Wonderful SF/Fantasy Movies

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  It also (grudgingly) cheats and includes some TV.  It is a list of stuff that leaps to mind casually on a Friday afternoon… and absolutely, like the book list, needs fleshing out more!  That said, in no order whatsoever….

  1.  Lord of the Rings.  Okay.  So it’s far too long.  It’s TERRIBLY written.  If you actually stop and listen to the words, it’s bad.  The acting is pretty shocking in places, and while the Hobbit improves on the acting a bit, we’re still talking about some deeply, deeply flawed movie-making on many levels, which not even some nice production design and New Zealand can fix.  That’s not why it’s here.  It’s here because the first time you saw the Battle at Helm’s Deep – and I mean the first time, before everyone else cottoned on and started doing that stuff – it blew your mind.  Since then you’ve become a little bit more circumspect and are all like ‘yeah but actually if you think about it….’ but for a few moments there, back in the good old days of the early 2000s, you were sat with your mouth hanging open and a bit of drool rolling out.
  2. Spirited Away.  Beautiful, intelligent, subtle, moving, bit with a dragon, a story of resilience, passion, loyalty, magic, duty, family, growing up, freedom, identity, sentient coal – hell, why am I even writing words?  I might just have to go and watch it again and I can guarantee you I’m still gonna cry at the end.
  3. Back to the Future.  One of the many, many joyful things about this trilogy – and I am including the trilogy as a whole in this experience – is that once you’ve seen it you don’t have to watch any high school dramas, time paradox movies or Clint Eastwood Westerns ever again.  I mean, you should, because there are some great movies out there, but you can also be fairly sure that every single trope they can throw at you was lovingly covered by Back to the Future, and with honour, craft, joy, things going boom and very big hair.
  4. Star Wars.  Arguably a classic granddaddy of SF in film, and potentially less flawed than Lord of the Rings, if you ignore the movies that everyone ignores and pretends didn’t happen except for that epic fight at Mustafar which we’re all happy to talk about because whoooosh.  More to the point, if you’re ten, and it’s Christmas Eve, and you’ve never seen Star Wars before and there’s a marathon over the next three days, that it’s.  No one is going to get a word in until after Boxing Day is over because this shit is getting real, and I’m gonna be a Jedi when I grow up.  Then twenty happy years go by with barely an interruption to your joy except a little bit of needless exposition proceeding the fight at Mustafar… and then The Force Awakens happens and you can sit back and remember that joyful sense of adventure and delight you had when you were ten all over again, pretty much shot-for-shot, and it’s great, and don’t you dare touch my popcorn.
  5. Moon.  (And as a sub-catagory, Source Code, but mostly Moon.)  Leaving aside for a moment the fact that it’s an eerie, beautiful, interesting, intelligent, clever, emotional, upsetting, disturbing and uplifting tale of isolation and identity, brilliantly constructed and absurdly well acted… you know… all that stuff… the bit where Sam Rockwell plays pingpong with himself is also very, very cool.
  6. Dark City.  This again, to a degree, falls into the minor-flawed category of film making, especially with the bit at the end (spoiler) where the dude sorta becomes God and the sun comes up and things might be a bit better perhaps if you ignore the fact that… well… there’s a lot of things to ignore, really.  But the production design!  Oh me oh my the production design I am sat here still, to this day, giving a slow handclap to the team.  And also the deep sense of paranoia, doom, alien-goings-on, otherworldly disassociation from reality and funny voices.  This film was one of the first I bought for my teenage self, after saving up the money for ages to get it, and it’s still on my shelf today, and still gets re-watched over a dozen years later, and still makes me happy.  In a sorta grim-fallacy-of-human-experience-sorta-way.
  7. Serenity.  The most perfect space opera ever.  There’s things you can say against it.  You are mistaken.  It is the best.  That is all.
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy.  Arguably this too is a perfect space opera, even if the plot is joyfully wheeeeee around the edges.  If you want a surreal experience, watch it in Poland.  Polish TV doesn’t sub-title or dub.  Just have a single male voice narrating everything that is happening over the top in deadpan tones.  “The spaceship is crashing.  It is crashing.  We are all going to die.  I am Groot.”  It would be wrong to say it is lighter than Serenity, or cheesier, though the fromage definitely smells good… rather it is a joyous thing unto itself, that sits squarely within an established genre and bounces up and down shouting ‘more of this and better whooopeeee!’ and yes, we all cheer along.  We cheer along most mightily.
