02 September 2009
War of the Decades: 1974, 1984, 1994, 2004
Welcome boys and girls to our ongoing discussion of which year in which decade produced the greatest films. On the 5th, 15th, 25th, and 35th Anniversary of these years, today we'll look at the '4's. That is, 1974, 1984, 1994, and 2004. I'm very interested in tracking how some different genres evolved through the ages here, so I will be taking a slightly different approach than I did with this go-around.
It's a Laugh! Wha-Hey!
There's some very interesting fluctuations in comedy over the past 35 years, ranging from genius to moronic slapstick. 1974 is a powerhouse year with the double shot Mel Brooks flicks, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," creating the foundation of the genre spoof, while simultaneously hitting at some deeper issues, an assuredly strong year. 1984 leaves me in a bit of quandary, though. There are instant classics like "Ghostbusters" and "This is Spinal Tap," among cheeky throwaways like "Police Academy" and "Revenge of the Nerds." While the former was a hallmark for comedy/horror/scifi (which clearly had a wide influence with such films as "Ghostbusters II"  and "Bubba Ho-Tep" ), the latter two built in a misdirection derived from "Animal House" (1978) and were sure forerunners for many, many shitty teen comedies to follow.
There's only one name in 1994 Comedy, Jim Carrey's Holy Trinity of "The Mask," "Dumb and Dumber" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." I dore these movies based on the fact that when they came out I was eight years old and loved poopie. I've been riding nostalgia ever since. Considering his six MTV Movie award noms and two wins, he did put out some stellar performances. Finally, 2004 is the quintessential "Frat Pack" year (I still hate that term) with "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," and "Starsky & Hutch." All very funny, but none nearly as memorable 25 or 35 years down as Mel Brooks and Spinal Tap are. Maybe Ron Burgundy.
Eek! A Monster!
Each decade also contained very different horror movies. 1974 brought us a gritty realism and innovative, first-hand filming techniques with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." This 70s realism descended into 80s fantastic slasher silliness with "Nightmare on Elm Street," forgoing the grittiness imaginary horror for straight up slashin and dashin. I couldn't find much great horror movies from 1994, if any of you dear readers come up with any comment below. The best I can come up with is the 90s attitude of self-referencing and reevaluating its films. Something like "Ed Wood," in a great stretch of the imagination, can lead to something like "Scream" (1996) in the vain sense that they both analyse, sometimes ridicule, and ultimately honour the horror giants that came before it. By 2004, however, we've let everything all hang out and introduced to sweet sweet torture porn with "Saw." Admittedly, the original "Saw" is still probably one of the best horror films of the decade. The rest of the 2000s would see nothing but remakes and sequels and...oh wait it's just like every other decade for horror.
"The Lion King" in 1994 assuredly holds its own against "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles" from 2004. The years preceding these were horrendous animation years and do not have too much to offer. Unfortunately, much like Jim Carrey, my overpowering nostalgia for "The Lion King" causes me to lean heavily in its favour, but its certainly debatable. Does "Team America: World Police" count as animation? I'm giving it to 2004.
Thanking the Academy...
Let's call this the Oscar-bait movies. 1974 is a tough year to argue with, its high points and biggest winners commercially and critically being "The Godfather Part II," "Chinatown," and "The Towering Inferno." Yes, "The Towering Inferno." It won like three Oscars. 1984 seems a little weak to me know, all we have are the character studies of obsession and nuance with "Amadeus." The 90s here I believe are very strong, with "Forrest Gump," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "Pulp Fiction," which I think could stand against the 70s. Maybe. Countering again, 2004 seems week with "Million Dollar Baby" bringing home the Best Picture, which I never thought was that memorable, which leaves the quirky dramadies "Sideways" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as some of the best films of the year. Great films, but no "Chinatown."
In many of these years, a director or actor got a big break or a great start to an excellent, sometimes ok career. 1974 is somewhat lacking, I couldn't find many people who got their big breaks here (besides being the birth year of Chris Bale and Leo D). 1984 is huge both with James Cameron's first non-piranha movie, "The Terminator," Ethan and Joel Coen premiering "Blood Simple," and Christopher Guest in "This is Spinal Tap." 1994 is the start of a lot of the indie-type comedy directors, providing the first go around for Kevin Smith in "Clerks" and Benny Stiller in "Reality Bites." The only major debut was on this side of the pond for Edgar Wright with "Shaun of the Dead" (add Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for that matter), as well as the incomparable Jared Hess with "Napoleon Dynamite" (and Jon Heder!), which of course has led to many innovative, profitable films. And of course I don't want to leave out the break-out sensation known as the Lohan with "Mean Girls" (I'll legitimately honour Tina Fey's first written feature film here).
So, What did We Learn Today?
1974 seems to be a stand-out year, with heavy quality over an egregious quantity of forgettable films. Or maybe we just forgot all the forgettable ones by now. Who knows. But one thing is for sure, 2004 will always be remembered as an incredible surplus year of terrible, terrible mindless action movies. Check out the list:
Chronicles of Riddick
The Day After Tomorrow
The Passion of the Christ
1984 and 1994 have some very good features, but 2004's sheer catalog tends to be overpowering, and also serves recent memory. The most classic films on this post are all from 1974, it's a tremendous year and I'd probably call it the winner of "Blazing Saddles" alone, but the true winner may only be decided if you judge for yourself. Comments appreciated below...