Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films Circa 2000 - 2013: Duanne Walton

Regular reader Duanne Walton gives us the last list of the afternoon!

Duanne writes:

“All righty then, here's my top ten list of 2000-13 movies. Once again, subject to change at any given moment. 

10. Slither (2006) Glad to see someone make a good old fashioned, rip roaring monster movie once in a while. This movie really needs more love.

9. X-Men (2000) The movie that reignited the superhero genre.

8. Serenity (2005) The movie that should not exist, according to Joss Whedon. And yet it does.

7. Chronicle (2012) The found footage and superhero genres combine.

6. Cloverfield (2006) The found footage and giant monster genres combine

5. The Butterfly Effect (2004) It was a toss-up between this and District 9 to make the list, but Butterfly is the one that haunts me more, in every sense of the word.

4. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005) The end was just the beginning.

3. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Think of it as a sci-fi movie about horror movies.

2. Wall-E (2008) A jewel of a movie.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) As much as I hate to admit it, a far better reboot than Burton's version.

That should do it.”

Duanne: I enjoyed your list, and particularly the high-placement of Rise and Wall-E.  

This is also the first placement of a Star Wars prequel.  I was wondering if there would be any showing.  I feel that Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels and actually better than Return of the Jedi, but that’s a post for another day.  This is also the first time The Butterfly Effect and X-Men have shown up on the list.  It has been many years since I saw The Butterfly Effect, but I remember feeling that it was better than reviews indicated. 

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films Circa 2000 - 2013: Ampersand

Regular reader Ampersand offers up his top-ten greatest science fictions circa 2000 – 2013.

He writes:

“Great question, John. I was a little disappointed back when I was compiling my Top 10 All-time list that there weren't any recent films on it. There's been some really great movies made since the turn of the millennium, even if it seems too early to bestow "classic" status on them, so it's great to be able to give them some attention.

A couple of ground rules: Although the last decade-and-a-half has turned somewhat unexpectedly into a golden age of big-budget superhero films, I decided that they just didn't really count, sci-fi trappings aside. Similarly, although I really wanted to include Slither, Planet Terror, Gwoemul (The Host), and especially Cabin in the Woods, I decided that they were really more on the horror (or horror/comedy) end of the spectrum than sci-fi. (Time for a new list, John?)

So, my top two are:

  1.) Serenity (2005) -- Not just a capper to the late, lamented Firefly, but a great movie in its own right. I often think that in a perfect world, the movie would have come out first, to be followed by the series to fill in the backstory

         2.) Moon (2009) -- This is what we used to call "hard sf" -- the kind written by someone like Asimov, Clarke, or Niven, and usually published in Analog magazine. But Sam Rockwell's performance (and come to think of it, Kevin Spacey's, too) gives it a human face that transcends the cliches.
And the rest, in chronological order:

A Scanner Darkly (2006) -- Of all the Philip K. Dick adaptations -- from the profound (Blade Runner) to the just dumb fun (Paycheck) -- this is the closest in spirit to Dick's work. Also, it has Robert Downey, Jr., and Woody Harrelson in supporting roles, so it can't help but be entertaining.

The Man from Earth (2007) -- This little-seen gem was Jerome Bixby's last screenplay, and re-visits an idea from one of his early Star Trek scripts ("Requiem for Methuselah"). (In fact, it's practically a Trek reunion, with Tony Todd, John Billingsley, and Richard Riehle in the cast, and if you kind of squint a little, the whole movie could be seen as a prequel to the Trek episode.) Hardly action-packed, and with modest production values, this is one of those "bunch of people sitting around a room talking" movies. But it's also a terrific, almost dizzying, venture into the kind of "what if?" storytelling that makes for the best kind of science fiction.

District 9 (2009) -- There seems to be a bit of a backlash against this movie lately. Well, screw'em, I still like it.

Star Trek (2009) / Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) -- I fully admit I'm including these two mostly out of nostalgia. But they're both solidly made, entertaining films, while remaining true to the original characters and the spirit of the 60's show, and that's no mean feat.

