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10 Movies that Premiered at Sundance 20 Years Ago

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Today, the Sundance Film Festival kicks off in beautiful Park City, Utah. Since 1978, the fest has been a launching point for independent filmmakers and a staple of American cinema. Many notable American directors—including Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Steven Soderbergh—have shown films at Sundance over the past 38 years, and it continues to be the home of fresh and exciting young independent voices. Here are 10 movies that premiered at Sundance in 1994.

1. Clerks // Director: Kevin Smith

Director Kevin Smith’s debut feature film Clerks was a labor of love and devotion. After selling his comic book collection, maxing out a few credit cards, and collecting insurance money for a car he lost in a flood, the then-23-year-old director made the black-and-white feature film. But Smith's dedication paid off: Clerks won the festival's Filmmakers Trophy (in a tie with Boaz Yakin’s film Fresh), and Miramax purchased the film’s distribution rights. Ultimately, the film launched Kevin Smith’s career in Hollywood and inspired many film school students to make their own low budget movies.

2. Reality Bites // Director: Ben Stiller

Reality Bites, which took a look at a group of new college graduates struggling to find meaning during an economic recession, helped to make its young cast—including Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Stiller—household names after it premiered out of competition at Sundance in 1994. For many 20-somethings, Reality Bites was a cultural touchstone, and became one of the films that defined Generation X.

3. Spanking the Monkey // Director: David O. Russell

While director David O. Russell is receiving critical and commercial success for his latest film, American Hustle, the New York City-born director got his start with the film Spanking the Monkey at Sundance in 1994. The witty and surprisingly touching film about a mother and son developing a deep and emotional relationship won over audiences with its sharp dialogue and irreverent comedy. Monkey won the Audience Award and started Russell on a path towards making celebrated American movies. The film later won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

4. Fresh // Director: Boaz Yakin

Following the life of a 12-year-old boy who starts to sell drugs in a New York City housing project, Fresh virtually went unnoticed among general audiences, but received critical acclaim during its premiere at Sundance. Writer and director Boaz Yakin’s debut film earned the then-27-year-old New York City native the Filmmaker Trophy (which he shared with director Kevin Smith), while star Sean Nelson—who played the titular character—won the festival’s Special Jury Prize for Acting.

5. Four Weddings and a Funeral // Director: Mike Newell

While the light-hearted and breezy Four Weddings and a Funeral was not in competition during the Sundance Film Festival, the romantic comedy from director Mike Newell and screenwriter Richard Curtis was the fest’s opening night selection. The film went on to gross $245.7 million worldwide, and earned a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1994.

6. Mi Vida Loca // Director: Allison Anders

Allison Anders' Mi Vida Loca took a look at Los Angeles Mexican street gang culture from a young woman’s point of view. While the film is still one of the very few movies about Hispanic young women, Loca is notable for featuring real-life gang members from Los Angeles' Echo Park and depicting street life in a brutally honest and realistic way. Anders, who also served on Sundance’s dramatic jury that year, would later direct a segment of The Room and the films Grace of My Heart and Sugar Town.

7. The Hudsucker Proxy // Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen’s first big budget movie, The Hudsucker Proxy, was also the brothers' first and only box office bomb. Garnering a mixed critical response out of premiere screenings during Sundance, the screwball comedy grossed a disappointing $2.8 million when it was officially released in March 1994. The story about a dopy aspiring inventor, Proxy was a collaboration between the Coens and director Sam Raimi, who was a co-writer on the film, which is seen today as an underrated movie in the Coens' filmography.

8. Clean, Shaven // Director: Lodge Kerrigan

Clean, Shaven follows a man who suffers from schizophrenia trying to get his daughter back from her adoptive mother. Lodge Kerrigan’s debut film experienced a rocky two-year production that saw the first-time director persistently running out of money during shooting. Clean, Shaven failed to find a general audience upon its release, but later saw success as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection.

