There is no doubt in my mind that the Academy made two huge mistakes at the 1995 Oscar ceremony. One mistake was Samuel L. Jackson not receiving a much deserved Academy Award for not only the best performance of his career but one of the most iconic performances of all time that many still look back on and quote “English, mother fucker, do you speak it?” However, I have full confidence that Sam Jackson will get his “apology Oscar” eventually down the road in his career. I want to focus on the other mistake made by the Academy: not giving Pulp Fiction the Best Picture of the Year Oscar it wholeheartedly deserved.
Pulp Fiction is not only arguably the best film of 1994; it is one of the best films of the 90’s alone. I would even stretch that further and say it is one of the best films of all time. I guarantee if one hundred people thirty years old or under were asked what their top favorite films are, Pulp Fiction would be on the majority of the lists. Forrest Gump, the film that won Best Picture of the Year in 1994, would most likely not be on very many lists. Pulp Fiction has a cult following like no other; and even after almost two decades since its release, it remains a favorite to many.
Albeit Forrest Gump is the highest grossing film out of its Best Picture competition, it is certainly not the best. It would even be a stretch to call it second best. The Shawshank Redemption is another film nominated for Best Picture in 1995. Not only do many critics consider The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction superior to Forrest Gump, Shawshank and Pulp arguably serve as two of the best films of all time. According to The Top 250 Best Movies of All Time on www.imdb.com, The Shawshank Redemption stands in at #1 (yes, #1 out of 250 films!) and Pulp Fiction stands a #5. Forrest Gump ranks in at #36, which is nothing to pout about, but it still does not compare to its counterparts. I do not necessarily agree that The Shawshank Redemption should be #1, nor do I think www.imdb.com is a reliable source for film ratings, but it does show that majority of individuals do prefer both Pulp and Shawshank to Forrest Gump. According to www.rottentomatoes.com, a website featuring a compilation of movie reviews from professional critics, Shawshank stands in at 88% approved, Pulp Fiction at an impressive 94%, and Forrest Gump at a mere 71%. I am no professional critic, but a 71% approval rating is not very good for a film that wins Best Picture. Pulp Fiction received many more positive reviews than Forrest Gump. I guess 1994 was a bad year to release a movie.
I had first seen Pulp Fiction in my high school theatre class when I was a sophomore. I had never heard of it prior to the class. I was instantly drawn to it by how different it was. I loved all of the different subplots. In one scene you had the Bruce Willis/gimp situation in the basement; and a few scenes later featured John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson accidentally killing someone in their car, leaving them to be more worried about getting the car clean than the fact they just took a life. I loved how colorful it was. It seemed like an epic film in that it had many different stories and subplots and was around three hours long. Of course, my class was only ninety-minutes long, so we could not finish the whole movie. However, it struck my eye and I was determined to see it in its entirety. I guess I can thank my theatre teacher for introducing me to that movie; I always wonder at what point in my life and in what situation would I have discovered the film if I hadn’t discovered it then.
I would like to give credit to Forrest Gump where it is due, but there is not much that really impressed me about it. I thought the screenplay was great up until the third act. I absolutely hated when the story picks up from Forrest’s flashbacks to real time ¾ of the way through. I felt like it did not fit within the context of the rest of the movie; Forrest’s entire story should have been resolved when he was sitting on the bench telling it, not continued on after that point. Normally I’d praise the acting of Tom Hanks, but I think I am in the minority as I found his dumb accent to be over-the-top (pun intended). It is analogous to Sean Penn’s performance as a mentally handicapped man in I am Sam. Sean Penn is one of the best actors alive, and my personal favorite, but that was not a good role for him. As someone with two handicapped brothers, they just do not act like that. Obviously the Academy disagrees with me, because Penn and Hanks both were nominated for their roles.
More, Robin Wright Penn seemed to be trying too hard and was just annoying as the depressed Jen. Gary Sinise, on the other hand, gave a terrific performance in the film. Forrest Gump is still popular today, and is famous for originating the now-cliché quote “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” I guess we can thank Forrest Gump for giving us one of the most popular quotes in cinematic history. That alone, though, does not make it a great movie. Dirty Dancing, a still widely popular film and considered an 80s gem, spawned the quote “Nobody puts baby in a corner,” but it was originally panned by critics.
Pulp Fiction in no way fails. It is a near flawless movie. Although no one can hold a flame to Jackson, who was BORN for the role of Jules Winnfield, everyone gave excellent performances. Even Bruce Willis, who prior to this was known as an action star and not for his acting ability, gave an excellent performance here. This was a new type of role and a challenge for John Travolta. Prior to this film, Travolta played virtually the same character in all his movies. Now, we see a range from John Travolta, and he can thank Pulp Fiction for his career.
The screenwriting was genius. This is not something someone can scribble down overnight. A screenplay like this takes careful planning, thinking, and dedication. Since it is comprised of three acts, all out of chronological order, it had to have been difficult to avoid continuity errors. Pulp Fiction’s three-act, out-of-chronological-order format has inspired many films since, such as Doug Lyman’s Go (1999) which is strikingly similar.
The dialogue in this film was perfect and completely different than what has been done before. Quentin Tarantino writes his characters having conservations that have nothing to do with the plot, similar to how people would talk in real life. Tarantino’s dialogue is so exceptional in this film that I am almost convinced he gave his actors complete license to ad-lip and improvise lines. The cinematography was captivating. This is a film that makes one think, talk, debate, and observe life a little differently; it is everything a film should be. The Academy actually made two mistakes in 1995, one being not giving Pulp Fiction Best Picture, and the other was giving it to Forrest Gump.