Source Code (2011) -- Okay, maybe don't think too hard about the ending. Just enjoy the masterful storytelling that gets you there, bit by slowly revealed bit.

Attack the Block (2011) -- Just your average, kinda low-budget, alien invasion movie. What makes this special is the protagonists, a wannabe gang of street kids. Watching them journey from petty crime to world-saving heroics is truly amazing.

Looper (2012) -- Again, don't think too hard about the ending. (Maybe that should be standard advice for time travel movies.) Worth the price of admission just for the twin performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, the film manages to sneak some sly social commentary into a compelling and frequently surprising story.

Oh, one more note: I really dithered about adding Splice (2009) to the list. The first 80 minutes or so are compelling, thought-provoking, and visually arresting. Then in the 3rd act the flick just goes completely off the rails. Maybe that's another good topic for a reader survey? Top Ten Worst Endings?”

Ampersand: I love your list, and I am very pleased to Attack the Block (2011) make the cut. I loved that movie.  It had a great exploitation vibe, and a great 1970s/John Carpenter vibe.  So much fun. 

I’m ashamed to admit this as a Trekker, but I’ve never even heard of Man from Earth!  I will have to look for that one.  Also, I really liked Splice, though I agree with you that the ending was weak.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films Circa 2000 - 2013: Roman J. Martel of Roman's Reviews and Musings

My friend, Roman Martel -- the excellent blogger at Roman’s Reviews and Musings --starts off Saturday afternoon right with his list of the top ten greatest science fiction films circa 2000 – 2013.

Roman writes:

“Wow John, this is a tough one. As I started going over my list I realized more and more that I hadn't seen a lot of the films that other folks were mentioning. The ones I did see usually only received one viewing and in many cases didn't make much of an impression. I think I know what the disconnect is. I've been having a good time delving into the past, seeing some great films and delving deep into old favorites. I've been abandoning the newer flicks. But seeing all these lists has inspired me to check out a few of these films that others like so much.

What I'm trying to say in this rambling preamble is that I haven't seen quite a few films from this era, so my list is limited to what I have seen and what has made an impression. I reserve the right to modify the list upon seeing some new films or revisiting some of the movies on this list.

In this case, I'm focusing more on if the film entertained me and if the film made me think beyond its initial viewing. A good film does both. I still think we may be a bit too close to some of these to really see if they are great films. Give me another five years. :)

10. Serenity (2005) - A great ending to one of the most entertaining sci-fi series to ever reach the small screen. Lots of fun (even with the sad end for some of our favorite characters).

9. Minority Report (2002) - An impressive turn by both the star and the director creates an intense film with brisk pacing and a musing on fate versus choice.

8. Wall-E (2008) - Amazing animation from Pixar combined with a wonderful set of characters, and injection of fun and a message.

7. Prometheus (2012) - So many great ideas crammed into one movie, but saddled with being tied to the Alien franchise, visually impressive

6. Donnie Darko (2001) - Teen angst meets time travel meets the surreal, somehow manages to be creepy and yet darkly entertaining all at once

5. Avalon (2001) - Methodical and overly stylized, and yet you can't stop watching. An interesting twist on virtual worlds and gaming.

4. Children of Men (2006) - gritty, in your face and moving. Hard to watch but even harder to forget.

3. Paprika (2006) - A tour de force of animation delving into the weird and wonderful of dreams, entertaining and also provides a nice meditation on perception.

2. District 9 (2009) - Great lead performance, potent social commentary, and an intensity that doesn't let the viewer go.

1. Moon (2009) - Great lead performance, an affecting story and one that made you think after it was over. 

Honorable mention, "Super 8", "Tron: Legacy", "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence". "Source Code."

Whew, that was difficult. Looking forward to seeing the final list!”

Roman, your list is incredible, and we share a lot of top ten films in common.  Your concise description of Children of Men -- “hard to watch but even harder to forget” is absolutely perfect.  Glad to see you are also a fan of Donnie Darko (2001), a film I keep returning to, and keep loving.

