. That was also really great news year, too, and a lot of what - it was interesting to sort of look at the release of those movies with what was also happening in the news.


MORRIS: Like the week that "Wolf" came out. I have wrote about Wolf.


JACK NICHOLSON: (As Will Randall) The wolf bit me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: I don't think so, Will.

NICHOLSON: (As Will Randall) You weren't there, Ralph.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Not all were bitten change. There must be something wild within.

MORRIS: I remember seeing "Wolf" - that Jack Nicholson turns into a werewolf movie - with Michelle Pfeiffer. I saw that movie while O.J. was in that bronco.


MORRIS: And so it's interesting looking at going from this from this Bronco situation into a movie about a guy who maybe winds up killing his wife. It's - we know that he actually didn't do it, the other werewolf did it.

MCEVERS: So now that you guys are spent all the time looking at the year - has your opinion changed of it all? Are you, like, it wasn't the good year we thought it would be - or better than we thought it was going to be?

MORRIS: You know, that's a really interesting question. I think we're committed to being honest - it's not like we're just going to give you the greatest hits. I mean, we really are going through. So far, we've done the "Segal" - we've done Segal movies, we've done "Bad Girls," we've looked at "Wolf" - which we all agree is a very, very bad movie. And we're not holding these movies up as all great. I think the other distinction to be made is that I think these movies are more culturally important than they are categorically or absolutely great and I think what we're enjoying doing is looking at what the movies themselves are, whether they hold up and then what their cultural value was 20 years ago versus what it is now.

MCEVERS: Wesley Morris is a staff writer for Grantland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.