This one was very difficult for me. As I mentioned to John, I haven't been as voracious with my movie watching in the last five to ten years as I used to be. Well, let me qualify that, I haven't been up on my new movies as much as I used to be. Instead I've been delving back into the past, seeking out gems and seeing if I can unearth some new favorites. I've also been delving deep (and some may say too deep) into nostalgia. Ten years ago, I would have jumped at seeing Primer or Sunshine. These days, I've heard of the films, but haven't sought them out. The sad thing is, the recent movies I have seen haven't left much more than a surface impression on me. I found it difficult to find make selections on movies I'd only seen once and didn't remember too well.
So that's what I ended up with here, a list of movies that at the very least entrained me. But I also found a few that made me think and some that did both (the highest praise for a sci-fi film in my opinion). I have no idea if these will go down as classics, I think we are still too close to most of them to determine that. In about five years, I'd like to revisit this list and see what I've added and which films have declined. So lets get started.
10. Serenity - 2005
After the television series Firefly got cancelled all too quickly, it felt like fans weren't going to get the closure they so desired. Then Joss Whedan did the impossible and got a big screen final episode created and launched into theaters. It has everything you want in a fun space opera flick, great dialogue, lots of action, interesting characters and an emotional punch at the end. It was a bit sad to say goodbye to some of my favorite characters from the television series, but Serenity ends our journeys with style (and leaves enough wiggle room for further adventures if Whedon decides to come back to this world).
9. Minority Report - 2002
Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg - I'll admit it, I wasn't too thrilled with that match. And yet against all the odds, the whole thing worked. I liked how Spielberg made what is essentially a very paranoid and dark story visually filled with over-saturated white light. This look has been copied many times since, but the impact in this film is impressive. It's also got a momentum to it, something that this director is always good at. Even Cruise works in the role, and the whole thing clicks well. The world created here is impressive and feels like it expands well past the screen. Overall it's an engaging and thought provoking movie.
8. Wall-E - 2008
Pixar was on a roll of making one great film after the other. Wall-E falls in the middle of that run, mixing so many disparate elements together to create a cohesive whole. The idea of having the protagonist be a mute garbage robot should not work (something Pixar did repeatedly in their most creative days). But the combination of amazing animation, an effective musical score by Thomas Newman, and a dazzling work of animation created a character you connect with and then thrill to when his adventure takes flight. While the movie's message may be a bit heavy handed at the end, the whole thing still works wonderfully and makes this one of Pixar's best (and you could argue, THE best).
7. Prometheus - 2012
Ridley Scott returns to the world of science fiction, something he did so well in Alien and Blade Runner, two films that appear on my list of greatest science fiction films. He does an admirable job, crafting a story of space exploration that delves into the true wonder and horror of the unknown. That alone should be enough to tie it to the film Alien, but in the end he went that extra step, directly connecting the two films in a way that just didn't click. For some viewers this was a deal breaker, for me, I found it to be an unfortunate coda. All that said, Prometheus has so many good points, amazing production design, some top notch performances and a tale of humans seeking their source and finding that the cosmic joke is on them. Lovecraft would love this movie.
6. Donnie Darko - 2001
There really isn't another movie like Donnie Darko. It combines teen angst, surreal visuals, dimensional travel and one of the creepiest imaginary friends ever into one film. It is another one of those movies that just shouldn't work, and yet it all comes together in a satisfying (although melancholy) way. You could argue that this isn't sci-fi, and you'd be right. But you could also argue that it is sci-fi and you'd be right. Not many movies straddle the genre lines so well. In end I enjoyed the film a great deal, thought about it a great deal and have watched it multiple times. It has to go on a list somewhere, and this seemed like a good spot. Besides, Frank told me to put it here.
5. Avalon - 2001
Mamoru Oshii always makes interesting films. I may not like all of them, but I always find them worth watching. His visual style is unique. He is methodical in his approach to storytelling, often slowing everything down to indulge in hypnotic visuals and philosophical discussions. Avalon has all these elements going on in it, but it also creates it's own world visually. The real world our heroine inhabits feels lived in, dirty and moist. The virtual world of Avalon with it's yellow tinged hue and apocalyptic surroundings doesn't seem like much of an improvement. But it is the way the worlds meld that makes the film worth exploring. Besides how often to you see a Polish Japanese co-production. Less action packed than The Matrix, but also delves deeper into some of the ideas the Hollywood film explored.
4. Children of Men - 2006
This movie is a rough one. It was bleak, relentless and even the glimmer of hope at the end, didn't seem like much. Director Alfonso Cuaron crafts a movie that builds on humanity falling apart. It feels so real that it is disturbing to experience. Clive Owen does a superb job in the lead role. But I think it is Cuaron's camera work, pacing and editing that make the whole thing work so well. This movie was hard to watch, but it was impossible to forget.
3. Paprika - 2006
You know there had to be some anime on there somewhere. Satoshi Kon's swan song picks up all the themes and ideas he's been exploring throughout his career and fuses them into a single film. The result is an explosion of color, creativity and off the wall visuals. The idea of dreams leaving our minds and exploding into our world seems ridiculous and yet Kon makes the whole thing work, adding in a wonderful heroine, Paprika to save the day. Like Kon's previous films all elements work together to create a roller coaster of realities, interesting characters, unique visuals and plenty of humor. The ending is a bit on the weak side, but for the most part this is one of the most dazzling displays of animation I saw in the 2000s. Well worth checking out.
2. District 9 - 2009
This movie has quite a few things going for it. You've got a wonderful performance by Copley to give us a believable (but not likable) protagonist. Then you have a world crafted so well that it feels real. Much like Children of Men you can see our world twisting into this fate. But District 9 doesn't wallow in the darkness, and makes it's first steps toward a better future for that world. In the end, I clicked a bit more with this film (and having some anime inspired mecha suits didn't hurt). Worth checking out, but not for the squeamish, some of the action scenes are very intense and brutal.
1. Moon - 2009
Everything about this movie worked for me. The big key was Sam Rockwell's performance. He is on screen for the entire film and plays the part perfectly. The script is well crafted building on a mystery and then delving into the social and scientific issues of the main problem. The production design is inspired, creating such a realistic setting on a restricted budget. Everything about Moon feels authentic. I even enjoyed the slow pace of the film, finding that it built up to it's conclusion very well. The pace worked for the film, allowing us to really understand Sam's state of mind and his final solution to the very disturbing problem. This is one of the few films on this list that feel certain will remain on it in the next five years.
I also had a few other films that I enjoyed, but didn't quite make the list.
- Super 8
- Tron: Legacy
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
- Source Code
- Safety Not Guaranteed
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