Cult-TV Gallery: Star Trek: The Animated Series: The Finest Crew in the Galaxy...

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "Bem" (September 14, 1974)

STARDATE: 7403.6

The U.S.S. Enterprise explores a world called Delta Theta III, and discovers that a race of aboriginal Saurians dwell there.  These aliens are under “Prime Directive protection” according to Captain Kirk (William Shatner), and this means any landing parties must explore the world with discretion.

Unfortunately, a colony creature known as Ai Bn Bem (from the planet Pandro) -- an honorary Starfleet Commander and independent observer -- demands to be included on the landing party and is “adamant” about his participation.  Almost immediately, however, he interferes with standard operating procedures, fooling with the ship’s transporters and Starfleet equipment such as the communicators.

The Enterprise landing party soon learns that the aborigines are protected by a Mother-like “God” alien, one that doesn’t want anyone to hurt her “children.” 

Bem’s actions, however, threaten that divine edict and the safety of the landing party…

David Gerrold’s second contribution to Star Trek: The Animated Series is brimming with good, inventive ideas, but ultimately they don’t cohere into a better-than-average installment of the series.  

Is “Bem” a wacky comedy, one in which Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk crack-wise and do pratfalls?  Here, they accidentally beam down...into the water, and at one point, Kirk jokes about wishing he were a librarian instead of a Starfleet Captain.  

If the episode is supposed to be a comedy, however, Bem's actions are hardly funny. He sabotages Starfleet equipment, constantly puts Starfleet officers in danger, and finally even jeopardizes the normal development of a primitive alien culture.  The Prime Directive may be bent, stretched or broken in Star Trek, but it is rarely a laughing matter.

Or, contrarily, is "Bem" a parable about parenting, right down to its discussion of the merits of discipline and punishment?  I think it actually works better if considered in this light, but again, the comedy shtick seems to work against the narrative and theme.

The answer regarding "Bem's" tone isn’t entirely forthcoming, and so this episode doesn’t reach the series’ highest tier.  This fact established, “Bem” is a veritable well-spring of ideas, and many of the concepts featured here recur in later franchise entries, notably The Next Generation’s “Justice” and “Matter of Honor.”

In the former TNG episode, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew visit a planet where a God-like being -- in this case a father, not a mother -- protects a race of innocents, not Saurians but “the Edo,” from off-world interference.   

In the latter episode, the Enterprise plays host to another alien exchange students of sorts, a Benzite officer who has trouble integrating his behavior with Starfleet protocols and decorum.  “Bem” is pretty clearly an early version of both of these tales.

Despite its introduction of these concepts, there’s the unshakable feeling with “Bem” that everything is just a little off, perhaps the result of a hurried or difficult schedule. For instance, Shatner’s reading of the Captain’s Log introduction is bizarre to say the least, almost like he is confused about the details he is relaying. His reading here, in fact, feels totally out-of-step with the Captain’s Log entries of every Animated Series episode thus far.  Seriously, listen to his line readings and cadences here.  What was he thinking?

The most visually distinctive but also, alas, juvenile concept of “Bem” is the idea that the alien visitor is a “colony creature.”  This is a concept already utilized by Gerrold on this series, in “More Tribbles, More Troubles.”  There, giant tribbles weren’t actually giants at all…but colonies of the creatures forming together as kind of gestalt organisms.  Bem is the same deal all over again, but to see the alien’s body parts fly off, independently of one another, fails to inspire or awe. Bem seems, in visualization, more like a high-concept gimmick than a legitimate alien life form.

Such criticism duly noted, I should confess that I've always appreciated “Bem’s” final human and humane point: that capital punishment isn’t very useful or productive.  How can a victim of such punishment learn from his errors if not granted a second chance?  After all, the death penalty doesn't bring anyone back to life. “What is punishment? Revenge?” asks the gentle God creature (voiced by Nichelle Nichols), and that’s a nice Star Trek-ian message.  

