Our Favorite Films from 1994

It’s been 25 years since 1994 and the 14 East staff is taking a trip down memory lane with our 1994: In Retrospect Issue. 1994 was an especially important year for film  exemplified by Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List winning seven Academy Awards out of its 12 nominations. The 14 East staff has compiled our favorite films of that year  from international standouts to in-your-face comedies and questionable hair and makeup choices galore.

Managing Editor Cody Corrall Chose: Chungking Express

Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express exemplifies a universal feeling of love and loss in a city that’s all too loud. It juxtaposes influential styles of French New Wave with disorientingly beautiful cinematography and manages to modernize and reinvent its common theme to stand the test of time.

Wong was heavily influenced by the works of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard in the making of Chungking Express. Like Godard, Wong was infatuated with the idea of the setting being just as alive as the film’s characters. For Godard, it was Paris — which lived and breathed in Breathless. For Wong, the sights and sounds of Hong Kong practically engulf the characters who live in it.

This is evident in the opening sequence where a mysterious woman in a blonde wig and a trenchcoat walks through an endless series of seedy, neon-lit hallways. She feels as though she is being followed, not just by the camera that gets closer as the title sequence progresses, but by someone who could be after her. This sense of fear is accentuated with the jarring and lucid cinematography of Andrew Lau which sets the tone for her story in the film.

Lau captures the bustle of Hong Kong in Chungking Express like Raoul Coutard did with Paris in Breathless — both see their respective cities as disjointed and imperfect but still full of beauty. In Chungking Express, there is an overwhelming level of care put to color and light, but many of the shots are deliberately shaky and out of focus to stimulate the bustle of Hong Kong and the desperation of the characters who live in it. Both these techniques used in conjunction make for a captivating visual style that feels like a trance you can’t quite step out of.

It’s these techniques that make Chungking Express’ less-than-unique story of being in love in a city able to have cultural and cinematic significance. After having his second feature Days of Being Wild (1990) flop commercially, Wong made movies that catered to what was popular while still having a unique viewpoint — blasting The Mama & The Papa’s “California Dreaming” until it’s almost deafening, grasping at a sense of togetherness when it’s so easy to feel alone.

Chungking Express’ strength is not necessarily in the story it tells, but how it is told. By referencing and remixing the French New Wave for a modern, isolated audience, Chungking Express remains one of the most influential visual pieces of cinema in recent memory.

Editor in Chief Madeline Happold Chose: The Crow

When I imagine a hero  — ok, my hero — I imagine a guitar-shredding, makeup-clad man of the night. He’s not an emotionless Batman, a twerpy Spiderman or a hypermasculine Superman. He’s an undead dark angel, as insane as he is moral and beautifully Gothic. He’s The Crow.

Released May 11, 1994, The Crow was destined to become a cult classic. It had everything  from a killer soundtrack to Gothic aesthetics and even untimely deaths. The film, adapted from a 1989 comic of the same title by James O’Barr, centers around hero Eric Daven (Brandon Lee), resurrected from the grave to avenge the anniversary of the death and brutal rape of his girlfriend Shelly (Sofia Shinas). Led by his spiritual crow guide, Eric’s quest for revenge turns neurotic, obsessive, as he leaps across the rooftops of a befallen Detroit searching to turn his wronged past right.

Perhaps what is most frightening — and most Gothic — about The Crow is the film’s ability to hyperbolize real-world evil. Nothing is more chilling than Eric forcing the horrors of Shelly’s death back onto the perpetrator, searing into him the pain of his own crime. It is almost a punishment worse than death — it’s ownership. Eric isn’t fighting larger-than-life supervillains, and his motive is personal. But who wouldn’t rise from the dead and kill a few cold-blooded killers for the one they love? It’s Eric’s ability to be both human and subhuman in his quest that is utterly captivating, relatable and romantic.

The Crow keeps all the grunge-y aesthetics of the ‘90s but adds a Gothic Western flair. Eric sports an all-black rough rider ensemble complete with side-slung pistols and a face of proto-Joker-esque makeup. A previous rock band singer, he shreds his guitar to a soundtrack of alternative rock/metal gold, featuring The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine and Violent Femmes.

The drama surrounding the films release helped amplify its cult lore. When filming, Lee was accidentally shot in the abdomen with a .44 Magnum bullet and spent several hours in surgery before passing on March 31, 1993. The film continued production, given that most of Lee’s scenes were already filmed, and was then dedicated to Lee and his fiance.

The Crow quickly became a hit but slowly deteriorated as a franchise with The Crow: City of Angels (1996), The Crow: Salvation (2000) and The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005). None scored over a 25 percent on Rotten Tomatoes  — compared to the original’s 81 percent — and the makeup gets progressively worse (as do the Eric-spinoffs). My takeaway: stick to the original, it’s on Netflix anyway.

Staff Illustrator Jenni Holtz Chose: Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire is a dark, atmospheric Gothic horror film concerned with the woes that come with a vampire’s immortal life: the laborious need to feed, constant isolation and the struggle to find purpose. Even with its dark premise, the film manages to have comedic moments — but in retrospect, some are certainly unintentional.

In popular culture and lore, vampires have piqued interest for centuries for their affinity for death and an offbeat sensuality. The physical act of a vampire biting a mortal resembles kissing, but there’s an extra layer involved as the vampire sucks the literal life out of their prey.

Neil Jordan’s cult classic turns these elements into a dark epic. The film follows the life of a vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt), as he recounts his life story to a journalist (Christian Slater).

