– The Editors –
This year we decided to try to come up with a consensus movie of the year. We failed. So instead we made a list of the top 3 movies of the year. It wasn’t easy.
Overall, 2015 was a strong year for science fiction with great films in several subgenres. Space operas and interstellar travel are seeing a resurgence, slowly closing the gap with the comic book superhero genre. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories had strong titles as well, although only one movie really stood out (more on that below). Zombies, aliens, and robots didn’t quite break through this year but you’ll find all three on TV.
Our methodology is not scientific but generally we look at three areas in evaluating movies: First, we look at what the movie contributes to the science fiction genre in terms of original content or the refinement or perfection of existing tropes. Second, we look at raw entertainment value or what we call the theater experience. If it was an action film, was it exciting? If it was drama, did it move us? etc. Third, we look at its impact on the fans and the culture. Box office sales is just one measurement here but it is considered.
We chose three standout movies. So, in no particular order, here are Prescient Sci-Fi’s Movies of the Year:
The post-apocalyptic subgenre got a desperately needed injection of hideous but glorious madness with the resurrection of George Miller’s classic Mad Max. After a long line of movies portraying beautiful, well-adjusted people rising from their unfortunate circumstances to be heroes in a bad but not too bad reality, Mad Max: Fury Road depicted a fall from civilization sparing none of the ugly details. It wasn’t about civilization adapting to changing circumstances or an allegorical tale of what happens when we don’t take care of our Earth. There is nothing left but a tiny bit of redemption.
Hollywood has a hard time depicting barbarism in a plausible way, or madness for that matter. Sane people have trouble imagining insanity, yet somehow George Miller succeeds brilliantly. Maybe he is a bit mad. Why spray chrome on your mouth before battle? Why roll out a truck stacked with speakers with a guitarist shredding away wearing red pajamas?
The theater experience was second to none. Incredible car chases, tons of practical effects instead of the typical CGI overload, great casting, and an epic ending. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action movies in years and easily the best post-apocalyptic film in over a decade.
Mad Max was Paulie Spiceflow’s pick for movie of the year.
Hollywood hasn’t made much progress in the artificial intelligence space for a while. Nearly all of their movies fall into two categories, both have been played out over the past century: Frankenstein or Pinnochio. Most AI movies are Frankenstein movies, a cautionary tale to human creation or an inevitable war against the machines. Hollywood has done this over and over and over and over, without adding anything notable in years. Pinnochio stories are not as common but almost always involve the familiar story of a machine desiring to be more human. It is more of an ego trip for homo sapiens than anything else.
We haven’t seen many filmmakers take on the far more interesting ideas of Asimov, let alone truly create an original and compelling work to add to the subgenre.
Then came Ex Machina. The low-budget indie film surprised many with its depth and originality. We don’t create a monster, nor do we create something endeavoring to be like its creator. Ava hates her creator but desperately wishes to experience the world she has learned so much about via the internet. Rather than have the AI character’s identity depend entirely on its relationship with its creator, Ava wishes to break free of paternal tyranny to be a truly independent entity.
Smart, visually enthralling, great casting, and a wonderful twist ending makes Ex Machina one of the great science fiction movies of 2015, and a great addition to the underrepresented subgenre of AI.
Ex Machina was Jacob Foxx’s pick for movie of the year.
There was no way we could omit the franchise of franchises. The tale of tales. The legend of legends. Perhaps if the movie was a complete flop like Phantom Menace, we could have cast this into the dark chasm and never speak of it again. Fortunately, Disney and J.J. Abrams made a great movie worthy of the original 3.
Taking all the best elements of the franchise, The Force Awakens is a worthy continuation of the saga. It does not try to one-up its predecessors or present a rebooted 21st century movie updated for modern audiences. Instead, they created something that fits easily in the saga and lays the groundwork for what could be a great new trilogy. Johnny Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver have more than enough talent and charisma to carry the epic forward, placing the franchise in great hands.
The inclusion of several legacy characters, including a prominent role for Han Solo, was perhaps not very original but necessary. The movie strikes a perfect balance of nostalgic fan service and original content. While the plot mirrors A New Hope in many ways (perhaps too many), it sets the stage for a story arc that could go in a much different direction than Empire or Return of the Jedi.
The Force Awakens comes at a time when interest in space operas is rising (although it probably would’ve been successful whenever it was released) and may push Hollywood a little away from releasing another wave of superhero movies. The nerd in me hopes for the beginning of a science fiction renaissance exploring classic themes and incorporating some actual science. Imagine that!