You just know a Saturday morning TV series is operating on a commendable level of complexity if an episode like "Bem" is able to explore so profoundly the line between vengeance and justice.  I've always been a big fan of David Gerrold's work (non-fiction, fiction and for television...), and there's a lot to like about "Bem" even if it doesn't entirely come together in the end.

Next week: “The Practical Joker”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to Frank Black Interviews Barbara Bain

I just want to direct all Mission: Impossible, Space:1999 and Millennium fans to the latest podcast from the good folks at Back to Frank Black.  James McLean and Troy Foreman have conducted a brilliant,  wide-ranging hour+ interview with three-time Emmy Award winner Barbara Bain.

The interview discusses Ms. Bain's impressive career in detail, but also -- delightfully -- reveals her great sense of humor.  She is an absolute pleasure to listen to, and fans of Cinnamon Carter and Dr. Helena Russell should definitely check this out.  As a Space 1999-admirer, I loved listening to Ms. Bain's reminiscences of London, Bray Studios, Main Mission, and the Great Strike in the 1970s.

The link is here

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films 2000 - 2013: Jeffrey Siniard of A Beachfront Cineaste

Reader, friend, and blogger at A Beachfront Cineaste, Jeffrey Siniard shares his list of the top ten science fiction films of the era 2000 – 2013 to cap off the day.

Jeffrey writes:

“Thanks again for posting these lists. I always enjoy seeing opinions and ideas from other people. In all honesty, I think this was a tougher task than coming up with the top 10 all time.
Also, thanks to everyone else who's participated - your lists helped me recall films that made me feel stupid for forgetting them in the first place.

Before we begin, I'd like to give the following films an honorable mention:

Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Solaris (2002)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Mission to Mars (2000)
Looper (2012)

Onto the list:

#10 - TRON: Legacy (2010)

I thought Joseph Kosinski's directorial debut was criminally underrated. In addition to being a rite of passage film, it's about the relationship between man and his creations - a relationship one step removed from man's relationship with God. It's beautifully realized and executed, the action is fast but never incoherent, the performances are strong and Daft Punk's incredible score is a valentine to great works by Vangelis, Wendy Carlos, and Giorgio Moroder in the early to mid-80s.

#9 - Serenity (2005)

Joss Whedon's film is simply the most entertaining Saturday afternoon matinee film of its kind in a long time, like a fusion of Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Magnificent Seven. It shouldn't work at all, but it works beautifully. Like the best pulp fiction, it has no compunction about putting beloved characters into harm's way. There's some nicely veiled social commentary as well, and a wonderful Nathan Fillion performance as Mal Reynolds - anchoring the film's moral center. "I aim to misbehave" indeed!

#8 - Wall-E (2008)

John, I agree with your take about Wall-E being a modern take on Chaplin's Tramp. For me, what draws me into the film is the vision of a spent and wasted Earth, corporate greed reaching into the heavens, and the literal infantilization of humanity. It's the way the movie does this, with skyscrapers of trash, dust storms, Wall-E's collection of commercial detritus, the failed attempts at Green energy that speak of a civilization which lost its way the moment it abandoned intimacy with the living world. This movie has a river of sadness running underneath the surface.

#7 - Sunshine (2007)
What I enjoy so much about Danny Boyle's film is the dedication to process. There are no gimmicks, no big twists, no closing revelations. HIs focus on the crew of Icarus II and their journey to save the Sun is all the more compelling and heartbreaking because he cares about how these astronauts do their jobs, and the consequences that come from simple mistakes in arithmetic. There's also a classic heroic performance by Chris Evans, and I love how he can both be a jerk, and yet he embodies the very best of humanity when facing humanity's worst.

#6 - Avatar (2009)

The ultimate gift of science fiction is to create another world and transport you to that world convincingly. Regardless of how you view the film's politics, the clumsiness of the screenplay, the ego of its maker, or it's astronomical success, the truth is James Cameron manages to tell another intimate and moving love story. He also transports you to Pandora for 2 hours and 30 minutes with an I AM THERE verisimilitude no film before or since has achieved. One of the (very) few films of this century which fully justifies the 3D IMAX movie going experience.