  9. The Matrix.  “Welcome to the desert of the real.”  Ah it’s so pompous.  It’s so angsty.  There’s so much kung fu!  And it’s so good to look at!  And yes, again, if you are a 15 year old and you’ve never seen kung fu quite like it performed by people in leather coats who are worried that reality is just an illusion of sense data… then your mind is more melty than that thing that the agents do when they sorta melt into your flesh in that really creepy way.  What?  There were two films after?  In which it turns out that Neo is Jesus?  No.  I think you’ll find that’s surely not the case….
  10. The Truman Show.  It’s the Matrix, set in 1950s America, with more jokes, and less kung fu.  It is also arguably, a superior movie, but hell, they’re not really comparable, apart from the themes of an all-seeing entity watching, manipulating and controlling your tiny, tiny lives….
  11. How to Train Your Dragon.  Unwritten sub-title: Because Geeks Are The Best, And Dragons Are Cool, And Everyone Wants To Fly.  Nuff said.
  12. Brazil.  In which Terry Gilliam takes 1984, gives it plastic surgery, force-feeds it luminescent green cake, and hairsprays a small hole in the ozone layer about the studio.  Terry Gilliam can do no wrong in my eyes.  This is a mistaken view; he is perfectly capable of error, and has many enterprises to his name to back up this point of view.  But one of the reasons I think he can do no wrong, is because of Brazil.
  13. Batman.  But I hear your cry!  Which Batman?  The first two Batman movies as directed by Tim Burton, which were arguably visually arresting gothic romps through a world of surreal realities and oversized characters?  (And also: very fun?)  Or are we jumping straight ahead, through the many Batman movies we don’t talk about, to Batman Begins, in which Batman got all growly and had to learn lessons about the price of violence and the value of… well… stuff.  You know.  Stuff.  Growly stuff.  Hard… stuff?  Or even Batman vs. Superman, and the return of Ben Affleck to capedom-ness after the Daredevil movie that we’ve all thankfully forgotten?  Well, no, not the latter, because I haven’t seen it, because there’s only so many men growling about stuff that a girl can take.  But as for the movies listed above… yeah.  Both the fun gothic and the growly reboot, in different ways, for different reasons, with different cries of ‘use your footwork, idiots!’ during the fights.
  14. Night Watch/Day Watch.  In which Russia got urban fantasy.  In many ways, these two movies are so utterly different they should barely be clumped together.  But hell, who cares?  Epic battle of light vs. dark?  Tick.  Moral compromises at every stage?  Tick.  Flawed heroes fighting magical forces of epic doom?  Many tick.  Icky bit with a spine and a sword?  Yeah.  That too.  Break out the biscuits, walk through shadow, snuggle up with a hot drink and brace yourself for the end of the world and the redemption of past mistakes, Moscow-style.
  15. Push.  It’s a superhero movie disguised as Hollywood actually vaguely getting telekinesis, telepathy, government cover-up stuff right.  Amazing how rarely that happens.  Push nails it.  Again, don’t think too much about the plot, but enjoy the cast of characters, the joyful rompiness of it all, the fun fights and the incredible lightshow that is the Hong Kong landscape.  A fun, fun film.
  16. Blade Runner.  It changed the world of SF film making.  To this day it still holds up as smart, beautiful, poignant and gripping.  Very few films, a few years down the line, can make the same claim.
  17. Cypher.  (With a sub-nod to its predecessor, creative-team-wise, Cube, only without people being dissected by cheesewire.)  For elegant paranoia, slightly odd computer/brain hacking plotting and a general sense that everyone is out to get you always and you definitely can’t trust yourself at all, Cypher nails it.
  18. Dr Strange.  A very recent inclusion on this list, it has made it because of the cloak.  The rest is spinny harmless psychedelic fun a little lacking in character.  The cloak is arguably a sartorial version of Terry Pratchett’s Luggage, and in much the same vein, steals the show.
  19. Avengers Assemble.  (And a nod to Iron Man, for proving the genre could make it, and X-Men one for roughly the same gig only with mutants.)  If nothing else, you gotta hand it to the Avengers – it set itself one hell of a task, and succeeded mightily.  And got the Hulk right.  No one gets the Hulk right.  Who would have thought that in between giant space-turtles invading the Earth, anyone had the time to get the Hulk right, or make Thor even remotely interesting?  Kudos, Joss Whedon.  Kudos.