Feeding as a vampire requires some quick thinking, which Lestat (Tom Cruise) exhibits through seducing his victims, often classically beautiful young women. But one night, Lestat sets his sights on Louis. Instead of killing Louis, Lestat turns him into a vampire to be his eternal companion. The pair then lives together and are eventually joined by a child vampire (Kirsten Dunst).

The main theme of the film is Louis’ moral struggle. He is now stuck as a vampire thanks to Lestat, but he does not want to harm mortals. His character contrasts the maniacal, evil vampire seen in other stories like Nosferatu (1979), Dracula (1958) and Fright Night (1985). Louis is not happy to be a vampire. It’s a life of killing and loneliness that he didn’t wish for but is now thrust upon him. A conflicted vampire like Louis makes for a more nuanced character, but also one that deviates from the traditional vampire in media. We know him better than we knew Dracula, who was shown as conniving and deceitful. Louis reveals more of himself through his interview and openness about his moral struggle, diminishing the mystery his vampirism initially evokes.

The film is long, violent and wildly entertaining for anyone who enjoys a classic vampire flick. Some elements are comical now — the long blonde wig Cruise wears is truly a sight for sore eyes — but the eerie atmosphere and moral struggle that embody this film makes it worth the watch. Looking back with 21st century eyes, Interview with the Vampire was highly influential to more recent vampire movies like the Twilight saga, which features a similarly conflicted vampire and an array of ridiculous wigs.

Associate Editor Dylan Van Sickle Chose: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and The Mask

Comedies don’t usually age like a fine wine. They’re more like a box of Franzia — cheap, best enjoyed in small doses with friends and never to be consumed again. But when I was a kid, comedy was king, and there’s no one I wanted to be more than Jim Carrey.

I mean, we were basically the same person. We both had brown hair, wore multicolor polos and had a compulsive desire to make people laugh at our own expense. The key difference between us, however, was that he was funny — and I just watched his movies.

1994 was the year Carrey made a name for himself. The three films he starred in — The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber — made nearly $320 million dollars at the box office, turning him into a bonafide star and a permanent fixture in my parents’ VHS collection.

I’ve seen all three more times than I can count. The Mask scared me, Ace Ventura taught me how to comb my hair and Dumb and Dumber was my runaway favorite. But outside of a wonderfully-executed Halloween costume with my friend a few years back, I have yet to revisit them in my adult years.

And I don’t think I really want to, either. That’s because one’s memory of a film is at times more enjoyable than the film itself — especially 25 years after it’s been released. I still smile when I think of Jim Carrey saying “Alllllllrighty then” in Ace Ventura, and I can barely get through a retelling of a scene in Dumb and Dumber without laughing — and as selfish as it may seem, I’d rather not have those memories tainted by watching it with modern eyes.

Doing so would require me to come to terms with the instant controversies that would consume these films if they were released today. It would require me to acknowledge how transphobic Ace Ventura is for having the titular character vomit twice and burn his clothes after realizing he kissed a transgender woman. It’d remind me how Cameron Diaz’s character in The Mask was little more than an object of sexual desire. And it’d make me feel guilty knowing that I laughed when Harry and Lloyd sold a blind child a decapitated bird in Dumb and Dumber.

It’s important to laugh, but it’s equally important to understand how time can change your taste. And sometimes, the best time to watch a movie is never again.

Multimedia Editor Natalie Wade Chose: The Lion King

The Lion King was one of the most memorable films from my childhood. Everything about the movie was magical — from the colorful animation to the spectacular score and the quirky characters that still have a place in my heart over a decade after I first watched it. I remember recreating the opening scene in my living room a hundred times over, butchering the words to “The Circle of Life,” and standing proudly at the edge of the sofa as I lifted my terrified shih tzu above my head.

Released June 24, 1994, this coming of age story with strong Shakespearean undertones became a Disney classic. If you haven’t seen it don’t worry, despite the movie being heavily influenced by Hamlet,there is a happy ending — could it be a Disney film without one? After prince Simba is tricked by his power-hungry uncle Scar, Scar murders Simba’s father and Simba is forced to mourn the death of his father in exile. Once he reaches adulthood, Simba returns to reclaim his home, his pride and get revenge on the usurper who now sits on the throne. In my opinion, the plot is much edgier than many of the Disney animations we see today. For example in Frozen, the death of Anna and Elsa’s parents is practically glazed over.

There are a number of reasons critics and audiences praise the film, but I speculate that one of the driving forces behind the amount of love The Lion King gets is that it does not shy away from some of the films darker themes. In fact, the film teaches us that death is not something dark but instead simply a part of life. Life, love and death are not easy concepts for a child to grasp but somehow this movie managed to make it simple for kids like me to understand. This made this film extremely impactful on my own life, because as Simba learned about these realities, so did I.

Along with the movie’s message came an unforgettable soundtrack. Who could forget the words to “Hakuna Matata”? This was thanks to the award-winning team of Tim Rice and Elton John who wrote the songs for the film and the beautiful score composed by the critically-acclaimed Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack played a critical role in the film’s success, utilizing many African percussion instruments to create a distinct sound embedded in its culture.

To this day, The Lion King is loved worldwide by both children and adults, made clear by the number of sequels and iterations of the award-winning Broadway musical that followed. Most recently a live action-play remake has been announced to be released in 2019 — but will it be able to hold up to the 1994 version that helped shape so many young minds?


Header image by Cody Corrall, 14 East.