#5 - Moon (2009)

A smart script and smart direction by Duncan Jones, with smart performances by Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey allow you to forget you're not watching a film with a huge budget (or even CGI - all hail mattes and miniatures) or big stars. It remains quiet and intimate, allows its story to unfold as the main character discovers more, and the plot twists and conclusion are compelling precisely because they're anchored in character. Moon is a textbook example of "less is more", much more.

#4 - Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus isn't a perfect film. Yes there are plot holes. But when it works (which is most of the time) it's as great as Ridley Scott's previous science fiction masterworks. The design and effects are stunning (much credit to Scott and Arthur Max for building practical sets as much as possible) the visualizations are beautiful, and the performances, especially Michael Fassbender's David, are terrific. Prometheus is one of the few films (science fiction or otherwise) which really respects the mystery of creation, the size of the universe, and the ability of the audience to decipher the symbols and determine what it all means.

#3 - Minority Report (2002)

Steven Spielberg shows us the near future, and it's a savage place. The complete assimilation of humanity by consumer capitalism, as evidenced by the barrage of advertising. The creation of thought police, able to arrest and convict before the crime has been committed. Tom Cruise's last great performance. Also, we have Spielberg's unsurpassed command of craft, as the showman takes us from dazzling set-piece to dazzling set-piece, and a darker, more mature filmmaker willing to indulge (and implicate) his audience with voyeurism and macabre humor. This is the apex of Spielberg the entertainer and Spielberg the maturing artist.

#2 - Children of Men (2006)

Alfonso Cuaron's dystopic England is the most terrifying science fiction movie-scape I've ever seen. The film seems largely a meditation on the Anger level of the Five Stages of Grief, with England reacting in a collective rage over the impending end of humanity. Clive Owen has never been put to better use than in this film, which makes superb use of both his physical presence and hangdog expression in service of Theo; a man who's seen too much, been hurt too often, and yet has the strength to carry the future of humanity (and the film) to safety when the opportunity arises. Also, I simply love Michael Caine in this film - I can't ever recall a child's joke ever carrying the mixture of sadness and defiance it does when he says "Pull my finger." 

#1 - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Spielberg's film about the future of robotics in human relationships is also an acid commentary about the technological consumer society we've turned into. There's no sense of responsibility of humans toward their creations, as every human is interested in A.I. only as it fulfills their immediate needs, including parenting, love, sex, violence, and racism, then discarding and moving on to the next advancement. What amazes me more than anything in this film is how Spielberg divides the audience against itself, repeatedly inviting us to know the humans, then the machines, then to turn the humans against their machines with cavalier disregard. No film of Spielberg's matches this one for emotional intensity and dissonance, and no film of Spielberg's is by turns beautiful, haunting, wrenching, terrifying, lyrical, and intimate like A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

On the "To Watch" list:

District 9
Pacific Rim

Jeffrey: I loved reading your appreciative commentary on your top ten selections.  Your writing is downright poetic in spots. 

I am thrilled to see TRON: Legacy on the list, as I feel the film was criminally underrated.  I also think your defense and explanation of Avatar’s success is one of the finest -- along with Le0pard13’s -- that I’ve read.  Your commentary on A.I. --coupled with other positive reader writing about the same film -- makes it a re-watch necessity for me.  Great job!

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films 2000 - 2013: T.L. Foreman of The PC Principle

T.L. Foreman is the blogger at the terrific site The PC Principle, and one of the masterminds behind the Back to Frank Black campaign. 

Troy introduces his list of top ten sci-fi films circa 2000 - 2013 below:

“As always, another fantastic question. I sat down and thought about this one for a while. I could go into plots, special effects, impact, blah blah, but I chose my list a bit differently. Yes, those things are important, but for me, all the films on my list I can watch over and over again and recommend to anyone without hesitation.

So, with that being said, here is my list in no particular order. I couldn't put them in order. Would have taken longer!

Sunshine - I will try and fit this movie on any list that I can. Along with Serenity, as close to a perfect science fiction film as there is.

