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Movie Review: Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Eric Roth from the novel by Winston Groom
Paramount, 1994

The incredible year of 1994 ended up bestowing Best Picture to the critical, box office, and epic lock of Forrest Gump, nominated 13 times and winning 6 total, including Best Director for Robert Zemeckis.

Hitting on the Fourth of July weekend, Gump was the number one box office draw in a summer that included The Lion King and True Lies, a true phenomenon that ended up ranking third all-time when it was all done (it ranks 15th as of this writing).  There had really been nothing like it to hit theatres, at least on such a grand scale.

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, winning his second straight Best Actor after Philadelphia) is a man with a below-normal IQ who finds himself having a life more interesting than anyone with normal intelligence could ever hope.  Teased mercilessly as a crippled kid (Michael Connor Humphreys, who provided the model for Hanks’ accent), he finds friendship with troubled Jenny Curran (played young by Hanna R. Hall and then older by Robin Wright).  Forrest falls in love with Jenny, is the source of his inspiration, and is in part responsible for others finding specialness in him as well.

The only other person in Forrest’s life that compares to Jenny is his mother (Sally Field, who played Hanks’ kind-of love interest in Punchline), where Forrest and the year of 1994 got a great deal of catchphrases like “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get,” and “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Over time, Forrest and the used and abused Jenny grow apart, as he becomes a college football star, a war hero, and an extreme, literal, cross-country runner while she enters into a world of drug abuse and destructive relationships.  But they always find each other; Jenny wanting to give Forrest romance but just not able to feel that way.

In the middle of all this, during Vietnam, Forrest finds true friends in Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue (Mykelti Williamson) and the crabby Lieutenant Dan Taylor (the nominated Gary Sinise), and touches their lives in a meaningful way, sealing the deal for Gump’s character being much more than a “dummy.”

Told with an epic sweep, a light touch, and considering the boffo box office, nothing was going to beat Gump for Best Picture.  Hanks is perfect in the role, and there were some notable un-nominated performances, particularly Robin Wright.  The movie is just a different experience, and we haven’t even really seen anything like it since.  But Gump still may have not been the best film of 1994.

First off, the public wasn’t going for Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption at the time, a movie now recognized as one of the classics of modern cinema but was shunned due to its title and seemingly off-putting subject matter (”Prison Movie” is probably what most potential customers heard as its description). 

There was also Quentin Tarantino’s incredible, groundbreaking, highly-influential Pulp Fiction.  Talk about movies the public had not seen before; that was an incredibly unusual, engaging, overall slam-dunk of a film that most movie fans probably secretly wished would win, even though it had no chance.

After that, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is another amazing flick.  I’ve probably watched Gump, Shawshank, Fiction, and Quiz Show ten times or more each.  Rounding out the nominees was Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was good but Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, which rounds out my personal top 5, was sorely neglected (as was Johnny Depp’s performance).

1994 is easily the best film year of my generation, at least in my opinion (there will be few who argue).  I don’t have a problem with Forrest Gump’s win, it fits, but if you took a vote now I bet you’d have a split vote, at least between Gump, Shawshank, and Fiction.  And who knows, with Depp’s newfound fame through Pirates of the Caribbean, he and Ed Wood might get a nomination this time.

Anyway, those who, for some reason, haven’t seen Forrest Gump can watch this today and it won’t feel like it’s been copied ad nauseum in the last 13 years.  You can’t say that about many popular movies in the history of cinema, and that’s a unique quality to have.


Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: January 20, 2007, 10:25 am

I’ve always leaned towards 1999 as the best year of cinema in our generation, but 1994 is a great argument. As a group of nominees for “Best Picture” you don’t get much better than this; I didn’t even have a problem with “Four Weddings and a Funeral” up there; it’s a film I still tend to watch whenever it’s on television.

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