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She Blinded Me With Science (Fiction)!

That may very well be one of my favorite blog titles I’ve ever typed. Pardon me whilst I pat myself on the back for that.

The AFI (The American Film Institute) released a list of lists that list (what?) the top ten greatest films in a selection of genres; Animation, Romantic Comedy, Western, etc. Included are lists of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The Science Fiction list is actually pretty decent, which is surprising when you look over the Fantasy list (Groundhog Day? Big? the internet initialism “WTF” came to mind). Granted, I love each and every film mentioned on both lists, but the fantasy one is just… Well, John Scalzi says it best over at the Sci-Fi Scanner:

The fantasy Top 10 list is a tremendous mess — enough so that I don’t want to touch it right now, except to note that you’ll have to imagine me throwing up my hands and rolling my eyes

Scalzi went on to start a list of Top Ten Science Fiction Films released after 1991. The catch: He listed only five and wants us lowly internet warriors to fill in the rest with our own choices.

His starter five:

The Matrix (1999): Cast your brain back before The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and before everyone and his brother imitated and/or parodied “bullet time” and you’ll remember how cool this film used to be — the right balance of action, pop philosophy, techno-angst and special effects. Remember how everyone wanted an ankle length black leather duster and inscrutable shades to hide behind? It was all very cool, once. It will be cool again, trust me.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): Hey, who are those guys over there in the corner? Why it’s the Wachowski brothers, cribbing off Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii’s homework! The Wachowskis borrowed from this film sort of the same way George Lucas borrowed from The Hidden Fortress, and good for them, since this film juggles intense action and philosophical silences in really interesting ways. The fact that Akira doesn’t show up on the AFI Top 10 list is a clear indication that someone there hasn’t figured out what a monumental influence anime has on the modern science fiction aesthetic; we’re correcting that error here.

The Incredibles (2004): The best superhero film ever made — yes, even better than the 1978 Superman, or the 1989 Batman or even Spider-Man 2 (which, frankly, is overrated). Why is it good? Because first it parodies the superhero genre to devastating effect, then it becomes a first-rate superhero film, and then it goes beyond the superhero genre altogether and becomes a paean to home and family and the little things that make life worth living, even for people with super-strength. That this all gets done in an animated family film, of all things, makes it miraculous.

12 Monkeys (1995): It may not be the best time travel movie ever, it may not be the best dystopic movie ever, and it may not be the best “saving humanity from its own damn self” movie ever — and it’s definitely not the best Terry Gilliam movie ever. But it is the best ever dystopic, time-traveler saving humanity from its damn self film, directed by Terry Gilliam. And that’s saying something. Also: Best Bruce Willis film ever. Which is admittedly a lower bar (although not as low as people might think).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): This film about memory, and the lengths people will go to forget and remember (and sometimes both at the same time) is both goofy strange and poetically sad, which is an unusual combination, and why it (ironically) sticks in the brain as well as it does. It’s the only science fiction film to win the Oscar for screenplay (Original Screenplay, in this case), which says something interesting, both about the science fiction genre and the Academy.

All of them are among my favorites. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 12 Monkeys are among some of my favorite movies of all time. Ghost in the Shell was the first Anime feature film I’d ever seen.

My added five:

Equilibrium (2002): Fantastic sci-fi piece that’s far too often overlooked. Usually when I mention this movie to others, I’m met with the shrugs or confused looks of people who have never even heard of it. This is the movie that made me eager to see Christian Bale as Batman. It’s the movie that proved that Bale could pull off a serious action role with a seriously dark under tone.

The Fifth Element (1997): Whoever decided “Hey, let’s put Bruce Willis, Sir Ian Holm, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker and Luke-Goddamn-Perry in a futuristic world where they have to race against time to save the universe!” deserves an award. Or a medal. Or a hug. Something, because this movie is a great ride and it’s great sci-fi.

Serenity (2005): Having watched the entire first-and-oh-yeah-ONLY-season-thanks-a-lot-Fox season of Firefly before having seen this, I’m not sure how much of it would connect with someone who had never seen the show. But if you’re a science fiction fan and you own a DVD player, there’s no excuse for not having seen Firefly. Serenity is heartwarming, funny, action packed and it’s a wonderful nod to the fans of one of the single best science fiction shows ever made.

Children of Men (2006): Beautifully written, superbly directed, wonderfully acted. Children of Men is one of those movies that changes the way you think. It takes your head in it’s hands, speaks directly to your face while maintaining eye contact, then, when you think you understand what it’s telling you, it slaps you across the face to make certain it’s point has gotten across. Plus, it ends up being a little scary because, in a way, you can see it happening in our own future.

The City of Lost Children (1995): A movie where the surrealism of the story is matched only by the surrealism of the visuals accompanying it. Some may argue with me for including this in a science fiction list, but… Come on. If you’ve seen it, you can see the science fiction tones of it. Another underrated wonder of celluloid.

What’s your list?

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