Serenity - Joss Whedon already could have rested on the cult status of Firefly, but taking a chance with a movie was a big gamble and he came through with flying colors!

Pitch Black - Not much to say here except it's a fantastic film. Very raw.

Frequency - A little known film with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. A very interesting plot.

Moon - two words. Sam Rockwell

Dredd - Ran circles around the Sylvester Stallone film. I hope they do a sequel.

Primer - the budget for this film was around $7000. You may have to watch it a couple of times to understand it, but it's well worth it.

Daybreakers - Ethan Hawkes stars in the vampire film that takes place in the future. Very solid film.

Minority Report - Great action and one of my favorite Tom Cruise movies.

The Mothman Prophecies - Based on a true story. Richard Gere gives a fantastic performance in this creepy film.

Troy: Great choices all around.  I’m a pretty big fan of The Mothman Prophecies, though it received mostly negative reviews during its theatrical run.  I find the movie incredibly unnerving and creepy, and I like to haul it near Halloween every year.

I’m also glad to see that you have some love for Daybreakers, another strong genre film of recent vintage that didn’t seem to get much attention, let alone love.

I remembered how much you like Sunshine, and so it’s good see that title here on the list.  That movie is having a strong showing on the tally thus far…

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films 2000 - 2013: BT

Regular reader BT starts off the afternoon with his choices for the top ten greatest science fiction films circa 2000 – 2013.

BT writes:

“Not sure how this is going to go over with everyone, and to be clear, there are a few movies on everyone's top 10 I haven't seen, but here's mine. 

10. Inception - (spoilers!) I'm normally not a huge fan of "rubber reality" type movies, as it's tough to invest in the narrative when the director/writers can essentially pull any rabbit out of their hat, but I thought Nolan handled it exceedingly well. In most cases an ending like the spinning top would drive me crazy, but I thought it was nearly perfect. Lastly as a father of 2 young girls, the ending really hit home for me. If I were DiCaprio in that situation, it wouldn't matter what reality I was in at the end, I'd be home. 

9. World War Z - In many ways it was pedestrian, it didn't really follow the (terrific) book at all, and there was not a ton of character development, but the fact is after watching seemingly hundreds of zombie movies that all, in some way or another follow the same template, this movie gave me huge sweeping scenes of vast hoards of marauding zombies, and scenes of the government attempting a response. In short, it gave me something I'd never seen before. Many critics ripped it for all the things it didn't do, but that, to me, seems unfair, as they are critiquing a movie not made. If they wanted more one on one zombie action, go see the hundreds of other zombie movies readily available to them. 

8. Night Watch/Day Watch- It's been a while since I've seen this Timur Bekmambatov duo, so it's hard to remember the specifics, but what I do remember was that it was pretty unlike anything I'd seen up to that point. Or more accurately, it was probably like a ton of things I had seen all mashed up into one. I do know it was unique, and that when it was over I wished it was a trilogy instead of only 2 movies. However I doubt many people are on board with me on this one. 

7. The Host -The Korean one, not the new one. The movie ends up being more about family dynamics than monsters, but that's still OK.  Not much to add here other than to say the opening attack was one of my favorite set pieces of the decade. 

6. Slither- Terribly underrated, with a fantastic cast, and witty dialogue. Affirmed my crush on Elizabeth Banks, and started my man crush on Nathan Fillion. Throw the fantastic Gregg Henry and Michael Rooker in to boot and you are cooking with gas (which if I remember correctly plays into the finale). 

5. District B13- (NOT District 9, which I also liked!) Another one people probably won't agree with but I loved it. In the far flung future of 2013, a section of Paris has been cordoned off and left to the street gangs (similarities to District 9, hence the listing as sci-fi on IMDB).  Enter an undercover cop and a local man to rescue a kidnapped sister, and find ticking time bombs. For better or for worse it may have helped usher in Parkour, but don't hold that against it. The film is an absolute blast, and every time you think you know which way it's going, it takes another turn. That's not to say it's a mystery, it's just that when you think it's settled into a specific narrative, it discards that one and zig zags to another. I went into this one completely cold and came out with a huge smile on my face. 

