Best Picture Rewind: 1994

Joe Vallese
Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Few categories have the power to spark as much division and years-long debate as the Academy Award for Best Picture, which goes under the microscope today.

Oscar Nominees:

Forrest Gump (dir. Robert Zemeckis)

Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir. Mike Newell)

Pulp Fiction (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Quiz Show (dir. Robert Redford)

The Shawshank Redemption (dir. Frank Darabont)

Joe's Nominees:

Bullets Over Broadway (dir. Woody Allen)

Fresh (dir. Boaz Yakin)

Heavenly Creatures (dir. Peter Jackson)

Pulp Fiction (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

The Shawshank Redemption (dir. Frank Darabont)

Oscar Winner: Forrest Gump

Joe's Winner: Heavenly Creatures

Though Forrest Gump may have gone the way of Titanic and American Beauty in terms of its cinematic fingerprint -- a thin residue of powdered cheese can be found upon close inspection--I happen to still enjoy that movie quite a bit. It looks great, it evokes a happy time in my adolescence, and it's a reminder of what a powerhouse Tom Hanks was for a short but impressive stretch (although, handing him Best Actor for Gump>, in retrospect, is only acceptable to me because one gold man wasn't sufficient for his truly transcendent work in Philadelphia a year earlier). The big, mainstream cinemaphile outrage ever since has been over Shawshank Redemption's loss, though that campaign didn't begin until years later, and it now rests at the top of imdb's "all time" list.

In a perfect world, though, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures would have swept the night (but you'd need to be nominated for more than one placatory category to do that) -- you know, had more than sixteen or so people actually seen it. Sure, the true story it is based on is obscure and bizarre and horrific -- two teenage girls from New Zealand passionately absorbed in a shared fantasy world full of unicorns, clay princes, and a murderous Orson Welles, somehow convince themselves that matricide is the only way to stay together forever -- but Creatures has it all: a brilliant script, lush cinematography, a score both majestic and poignant, and seamless use of CGI and practical effects that remain impressive even by today's standards.

Let's not even get into the ridiculous, miraculous, utterly sublime performances, which one could gush over for hours and hours and pages upon pages. Nor should we forget that while the world would come to know Kate Winslet a very short while later in that tiny-budget period piece she did with the guy who directed Terminator, it was Peter Jackson who discovered her and lured out of her what remains -- yes, I know: she's a curvy bombshell who can masterfully enunciate her dialogue regardless of accent but trust me when I say -- her finest, most vibrant performance to date. Even more fascinating, the close viewer will notice how Jackson went on to use (and continues to use) Creatures as something of a stylistic blueprint for his later big-budget projects, although none have yet to achieve its strange and beautiful blend of surrealism and raw emotion. Frodo entering Mordor may have given you chills, but the final two minutes of Heavenly Creatures will stay with you forever.

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