As the day draws closer, for those who can’t bear the suspense, we have something that might help make the waiting pass a little quicker until The Force Awakens. A great guest post from the Headstuff guys, about 10 other great films to watch before the big day. Check out their site here.

I have been rewatching the Star Wars movies because I’m excited for the new one, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It is very rare that someone would not be a fan of the first six movies in a franchise and then be excited about the seventh. But that is the position I have found myself in. And yes, the more eagled-eyed and nerdy among you will have noticed the bomb I just dropped.

“He doesn’t like Star Wars!?” You’re probably shouting at your screen right now.

I would say that it’s not that I don’t like Star Wars as such, it’s just that I think it’s one of the most overrated movie franchises.

My problems with Star Wars are that no one can act in it – Harrison Ford gets a pass – the dialogue is often terrible, in particular many of the monologues to robots or various creatures who bleep and blurt strange languages. Having said that, I have now rewatched the first two films, episodes IV and V. And I did enjoy Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. There are cringe worthy moments, and I still spend a lot of time trying to understand Mark Hamill, but it was enjoyable. The only problem now is I fear that Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, won’t be as good, and then I have to sit through the dreaded prequels, episodes I – III.

It all got me thinking about sci-fi movies, and how far they’ve come, helped obviously by technology and the ever-expanding breadth of human knowledge. We’ve been very lucky in the past few years. I won’t go as far as to say we’re in a Golden Age of sci-fi movies, but I think we have some new classics to add to the roster. So here’s my top ten sci-fi movies of the past few years (not including comic book movies, remakes or sequels).

Snowpiercer(2013)

Metacritic Summary: In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

This is an interesting film, it’s dark and moody, and it’s probably a good metaphor, if not a bit too subtle in the way that a one man marching band is too subtle. It just scraped it into my top ten, so let’s quickly move on.

Safety Not Guaranteed(2012)

Metacritic Summary: When an unusual classified ad inspires three cynical Seattle magazine employees to look for the story behind it, they discover a mysterious eccentric named Kenneth, a likable but paranoid supermarket clerk, who believes he¹s solved the riddle of time travel and intends to depart again soon. Together, they embark on a hilarious, smart, and unexpectedly heartfelt journey that reveals how far believing can take you. (FilmDistrict)

This is barely a sci-fi but I loved it, and it’s about time travel, and I enjoyed it more than Snowpiercer so it swoops in here at that coveted number nine spot. It’s funny, charming, endearing and very low tech. The performances are great (which may depend on whether you like the actors or not, which I do), the script is great and it’s just quirky enough.

Elysium (2013)

Metacritic Summary: In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station called Elysium while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max, an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission that could save his life and the lives of millions on Earth.

This was a divisive film. A lot of people didn’t like it, and I’m not really sure why. I loved it. I thought it looked great, was a good story, had plenty of Matt Damon which is always good. Maybe it wasn’t quite as good as District 9, director Neil Blomkamp’s previous film, but it was a hell of a lot better than Chappie, his latest mess.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Metacritic Summary: Based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Drama, mystery, action and enduring love thread through a story that unfolds in multiple lifetimes as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. Each member of the ensemble cast appears in multiple roles as the story moves through time.

Another film that I didn’t really understand people’s objection to. The book by David Mitchell is one of my favourite books, and I think this film is a damn fine effort at realising its sprawling, epic madness on screen. So many characters (much fewer actors), time periods, cultures, set pieces – epic is the word – and I think it’s a magnificent achievement to make that book work as a film.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Metacritic Summary: Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to little more than a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop—forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

I like Tom Cruise as an actor, but he hasn’t necessarily been the most reliable this decade. He is generally worth a watch though, and Emily Blunt is great. So I was delighted when this film was brilliant. It’s funny, it’s paced excellently, enjoyable and interesting and if you’re skeptical just go and throw a look at it.

Gravity (2013)

Metacritic Summary: After debris destroys their space shuttle, two astronauts desperately try to return to Earth.

This was a spectacle, visually stunning, sparse, terrifying and gripping. It’s basically a survival story, but like, in space. Which is cool. George Clooney is George Clooney but Sandra Bullock is a bit excellent. It’s pretty scientifically accurate which is maybe why it annoyed me more that Sandra’s hair defied zero gravity. It was the first of three scientifically accurate Hollywood blockbusters set in Space to come out over the past three years, so it paved the way at the same time as making science cool, so yeah, it’s great.

Looper (2012)

Metacritic Summary: In Looper, time travel exists, but it is illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” – a hired gun, like Joe – is waiting to mop up. Joe is doing good as a looper until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self for assassination.

A weird looking Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a Bruce Willis looking Bruce Willis, time travel, the mob, big funky guns, all from the guy who brought you Brick, and apparently one of the future Star Wars films. This is a clever and fun film that I think everyone likes?

Ex-Machina(2015)

Metacritic Summary: Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test—charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated, seductive––and more deceptive––than the two men could have imagined.

One of my favourite films of the year and it went somewhat under the radar. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, two men in great form, are brilliant as eccentric billionaire creator of (basically Google), and young coder who looks up to said billionaire, (maybe trillionaire? who knows, he’s a rich dude anyway). It’s probably my favourite film about AI – Alicia Vikander plays the robot (so brilliant and lifelike it’s almost weird to use the word robot) so well that she seems incredibly lifelike, but there’s just something off, something strange in her movement. It’s a subtle performance that makes the film work and gives Gleeson a lot to work with. I don’t think it had a long cinema run, but if you can find a way to see it, then I highly recommend it. Hence it being in my top three.

Interstellar(2014)

Metacritic Summary: With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.

One of the main criticisms that I heard of Interstellar was that it was ridiculous and unscientific. I found that interesting, if the complaint had been that the ideas were too complex I would have understood. But unscientific? Pretty much all the ideas in this film are based on real scientific theory, Kip Thorne was the science advisor on the film and the black hole portrayed here is the most accurate depiction of a black hole that we have. Not from a movie, it’s the most accurate model of a black hole that humanity has created so far. So I know some of it is a bit complex, but that hardly makes it bad. The space scenes are incredible, and the spaceships are stunning. There are some fair criticisms of the story and perhaps of the over Matthew McConnaughyness of Matthew McConnaughey, but overall, for the visuals and the hard science, this is a wonderful sci-fi movie. Plus, some Matt Damon.

The Martian(2015)

Metacritic Summary: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

This film is nearly all Matt Damon, so obviously it had to be my number one. Really though I loved it very much, and it made me think about what would happen if it was a true story, so I wrote this. A good chunk of the movie is Matt Damon on an otherwise barren Mars, talking to himself. But it’s fascinating, how he makes rain, food, batteries, all that good stuff; it’s funny, helped of course by that Damon charm; it’s thrilling, will the people on Earth get their shit together and help to save him? It’s also, again very scientifically accurate, pretty much all of it, except for the storm on Mars, as explained by astrophysicist Joseph Roche but we’ll forgive that. It might be my favourite space movie now, if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch.


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