Oscar Rewrite: 1994


Best Picture: Forrest Gump     The Shawshank Redemption

The battle of ’94 was incredible. Academy voters preferred Forrest Gump for its charm. Historians praise Pulp Fiction for its shattered conventions. But if listmaking is at least part democracy, the people have spoken. Even my personal taste for Bubba Gump shrimp must bow before the people, who have kept up the pressure and, over time, transformed Shawshank from box office flop to IMDB’s top rating. That’s all it takes sometimes: pressure and time. That and a big god-damned poster.

Best Director: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)  Robert Redford (Quiz Show)

After “Canon in D Major” montages in Ordinary People and poetic fly-fishing in A River Runs Through It, Redford did his best work in Quiz Show, nailing Charles Van Doren’s moral quandary with network execs invading his cinematic space and crane shots showing his pressure-cooked choices.

Best Actor: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump)

When Tom Hanks followed Philadelphia with his second straight Best Actor for Gump, he said, “I think if I’m nominated for anything next year, there’ll be a wave of suicide jumpers from the third tier of the Chandler Pavilion.” But can you blame the Academy? Hanks did it all: he ate chocolates, broke leg-brace barriers, taught Elvis to dance, returned kickoffs for Bear Bryant, saved troops in Vietnam, made ping-pong peace with China, mooned sitting presidents, exposed Watergate, launched a gazillion-dollar shrimpin’ business, jogged across the country and kissed Jenny in the Reflecting Pool.

Best Actress: Jessica Lange (Blue Sky)   Irene Jacob (Three Colors: Red)

Irene Jacob won Best Actress at Cannes for Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991), but her best Kieslowski film was Three Colors: Red, the grand finale of his Three Colors Trilogy.

Best Supporting Actor: Martin Landau (Ed Wood) Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Speed)

If Jim Carrey was the “dumb” leading man, that must make Jeff Daniels the “dumber” support. But stupid is as stupid does. Daniels offered Speed the same year, while Carrey added Ace Ventura and The Mask. Still, their Dumb & Dumber collaboration remains arguably the most quoted comedy of the ’90s, while the blue and orange tuxedos are an annual Halloween staple. As Roger Ebert said, “There’s a moment in Dumb and Dumber that made me laugh so loudly I embarrassed myself.” Roger, Roger.

Best Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway)  Sarah Jessica Parker (Ed Wood)

Dianne Wiest was hysterical in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway — “Don’t speak! Don’t speak!” — but we’ve got to honor this pre-Carrie Bradshaw gem from Sarah Jessica Parker via Tim Burton.

Best Original Screenplay:  Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary)

Voted the WGA’s No. 16 Greatest Screenplay, Quentin Tarantino exploded conventions with non-linear vignettes (The Bonnie Situation), memorable characters (Marsellus Wallace), jaw-dropping twists (The Gimp), a killer soundtrack (“Misirlou”), witty banter (“Royale with Cheese”), Biblical philosophizing (Ezekial 25:17) and plenty of pop culture references (“We’re gonna be like three little Fonzies”). Countless imitators have tried and failed to replicate this cinematic shockwave.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Forrest Gump (Eric Roth from a novel by Winston Groom)   The Lion King (Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton from a play by William Shakespeare)

None of the above films grossed as much as The Lion King. After three straight hits in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, Disney dropped Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the African savannah, where Mufassa (James Earl Jones) explained the “Circle of Life,” brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) had him whacked, and prince Simba weighed whether “to be or not to be” king of the jungle. Timeless tunes by Elton John and Tim Rice cement arguably the greatest animated film of all time.


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