pulp fiction

This story is the third in a three-part series called Best Picture (redux), a historical revision of the Best Picture nominees and winners from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The selection of Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction as Best Picture at the 1995 Academy Awards was a perfect blunder. It was a bad decision then, it’s still bad, and it gets increasingly worse with gained perspective.

But it should not have been particularly surprising. Gump was Oscar bait wrapped up as a big budget success — two things that Academy voters relish. Imagine My Left Foot as the No. 1 movie for 10 consecutive weeks. Forrest Gump had also won Best Picture at the Golden Globes and Producers Guild Awards, two leading indicators of success at the Oscars.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which won the top prizes from the National Society, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City and Southeastern film critics and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is one of the most groundbreaking films of all time. Its stylized violence, hyper-realistic dialogue and interwoven stories told out of order was a shot of adrenaline into the heart of staid filmmaking.

Of course Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction. A Clockwork Orange and Star Wars didn’t win Best Picture. Neither did Citizen Kane.

In an effort to pile on, Gump was the worst of that year’s Best Picture nominees, behind Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Tom Hanks won back-to-back Best Actor trophies for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. He may well be the nicest man in Hollywood, and he has done some good work, but Hanks wasn’t even the best actor in Philadelphia, and his performance as the mentally slow Gump was a third-rate Rain Man.

Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, was filled with great performances: John Travolta’s feel-good comeback, Samuel L. Jackson’s bad motherfucker, Uma Thurman’s first outing as Tarantino’s muse. Oh, and action superstar Bruce Willis has never been better or more under control.

The Best Picture (redux) goes to …

1990 | GOODFELLAS (Martin Scorsese)

The nominees were …

Dances with Wolves
The Godfather: Part III

The nominees should have been …

The Grifters
Miller’s Crossing
Reversal of Fortune

Honorable mention

Edward Scissorhands

Best Picture | Dances with Wolves

Best Picture (redux) | Goodfellas

A New York mob story as sweeping epic, with Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco and three Rolling Stones songs. Influenced Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Chase’s The Sopranos.

Dances with Wolves won Best Picture, partly because Academy voters are always pleasantly surprised (or shocked) when an actor and first-time director makes a good movie. Kevin Costner won Best Director, too.

But not here. Martin Scorsese wins his fifth and final Best Picture (redux).

1991 | JFK (Oliver Stone)

The nominees were …

Beauty and the Beast
The Prince of Tides
The Silence of the Lambs

The nominees should have been …

Barton Fink
Boyz n the Hood
The Silence of the Lambs
Thelma & Louise

Honorable mention

The Commitments
Jungle Fever
Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Best Picture | The Silence of the Lambs

Best Picture (redux) | JFK

Oliver Stone captures the paranoid, wacked-out zeitgeist of the late 1960s, with Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci and Donald Sutherland as Mr. X. Written by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on two books, part truth, part conspiracy theory, a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. 188 minutes, but it feels like 120.

1992 | UNFORGIVEN (Clint Eastwood)

The nominees were …

The Crying Game
A Few Good Men
Howards End
Scent of a Woman

The nominees should have been …

Howards End
Malcolm X
One False Move
The Player

Honorable mention

Bob Roberts
Glengarry Glen Ross
Reservoir Dogs
White Men Can’t Jump

Best Picture | Unforgiven

Best Picture (redux) | Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s last Western, with Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris.

1993 | SCHINDLER’S LIST (Steven Spielberg)

The nominees were …

The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
The Piano
The Remains of the Day
Schindler’s List

The nominees should have been …

Dazed and Confused
Groundhog Day
The Piano
Schindler’s List
Short Cuts

Honorable mention

The Age of Innocence
King of the Hill
In the Line of Fire
Mad Dog and Glory
Menace II Society
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Searching for Bobby Fischer
What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Best Picture | Schindler’s List

Best Picture (redux) | Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s first great serious work and third Best Picture (redux) award.

1994 | PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarantino)

The nominees were …

Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

The nominees should have been …

Ed Wood
Hoop Dreams
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

Honorable mention

Bullets Over Broadway
Heavenly Creatures
The Last Seduction
Little Women
Nobody’s Fool

Best Picture | Forrest Gump

Best Picture (redux) | Pulp Fiction

Noir crime story in the valley, with pop culture references, starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis and Harvey Keitel as The Wolf. Influenced pretty much everything for the next decade.

