It’s been a busy month and one that didn’t allow much time for things like blogging. The last job I was on was very time consuming. I’m off now for a bit and hoping to get some serious writing done on The Sword of Unmaking (The Wizard of Time Book 2). I had hoped I would be able to have the novel ready for publication by the end of summer, however, I doubt it will be ready before the end of the year now. Between writing, revising, editing, proofing, and cover creation, there is too much to accomplish and not enough time between freelance jobs. On the bright side, I do hope to have more time for blogging.
Yesterday, Sight and Sound Magazine released the results of its once a decade survey of critics to announce the current favorite for “Best Film Ever” and the result was surprising. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane which had topped the list for the last 50 years, was displaced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
This was a surprise to me, not so much because Citizen Kane was bumped from #1, but because it was replaced by Vertigo. I like Vertigo, but I’ve always appreciate North by Northwest much more. Who knows what goes on inside the minds of film critics. At least one reviewer suggests that the switch is due to influence by social media second guessing the film criticism establishment.
This announcement reminded me that about a year ago I started writing about my favorite 20 sci-fi films. I only ever got around to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so I thought it might be fun to list my favorite 10 and examine a little of why they are my favorites. What about them appeals to me? Are there similarities between them stylistically or thematically?
So, here is my list (which was not easy to trim down from 40 to 20 to 10). These aren’t in an order of preference, although the top five were the top five in every configuration of the list. (Warning: May contain spoilers.)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey – The first time I saw this film I was 15 and I didn’t get it at all. But, much like Citizen Kane, each time I see it, I appreciate it more. The majesty and breadth of the tale manages to overcome my natural inclination to follow a single character and gives rise to a more universal perspective of the story.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still – I love films from the 1950s. There’s something about the futuristic optimism of the era clashing up against the apocalyptic fear of burgeoning Atomic Age that I’ve always enjoyed. Those two themes seem perfectly intertwined in this film.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Paranoia and issues of identity and what it means to be ‘you’ wrapped up in sci-fi horror film with no special effects. Beyond loving the story, the filmmaker in me is always intrigued my the notion of how much can be accomplished on a small scale with the right story.
- Contact – The notion of making contact with an alien species, first through a radio message, and then in person, is thrilling and the scientific plausibility of the story makes it all the more compelling. I’m also drawn to the subtle clash between religion/spirituality and science as portrayed in the relationship of Ellie and Palmer. I need to reread Sagan’s novel again.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind – A wholly different approach to first contact. A film that starts with a secretive and silent inner connection which becomes a spectacular group spectacle by the end. The mothership of all UFO films. It’s such a well told story it’s easy to forget that Roy abandons his family at the end to follow the aliens.
- The Matrix – I sat in the front row of the theater the first time I saw this film and it felt like I was being jacked into some alternate reality. A great balance between action and intellect. Again, questions of identity, what is mean to be “you” and the nature of reality explored against the backdrop of a messianic coming of age story.
- Galaxy Quest – I laugh my ass off every time I see this film. It’s rare to find a film spoofing the genre you love that still manages to create characters you care about rather than cardboard symbols to poke fun at.
- The Iron Giant – As a kid growing up watching old films from the 1950s on Saturday TV (we need some UHF station style cable channel) this film feels like it was plucked from my daydreams and fantasies. A kid with a giant alien robot as a friend and protector (who also needs protecting). I feel like my 11 year old self every time I see it.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Robert Wise (who also directed Day the Earth Stood Still – and edited Citizen Kane) makes the list twice with his amalgam of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It tells you a lot about my tastes that, as opposed to the general geek consensus, I think this is the best Star Trek film, unlike many who would choose Wrath of Khan. It’s also notable that Star Wars doesn’t make this top 10 list, but ST:TMP does. There is something about seeing characters I grew up watching investigating a mystery that tests their limits that I find completely compelling.
- The Fountain – A series of quests in different times that turn back and inform each other – a love story about death and the quest for immortality – a film that makes me care and think and wonder and believe all at the same time. How could I not love that?
Looking at the list, it occurs to me that my appreciation of the films tends to be a combination of stylistic and technical mastery by the directors coupled with how much I emotionally invest in the story and the characters. That seems like a generalization, but since this is a list of films from a specific genre, a class of film and storytelling that has had a great deal of influence on who I am, it is also somewhat revelatory, I should think, of my conscious and subconscious desires. What I suspect it really boils down to for me is that these are all stories I which I had come up with and all films that I wish I had made. And, in realizing that, it allows me to examine the stories that I am telling and those that I hoped I can one day translate to film.
The films 11 that didn’t make the top 10? Below in no particular order:
- The Thing from Another World
- Village of the Damned
- Star Wars
- Blade Runner
- Forbidden Planet
- Things to Come