  20. 12 Monkeys.  I’m cheating here.  This is the beginning of my cross-over from film to TV, because did I mention that Terry Gilliam can do no wrong?  He did no wrong with the film of 12 Monkeys, which makes it all the more remarkable that the TV series of recent years actually sorta… keeps on doing if not better, then very well indeed.  It’s so timey-wimey.  There’s so much character and people changing and shifting alliances and changing points of view.  And did I mention the timey-wimey?  People!  Don’t screw around with time.  Do Not Screw Around With Time.
  21. Dr Who.  People.  Don’t screw around with time.  Unless you’re a Time Lord, in which case… who cares?  The Doctor will fix it.  It’s what he does.  It’s what he’s been doing to various degrees of excellence for over fifty years.  When it’s excellent, it’s brilliant.  When it’s less excellent, it’s often still a hell of a lot better than a great deal of crap on TV, and it is only a testimony to how much more excellent it should be that we are all a bit grumpy about the cock-ups.  Also, whoever decided that the Doctor could reincarnate, was a production management genius.
  22. Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, I’m talking about the recent series.  Yes, everyone was very grim and there were a lot of dirty vests.  Yes, it turned out to be God’s Fault, and that’s a bit of a shame.  But who cares?  Things went boom, morals were compromised, characters learned and changed, humanity was explored, humanity was tested, everyone was very tense – very, very tense my god so bloody tense and it was excellent.
  23. Dollhouse.  In which more of the nature of humanity/identity is explored, but while looking pretty and knowing kung fu.  With more jokes.
  24. The Legend of Korra.  In which tai chi = magic, and it turns out that you can have wonderful characters in complicated worlds dealing with modern issues of the day, while also including gender and ethnic diversity AND kicking arrogant firebender butt.
  25. Killjoys.  In which space opera = awesome and it turns out you can have wonderful characters in complicated worlds dealing with modern issues of the day, while also including gender and ethnic diversity and… well, you get the gist.
  26. Daredevil.  The TV series.  It is the awesome-sauce.  Arguably not helped by the inclusion of undead ninja zombies at later stages, but just moving swiftly through that to the key issues of kung fu, dubious moral choices and the Kingpin – oh my, the Kingpin! – and it is the excellence.  Well done Marvel/Netflix.
  27. Jessica Jones.  In which you watch the entire thing through your laced fingers while rocking and shaking with a cry of ‘dear God no’ but still have to keep watching – HAVE TO KEEP WATCHING – because being a superhero doesn’t always save you from having to deal with the consequences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in a world that shies from talking about any of this.  Straight out unbearable; stone cold brilliant.
  28. Star Trek/Stargate.  I’ve clumped them (sinfully) together.  This is because I suspect neither of being very good, and because they were formative for much of SF TV in various ways, and because I certainly enjoyed watching Stargate as a teenager (I watched it on Wednesday mornings while my parents were asleep, which given that my school commute involved leaving the house at 6.45 a.m. was indeed a commitment) and cheered for Stargate Atlantis because of Dr McKay obviously, and because while I’ve never particularly enjoyed Star Trek I can give it kudos where kudos is earned, and didn’t mind Deep Space Nine.  However I’m not enough of a geek on either of these topics to give them individual praise here… just enough of a geek to acknowledge that the list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them as a thing.
  29. Farscape.  Yes, it was often bad.  And there was that thing that happened after the end of Season 4 that we don’t talk about what thing I don’t even know where that sentence came from anyway… but you know what else it was?  Fun, wacky, and full of actual proper alien life.  Farscape made the universe feel huge, exciting, scary and diverse in a way that no other space opera before or since has really achieved.  Also there was secretly some character development there.  Heroes became psychologically a bit scarred.  Villains changed sides.  Dubious alliances were made and broken.  The only character who didn’t really develop was the floating slug, and that was sorta the point of him anyway.  Mucho love.

2 Comments:

  1. I buy about 50%.

  2. You missed Ender’s Game…a not-bad adaptation of a truely brilliant book.

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