Man, people on the interwebz are crazy about their top ten lists, especially when years, decades and centuries end. I’d just like to remind everyone reading that decades (that is, periods of ten years) are ending all the time. For example, the decade that began at 2:50 P.M. on December 21, 1999 just ended a minute ago. Where’s the fireworks? Remember people: dates are arbitrary conventions of human culture, nothing more.
With that said, here is my own list of the top ten science fiction movies of the last ten years. For the purposes of this list, I’m allowing myself a fairly broad interpretation of “science fiction” (i.e. I won’t disqualify a film for having wonky physics at work) but I’m specifically omitting comic book superhero movies (e.g. The Dark Knight) and pure fantasy films (e.g. LOtR). Movies on the list must be premised on a specifically science fictional conceit. Here goes…
09 Avatar (James Cameron, 2009). Yes, Avatar makes this list, though it’s at the bottom. It’s possible a little additional hindsight will alter my estimation of the film (moving it higher on the list or taking off the list altogether), but as a science fiction film, it’s got a lot going for it — in particular the depiction of the moon of Pandora. See my review from a couple of days ago for more of my thoughts on the film.
08 Minority Report (Stephen Spielberg, 2002). This is Spielberg’s best SF film, hands down (sorry E.T.). I think it’s underrated by SF fans because it’s a Tom Cruise film but it succeeds despite that handicap, and the supporting cast (Colin Farrell, Max Von Sydow, Tim Blake Nelson, Samantha Morton, Peter Stormare) is outstanding. It’s also one of the precious few good Philip K. Dick film adaptations out there.
07 WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008). The film that (hopefully) created millions of SF fans. The message is good, the look is beautiful, the characters are charming and it’s pure SF. Love it.
06 Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005). The decade didn’t really have a lot of space opera (outside of the woefully disappointing Star Wars prequels, two of which were in the last decade and are notably absent from this list), but Joss delivers. If I was including TV shows on this list, Serenity/Firefly would likely rate higher up as a set.
05 Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009). The best nostalgic franchise reboot since Casino Royale. This was a sacred cow of mine and I thought Abrams did right by the spirit of Trek. Plus it’s balls-out action awesomeness.
04 District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009). Expect great things from this Neill Blomkamp character. District 9 could have been at the top of this list had it not degenerated into a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action movie in the third act.
03 Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009). Quiet, internal, spooky, existential SF at its best. Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar. So does Duncan Jones.
02 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004). This one often gets left off of SF lists but it’s totally science fiction. It’s also the best performance of Jim Carrey’s career. I’d like my Christmas present to be Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry promising to make more films together.
01 Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006). I still think this is a film that’s going to have a rich SF history and may be one that serious critics are talking about decades from now. If this was a list of the most important SF films of the decade, Children of Men would be in the top slot without question.
00 Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004). I watched this film twice all the way through in the same night and then watched it with Emily the next day. The film took the top prize at Sundance and a peek at Shane Carruth’s IMDb page suggests that despite the honor, he’s been unable to make another film since. It’s a science fiction masterpiece but it’s utterly unmarketable. It does everything wrong from an audience-building standpoint. There are no stars, it’s incomprehensible on a single viewing and the real payoff only comes after much post-film cogitating. It’s easily the best SF film of the decade. It’s possibly the best SF film of all time. Too bad nobody will ever know about it.
Looking at the list, one thing becomes clear: 2009 was a pretty amazing year for genre films. Four of the top ten SF films of the decade were from this last year. And this list doesn’t include films like Coraline, Watchmen, Zombieland or The Road. It’s like it’s 1982 all over again!
Feel free to take my list apart in the comments.