The year 2014 isn’t even over yet and it’s already looking like a landmark one for science fiction movies.
Seriously. It’s tough to recall another year where so many sci-fi movies have been released and so many of them of have been so good. Hell, we’re talking about a lineup so solid that you can completely write off and forget about duds like Transcendence. In most years, an original science fiction movie like that being so awful would be a crushing blow to genre fans. But in 2014? Who cares? There’s so much more to concern yourself with!
Because the Last Sci-fi Blog is a big fan of categorizing things through fiction awards, let’s give out some midyear trophies as we run down the films that have made this year exceptional.
A Hint of Great Things to Come: The Signal
William Eubanks’ low-budget mind-bender is far from perfect, but it more than makes up for any shortcomings with its technical precision and willingness to go anywhere, do anything, and defy whatever expectations you bring to the table. What begins as a road-trip movie transforms into a government-conspiracy movie before becoming… well, something else entirely. It may make you scratch your head and bellow “WHAT!?” at the screen, but you sure won’t see it coming. Based purely on the effects he squeezes out of his low budget, Eubanks is going to be a director to watch.
The Most Purely Enjoyable Movie of the Year: Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise is the greatest living movie star and Doug Liman is a hypercompetent action director. Team them up with a smart, hilarious and completely original script and you’ve got one of the best movies of the summer and easily the most purely entertaining film of 2014. Although easily summed up as “Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day,” this nutty, thrilling and shockingly smart action film is the first great cinematic take on video games, replicating the joy of repeating the same actions over and over again, learning a little from each and every death. Considering the film’s mediocre box office, this is going to be everyone’s new favorite movie once they discover it on Blu-ray.
The Science Fiction Art Film Is Still Alive: Under the Skin
Movies like Under the Skin aren’t for everyone, but viewers ready and willing to experience a film rather than watch it will find plenty to chew on. A weird and disturbing inversion of a typical alien-invasion concept, Jonathan Glazer film is a moody and terrifying exploration of human sexuality that deliberately refuses to answer too many questions or provide too much context for its protagonist’s violent actions (and her eventual change of heart). Guiding us through it all is Scarlett Johansson, embodying a blank, inhuman slate in a way that few actresses could pull off. Pop this one in after watching Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth for the ultimate double feature.
An Incredible Reinvention: Godzilla
There has never been a blockbuster quite like Godzilla, which updates the gigantic radioactive beastie for the 21st century while staying as true to the character’s roots as possible. Director Gareth Edwards wisely keeps his title character hidden or obscured for much of the film — whenever the King of the Monsters does appear, it’s not just another special effects sequence, it’s an event. Edwards teases the audience, offering brief glimpses of action and ideas, often cutting away just as things get good. When the climax comes and Godzilla battles two monsters for control of San Francisco, the action feels earned. This is the rare special effects-driven blockbuster that escalates its action and ends on a high note.
The Latest Entry in the Best Sci-fi Franchise Ever: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
In my last column, I wrote about how the Planet of the Apes series is, mathematically speaking, the best science fiction series of all time… and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues this trend. Matt Reeves’ brilliant follow-up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes treats both human and ape characters with respect, creating two sides of a conflict who guilty and innocent in equal measure. Like the best Apes films (and like the best science fiction films), it all feels relevant to the time in which we live. If the original Planet of the Apes was an angry cry at a world poised to destroy itself with nuclear weapons, Dawn is a blunt reaction to a world full of needless conflicts that have taken far too many lives and brought both sides too few victories. This is a spectacle, but it’s a spectacle with a message that matters.
The Craziest Movie Not Yet in Theaters: The Congress
I wrote about The Congress when I saw it at Fantastic Fest last year and I imagine I’ll write about it again when it officially hits theaters and VOD in the coming weeks. So let’s not dwell on it too much at the moment. I will say this: if you miss this half live action, half animated Hollywood satire/exploration of social media/dystopic adventure, you’re missing one of the craziest and most ambitious movies ever made. Even if you don’t like it, it’s impossible to say that it’s not trying to do something completely unique.
The Best Science Fiction Movie in Ages: Snowpiercer
Accessible and smart and exciting and thoughtful and hilarious and shocking political and totally crazy and completely mind-blowing, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is the postapocalyptic train movie that you didn’t know you wanted, but have always needed. It’s currently expanding into more theaters and is readily available on VOD, so you really don’t have any excuses to skip this one. This is a front-runner for the best film of 2014 and a shoe-in for the best science fiction movie of 2014. You know how so many critically acclaimed films sound like homework and you can’t help put them off? Don’t do that with Snowpiercer. It’s as fun as it is thought provoking. Just go see it.
And of course, all of this comes before Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay arrive. We live in blessed times.
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