9. River of Grass // Director: Kelly Reichardt

Director Kelly Reichardt has built an outstanding career over the years that includes films like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff. Her debut feature film, River of Grass, followed a young couple on the run throughout Florida after a shooting. While the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize during the Sundance Film Festival in 1994, Grass lost to Tom Noonan’s Whatever Happened Was…

10. Hoop Dreams // Director: Steve James

Director Steve James’ documentary about two inner city high school students in Chicago with aspirations for the NBA is, arguably, one of the greatest American movies of all time. The film Hoop Dreams was the end result of over five years of filming. James and his editors Frederick Marx and Bill Haugse managed to whittle down over 250 hours of footage into a very comprehensive and engaging documentary that clocked in at nearly 3 hours; Hoop Dreams won the Audience Award Documentary at Sundance in 1994.

While Hoop Dreams wasn't nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, the film was nominated for Best Editing, but lost to Forrest Gump. The film is now part of the Criterion Collection and is considered the benchmark for sports documentaries today.

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15 Facts About the First Episode of The Simpsons
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FOX

On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on FOX. Nearly 30 years later, the Simpson family and their fellow Springfield residents are still going strong. Let's look back at where it all started—"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO PREMIERE IN SEPTEMBER.

The Simpsons was originally planned to premiere earlier in the fall of 1989, but because of animation problems, the series began on December 17 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The original pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," later aired as the season finale.

2. MARGE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET DRUNK.

According to Al Jean, the original premise of the episode was that "Homer was worried that Marge was going to get drunk at a party and get him in trouble at the office."

3. IT'S LACKING THE SERIES' NOW-FAMOUS OPENING SEQUENCE. 

The episode lacked the now-famous opening sequence, which was added in the second episode, "Bart the Genius," because creator Matt Groening thought a longer opening sequence would mean less animation.

4. GWEN STEFANI'S BROTHER PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ITS CREATION.

One of the layout artists for "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was Eric Stefani, brother of Gwen Stefani and a founding member of No Doubt.

5. BARNEY LOOKED A BIT DIFFERENT.

In the first episode, Barney had yellow hair, which was the same color as his skin. This was later changed because the people behind the show thought that only members of the Simpson family should have yellow hair.

6. LISA REALLY WANTED A PONY.

Lisa asks for a pony six times on her Christmas list (it's her first line in the series). She would later get her pony in the season 3 episode "Lisa's Pony."

7. PART OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY MATT GROENING'S SECOND GRADE SCHOOL REPORT.

According to the DVD commentary, the "Santas of many lands" portion of the Christmas pageant was inspired by a second grade report Matt Groening did on Christmas in Russia.

8. IT DIDN'T INVENT THE ALTERNATE VERSION OF "JINGLE BELLS."

Additionally, Groening claims that this episode has been incorrectly credited with creating the "alternate version" of "Jingle Bells." (Bart sings, "Jingle Bells/Batman Smells/Robin Laid an Egg...")

9. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND ANIMATED SERIES TO AIR IN PRIMETIME SINCE THE FLINTSTONES.

The Simpsons was just the second animated show to air in primetime since The Flintstones went off the air 23 years earlier. (The other was Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which aired from 1972-1974.)

10. THE IDEA WAS CONCEIVED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.

According to executive producer James L. Brooks, "The Simpsons series began like many things begin: with an animator getting drunk at a Christmas party ... We were already doing Tracey Ullman, and David Silverman, who was with us then and would go on to direct The Simpsons Movie, cornered me and poured out his heart about what having a primetime Simpsons show would mean to animators."

11. LISA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A "LITTLE HELL-RAISER."

The Simpsons in 'The Town'
Fox

According to Al Jean, in the original shorts, "Lisa was supposed to be this little hell-raiser like Bart, but their character differentiation was wider when we went to full series."

12. YEARDLEY SMITH AUDITIONED FOR BART.

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, originally auditioned for Bart. "That lasted a good eight or nine seconds," Smith recounts, "It was like: "Cut, cut, cut! You sound too much like a girl!"

