People always lament the state of 1994 because Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump. You know me well enough to discern that I’m not too hot on Tarantino (even if I will admit that Pulp Fiction is one of his more tempered pieces). The thing is, neither of the two was the best film that year so it’s really an argument to no end. Morgan Freeman is a bit of an anomaly as far as I’m concerned. I genuinely like the man, and he’d be somewhere in my top 100 perhaps even my top 50 actors but I’m never particularly fond of his performances. Time after time, he just seems to be on autopilot. Still, I can let these moments of autopilot pass because there is one Morgan performance that never fails to impress; his enviable performance in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a brilliant performance that stands out in an ensemble. Incidentally, the same can be said for Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway, the other juggernaut from 1994. Woody has always had a thing for big casts, and in Bullets Over Broadway (though not his best film) he found his most expansive and talented cast. It’s a bit of a tug-of-war for me when I think of 1994. On one hand lies the sedate and poignant Shawshank Redemption and on the other hand Woody’s atypical comedy of show business Bullets Over Broadway.
The two films could shake hands when it comes to their heroes. Tim Robbins has gone on to win an Oscar, but he and John Cusack have much in common. Both have thing for playing the innocuous heroes, and in both The Shawshank Redemption and Bullets Over Broadway they’re surrounding by a group of zany characters. I suppose the similarities stop there. Andy’s incarceration at Shawshank is a far cry from David’s predicaments in New York. It’s weird, though, that Shawshank Redemption made a mere 25 million at the box-office, but it’s even more ridiculous when you realise that Bullets Over Broadway made just about half of that. What’s the reason? The films are conversely different, each playing to different emotions and yet neither found (immediate) success with the audiences. I like to think of Bullets Over Broadway as Woody’s most structured film. It’s not my favourite of his, but it’s easily the tightest (it’s just below 100 minutes), and the script is just so quick-paced. The Shawshank Redemption goes on for well over two hours, and though it’s based on a novella, it never drags. Presentation is everything, really. The quickness of Bullets Over Broadway is as essential to the joie de vivre of New York as the meticulous detail is necessary to the jail at Shawshank.
Darabont makes The Shawshank Redemption sneak up on you, a little. I always seem to forget that it’s such an ensemble piece until after I’ve seen it. It’s the opposite with Bullets Over Broadway. It’s so short, and it’s not really about everybody, but it seems so. Sure Morgan Freeman and Dianne Wiest each seem to think that they’re the leads in their respective piece, though. Morgan...I like him much, but I like few of his performances. Still, I won’t argue with the brilliance that is him in The Shawshank Redemption. It was the perfect opportunity to give him that Oscar, but at least Dianne got hers. On the subject of Oscars, though. It’s so weird that neither Tim nor John went nominated. As brilliant as Morgan is, Shawshank depends completely on Tim he easily trumps the majority of that sorry actor lineup, so does John actually – and three of his co-stars were nominated. Both films actually went home empty handed for the most part, between the two of them they racked up 14 nominations and the only one was for Ms. Wiest. They should have at least won their respective screenplay categories, but why am I lamenting on the fickle Oscars?
The Shawshank Redemption is a brilliant ensemble drama, a poignant tale and a story worthy of remembrance. I know three people who are very fond of this film – Emma, M. Carter and The Mad Hatter. Three people whose opinions are valuable, and they’re not wrong. The Shawshank Redemption is that good. Unfortunately, Bullets Over Broadway doesn’t seem to have as many people championing it, but it’s just as good.
What were your thoughts on 1994 in film? Is either of these your favourite?