A few months back I offered a list called "The Best New Action Classics," which is a very fancy title for a very basic list of "recent international action movies that I liked a whole lot." Basically it was a fun way for me to make a list (I love lists) while hopefully shining a small spotlight on films you loved -- or haven't seen yet. And so now I'm back to do pretty much the same thing for science fiction films, but this time we're limiting ourselves to ten (10) movies that were released in the past 10 (ten) years. Notable omissions can, of course, be screamed at us via the Movies.com twitter, my own tweet factory, or the handy little comments section below.
Attack the Block (2011) -- Science fiction will (and should) always be a somewhat "brainy" genre, but sometimes you just want to kick back with a simple alien invasion. I'm hesitant to even call it a full-bore sci-fi movie -- it's more action/horror/comedy -- but whatever it takes to get a few more eyeballs on this great little mash-up.
28 Days Later (2002) -- Works better as a horror flick than a sci-fi film, perhaps, but there's a sly brilliance to the film's opening moments, when several well-intentioned but woefully ignorant activists unwittingly destroy the world while trying to rescue a few chimps. Kinda makes you THINK! And then it's mostly carnage.
Children of Men (2006) -- Probably my favorite film on this list, because it's the type of science fiction I'd like to see more of: movies that take place in a world exactly like our own -- except for one major problem. The problem, in this case, is that humans can no longer procreate. Noboby knows why. There. I've piqued your interest, hopefully. Go watch this movie.
District 9 (2009) - This one has a little bit of everything, and virtually all of it works. As a none-too-subtle metaphor for our own socio-economic shortcomings, our impatience with people of other cultures, as a horror tale, an action film, a chase flick, a dark comedy ... I suspect that sci-fi freaks will still be talking about D9 in a decade or two.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) -- At its heart, this wonderful movie is a rumination on love, loss, sadness, and acceptance, but in order to get to the emotional roughage, we're treated to a very nifty science fictional idea: would you allow a machine to eradicate the memories you find the most painful? Great question. Sweet, silly, powerful, and very intelligent, I'd call this the finest film of 2004. (And did, if memory serves. It may have been erased.)
The Host (2006) -- Here's another flick that could probably be called more horror than sci-fi, but that's what makes the genre so cool: it goes well with everything. And while it's true that The Host is at its best when its lead creature is chomping, chasing, and crushing all of South Korea, it also has a simple but clever prologue that offers an old but smart lesson: "stop screwing with Mother Nature."
Inception (2010) -- The concept alone earns this fascinating film a place on the list, but then toss in components like action, editing, score, special effects, and one seriously cool ensemble, and you're looking at a box office blockbuster the likes of which we don't see very often. Christopher Nolan could have coasted on the "we enter your dreams!" concept all by itself, but -- to its inestimable credit -- Inception keeps getting craftier with each successive "level."
Moon (2009) -- The best science fiction films hide fascinating ideas within entertaining packages, and this stellar (lunar?) British export ponders the very VALUE of human life, while offering a crisp character study and a one-man mystery tale, all at the same time. Plus, c'mon, 90 minutes with nobody but Sam Rockwell? You know that sounds like fun.
Primer (2004) -- I'm a pretty smart guy and still this movie had my brain working overdrive. Dense, smart, fiercely interesting sci-fi stuff right here. But yeah, it confused me a little.
Serenity (2005) -- The idea of blending the old (the Western movie) with the new (the future!) worked like a charm in Joss Whedon's Firefly, even if the Fox Network didn't exactly agree, and this big-screen version heads off in some shiny new directions. Although knee-deep in "basic" sci-fi tropes like spaceships and laser guns, the film's third act delves into some rather dark avenues of speculative fiction. Smart AND fun. That's what good sci-fi does well.
Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (2002) -- Just kidding.
Timecrimes (2007) -- Several movies have found very clever ways to twist time to suit their story, but very few have gone as deep down the rabbit hole as Nacho Vigalondo's Los Cronocrimens. I won't spoil the dark, dizzying fun, but just imagine you were trapped in a temporal loop, and all you knew was that someone was trying to kill you. We'll get an English-language remake eventually, but that's no reason you can't discover the original for yourself right now. Go!