4. Moon - Brilliant screenplay. I smugly went into this movie having watched the trailer, confident I knew what the big "twist" was. Turns out the "twist" occurs a half hour into the movie, and is simply the jumping off point for a discussion about individuality, what it means to be human, and has the added bonus of destroying the old trope of the secretly sinister "helpful" computer. Sam Rockwell is pretty amazing, and the call home is heart breaking. 

3. Cloverfield - I grew up adoring Godzilla. Hands down they were my favorite movies as a kid. You can say all sorts of wonderful things about the old Godzilla movies, but one thing you CAN'T say is that they were scary. Cloverfield changed that. It showed how, instead of filming from the top down, with the sets in miniature, you film from the bottom up, with the monster enlarged, how terrifying those people running around Tokyo must have had it back in the day. The shaky cam has never bothered me, so I had no problem with the feeling that I was there, while the monster ran around Manhattan. And the Statue of Liberty scene is iconic, to me at least. 

2. Star Trek
- I had reservations when reading about the reboot, but they were completely put to rest. The film was almost perfect to me. Just enough origin story, just enough meet and greet, and then it's off and running. Chris Pine captured the wit and swagger of Kirk perfectly, Bruce Greenwood's Pike gave it gravitas so it wasn't just an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, and the rest of the cast fit like a glove. The action scenes were handled well, and the story was tweaked in just the right way to give the writers leeway to deviate from the Trek canon. My only gripe is a less than thrilling villain played by a pretty good actor. 

1. Cabin in the Woods -Someone else claimed it as sci-fi, I don't really think it is, but it was the best time I've had at a movie in a long time, so I'd like to include it as well. The movie was discussed pretty well on this blog, and I don't have a ton to add, other than I still think it was brilliant, insightful, biting, and even if John makes some great points about the end, it's not enough to change the way I feel about the movie as a whole. When people say "Scream" was a spoof of horror movies, I never quite understood that, as all it ever did, in my opinion, was openly acknowledge horror conventions. It was still a horror movie. THIS is a horror spoof. Not the "Scary Movie" kind either. Good stuff.

BT: I think you made terrific selections, and argued well the case for their inclusion.  I also like Cloverfield (and write about it in Horror Films FAQ), but I think you described it perfectly: the switch from top town to bottom-up “monster” filmmaking.  And yes, it makes a difference; the new approach makes the giant monster genre legitimately scary.  Very well-enunciated, I think.

I was introduced to District B13 by a dear friend, and I own it on DVD.  Like you, I wasn’t exactly expecting much besides a guilty pleasure, but I came out of it having had a really good time.  It’s a fun movie, and the action is indeed breathtaking. 

I have not seen World War Z, but am looking forward to it!

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films 2000 - 2013: J.D. Lafrance at Radiator Heaven

Film scholar and blogger J.D. Lafrance of the must-read Radiator Heaven starts off our Friday Reader Top Ten in fine style.

He commences his list:

CHILDREN OF MEN: A brilliant dystopian vision of a futuristic England where women can no longer get pregnant and a former activist is contacted by his ex-wife revolutionary. Not since Brazil has there been such a breathtakingly fully-realized future-world been committed to film and one that eerily mirrors our own, only pushed slightly into the future. The direction is masterful as is the performance by Clive Owen as a jaded man who finds something to believe in again. Not only is this film entertaining and exciting, it is also thought-provoking.

A SCANNER DARKLY: There have been many adaptations of Philip K. Dick novels and stories, but this is by and far the most faithful and the best. In an audacious move, Richard Linklater decided to animate over live-action and in doing so manages to preserve the drug-addled vibe of the book. The cast is uniformly excellent with Robert Downey Jr. in top form as a motor-mouthed drug addict. The visuals are very impressive and yet they never overshadow the film’s message, which examines the devastating toll drugs take on the individual and the paranoia they can induce.