13. A SECOND CITY PERFORMANCE GOT DAN CASTELLANETA AN AUDITION.

Dan Castellaneta was invited to read for Homer Simpson after Tracey Ullman saw him perform a sketch comedy bit about a blind, crippled comedian at Second City in Chicago.

14. IT WAS MILLHOUSE'S FIRST APPEARANCE, BUT HE ALREADY EXISTED.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the first time Milhouse appeared on the show, however he was featured in a Butterfinger commercial in 1988.

15. SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER WENT MISSING.

Because "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was originally meant to be the eighth episode, Santa's Little Helper is mysteriously absent from the next episode ("Bart the Genius"). According to DVD commentary, the creators of the show received letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.

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27 Festive Facts About Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. Here are 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON A SHORT STORY.

Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that when Clark is watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”)

2. CLARK GREW UP IN SAMANTHA STEVENS’S HOUSE.

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.

3. JOHN HUGHES WASN’T A FAN OF SEQUELS.

Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”

4. IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO CHRISTMAS MOVIES RELEASED IN 1989.

Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty Griswold, starred in both.

5. AUDREY IS (MIRACULOUSLY) OLDER THAN RUSTY.

Johnny Galecki, Beverly D'Angelo, Chevy Chase, and Juliette Lewis in 'Christmas Vacation' (1989)
Warner Bros.

In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.

6. THE FILM HAS TIES TO IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.

7. THE CAST OF CHRISTMAS VACATION WAS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.

In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted. “That was really a special cast.”

8. IN A WAY, STANLEY KUBRICK IS TO THANK FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik told to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”

9. CHECHIK HAD NEVER SEEN A VACATION MOVIE.

“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” Chechik said. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.

10. THE MOVIE HAD A HUGE BUDGET, PARTICULARLY FOR A COMEDY.

A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.

11. ROGER EBERT DID NOT LOVE THE FILM.

Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”

12. IT’S THE ONLY SEQUEL IN THE VACATION FRANCHISE TO HAVE ITS OWN SEQUEL.

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure DVD
Warner Home Video

But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

13. AUDREY IS THE ONLY GRISWOLD TO APPEAR IN CHRISTMAS VACATION 2.

Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprised her role for the Christmas Vacation sequel. Eric Idle, who appeared in European Vacation, also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”

14. COUSIN EDDIE IS RANDY QUAID’S BEST-KNOWN CHARACTER.

At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”

15. COUSIN EDDIE IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.

16. YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN DICKIE.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.

17. EDDIE’S SON, ROCKY, DOESN’T SPEAK IN THE FILM.

Nope, not a word.

18. AUNT BETHANY IS BETTY BOOP.

Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.

19. BETHANY AND LOUIS’ ENTRANCE MADE THE EARTH SHAKE.

At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake struck. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.

20. CHRISTMAS VACATION WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO IN ENGLAND.

Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the UK too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.

21. YOU WON’T HEAR “HOLIDAY ROAD” IN CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.

22. RANDY QUAID IS THE THIRD COUSIN OF GENE AUTRY.

Which may just sound like a random. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.

23. ELLEN GRISWOLD LIED TO THE COPS.

In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.

24. CHEVY CHASE, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, AND JULIETTE LEWIS REUNITED IN 2012.

The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.

25. JOHNNY GALECKI RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM CHEVY CHASE.

In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he has kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”

26. CHEVY CHASE AND BEVERLY D'ANGELO WERE ANXIOUS TO SEE ANOTHER VACATION MOVIE HAPPEN.

On July 29, 2015, the latest film in the Vacation franchise—simply titled Vacation—made its debut. And it couldn't have happened soon enough for Chase and D'Angelo. In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”

27. THE STUDIO WON THAT ONE.

Chase and D’Angelo may have had their own ideas, but the studio moved ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Written and directed by John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses), Vacation featured a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip.

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