1995 | TOY STORY (John Lasseter)

The nominees were …

Apollo 13
Il Postino: The Postman
Sense and Sensibility

The nominees should have been …

Apollo 13
Leaving Las Vegas
Sense and Sensibility
Toy Story

Honorable mention

Dead Man Walking
Get Shorty
To Die For

Best Picture | Braveheart

Best Picture (redux) | Toy Story

The beginning of Pixar’s Golden Age, with Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head.

1996 | FARGO (Joel and Ethan Coen)

The nominees were …

The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies

The nominees should have been …

The English Patient
The People vs. Larry Flynt
Secrets & Lies

Honorable mention

Big Night
Breaking the Waves
Get on the Bus
Lone Star
Sling Blade
Tin Cup
Welcome to the Dollhouse
When We Were Kings

Best Picture | The English Patient

Best Picture (redux) | Fargo

The Coen Brothers mix comedy and murder in Minnesota, with Frances McDormand and William H. Macy.

1997 | BOOGIE NIGHTS (Paul Thomas Anderson)

The nominees were …

As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential

The nominees should have been …

Boogie Nights
Jackie Brown
L.A. Confidential
The Sweet Hereafter

Honorable mention

The Apostle
Cop Land
In the Company of Men
Wag the Dog

Best Picture | Titanic

Best Picture (redux) | Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson’s family allegory set inside the 1970s porn industry, with Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Heather Graham and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

1998 | OUT OF SIGHT (Steven Soderbergh)

The nominees were …

Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
Shakespeare in Love
The Thin Red Line

The nominees should have been …

Out of Sight
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
The Truman Show

Honorable mention

The Big Lebowski
Gods and Monsters
A Simple Plan

Best Picture | Shakespeare in Love

Best Picture (redux) | Out of Sight

The perfect mid-point between Steven Soderbergh’s arthouse and commercial sensibilities. Adapted from the novel by Elmore Leonard, with George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle and Albert Brooks.

1999 | BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (Spike Jonze)

The nominees were …

American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

The nominees should have been …

American Beauty
Being John Malkovich
The Insider
The Matrix
Office Space
The Sixth Sense
The Straight Story
Three Kings
Toy Story 2

Honorable mention

American Movie
Bringing Out the Dead
Fight Club
The Thomas Crown Affair

Best Picture | American Beauty

Best Picture (redux) | Being John Malkovich

A puppeteer finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze, screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, with John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and John Malkovich as himself.

Entertainment Weekly called 1999 “The Year That Changed Movies” in November, lauding the varied greatness of Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, The Limey, Go, Run Lola Run, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, Dogma and The Blair Witch Project. “Someday, 1999 will be etched on a microchip as the first year of 21st century filmmaking,” Jeff Gordiner wrote.

Esquire named it “The Last Great Year in Movies,” adding the still timely Boys Don’t Cry, Fight Club, American Pie, Three Kings, Election, Magnolia and working man’s anthem Office Space to the list. 1999 was among Uproxx’s greatest film years of the past half century, submitting The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Iron Giant, Eyes Wide Shut, Sleep Hollow, Toy Story 2, The Straight Story and the “underrated modern classic” Bringing Out the Dead for your consideration.

Then Harry Potter, Twilight and comic book movies swooped in like Tobey Maguire on a CGI web, dominating the multiplexes with their stadium seating and stadium parking, and the audacious 90s — embodied by the ambitious director in American Movie — floated away like that pretentious plastic bag in American Beauty.

• • •

Footnotes | I am not initiating the myth that I have seen every movie from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Or even most of them.

These lists are partly the result of research and aggregation, employing Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, AFI’s 100 Greatest Films, the Sight and Sound polls (critics and directors), Time’s 100 Movies, The Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Favorite Films, Entertainment Weekly’s All-Time Greatest movies and IMDb’s top-rated movies.

The annual awards from critics organizations were also considered: National Board, National Society, New York, Los Angeles and Kansas City in the 70s. Chicago began its awards in 1988, then Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Florida, San Diego and the Southeastern critics in the 90s. The Golden Globes and Producers Guild awards were included in this group.

Finally, the annual top 10 lists from critics Siskel & Ebert and Andrew Sarris had their say.

But ranking movies is a nutty, little pursuit. It is art, not science.

Movies are personal. So when a tie-breaker was needed, I broke it. Sometimes, when one was not needed, I barged in and made a personal choice anyway.

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