INCEPTION: A fascinating take on dreaming and dream-worlds as Christopher Nolan fuses Dreamscape with Heat. The film’s protagonist specializes in entering people’s dreams to steal their ideas, but is plagued by demons of his own. This is a film teeming with intriguing ideas and stunning visuals to back them up. Another powerhouse cast heads up this film and the exciting climax juggles three different action sequences all intertwined in a way that is never confusing. The film ends on a great image that leaves it open to interpretation in a wonderfully suggestive way.

LOOPER: The time travel movie has been done to death, but Rian Johnson’s film manages to find a new angle to explore with a world where only criminals have access to send people back in time. So, they send back people they want to be assassinated with operatives known as loopers doing the dirty work for them in the past. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as the looper who develops a conscience and his relationship with Emily Blunt, playing a woman whose child he ends up protecting from his future-self, gives the film its heart.

DONNIE DARKO: Richard Kelly’s film explores the fascinating possibilities of alternate realities and how a jet engine crashing on a suburban house in middle America creates a new reality. Or is it all happening in the protagonist’s head? Kelly perfectly recreates the look and feel of 1980s suburbia that was featured so prominently in Steven Spielberg movies, like E.T. with a time travel story that was a popular sub-genre during this decade, but with a dark, foreboding atmosphere that eats away at the wholesome façade of America reminiscent of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The film’s ending is truly haunting.

SERENITY: Cancelled and left for dead, Joss Whedon managed to convince another studio to resurrect his short-lived, but much beloved sci-fi western T.V. show Firefly, reuniting the cast for another rousing adventure. He managed to pull off a tricky feat by making the film accessible to newbies while still having all kinds of revelations for hardcore fans. This is the SF film that the Star Wars prequels should have been as Whedon beat George Lucas at his own game and makes the space opera fun and exciting again.

MOON: In what is essentially a one-man show (unless you count Kevin Spacey as the voice of an intelligent computer), Sam Rockwell pulls off an impressive performance as an astronaut slowly unraveling while pulling a seemingly endless shift on the Moon. Director Duncan Jones does an amazing job creating a thoughtful science fiction film about isolation and what it does to an individual. The twist ending is really something and had me thinking about it for days afterwards.

THE FOUNTAIN: What started off as a bloated, big budget epic starring Brad Pitt was eventually pared down to an ambitious yet intimate examination of love over hundreds of years, juggling three stories from the past, present and future. Darren Aronofsky digs deep and delivers a personal, heartfelt exploration of love and death with soulful performances from Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. As with all of Aronofsky’s films, it divided critics and audiences, but there’s no denying the care and detail that went into this film.

SOUTHLAND TALES: Richard Kelly strikes again in this unholy mess of a sprawling science fiction epic that takes place after World War III. Featuring a fascinating cast of Saturday Night Live alumni along with The Rock, Justin Timberlake, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, it attempts to fuse the sensibilities of Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon and all kinds of other sources from various media into a funky hodge-podge that is confusing, maddening, brilliant, but never boring. Not many like this film, but those who do, really love it. This was Kelly’s all or nothing film and you certainly have to give him an A for effort as it displays the kind of ambition and cinematic chutzpah most films only dream of.

NEVER LET ME GO: This is a low-key drama without much sci-fi trappings, but does take place in a world where the human lifespan has been extended beyond a 100 years. The film follows three young people in what is subtly revealed to be an alternate world where students that go to an English boarding school exist for only one reason, which I won’t divulge for those who haven’t seen it. This one kinda flew under the radar and with good reason. It is a heavy film that explores life and death issues in thoughtful ways. The acting is excellent with Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan playing the three lead characters. Don’t expect a heartwarming tale, but those who like challenging, poignant, character-driven sci-fi, this might be for you.”

J.D.: This is a terrific list, with some must-see titles. I was happy to see the inclusion of A Scanner Darkly, in particular.  I have never seen Never Let Me Go, but that’s a mistake I hope to rectify.

I almost never turn a movie off mid-way through, but that’s what happened for me with Southland Tales.  Looks like it is time to give it another try!

I’m also happy to see that the love continues for my favorites like Looper and Donnie Darko, two great films from this time period.

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