Science fiction makes the world go round, infesting our minds with ideas and visions of the future, pushing the gears of the human enterprise forward. There are a billion galaxies, each with a billion stars–we can and must explore every possible reality there is in this universe. Science fiction is the best vessel for that, film the most visceral representation.
Here is our list for best scifi movies of 2013:
Gravity is one of the best space movies (meaning movies simply about the logistics of real human space travel) of all time, perhaps only behind Apollo 13, which wins out by the sheer historical strength of its narrative. Gravity, seen in 3D especially, was a treasure to behold, depicting the incredible, horrifying vastness of space and the beauty of the Earth in equal measures. And, sue us, we bought the Clooney/Bullock dynamic. Except for a few overwrought moments near the end, this is an almost perfect film that will go down as a 3D game changer on par with Avatar. Director Alfonso Cuarón, known previously for his brilliant, underrated film Children of Men, redeems himself at the box office with this allegorical marvel of human strength in the depths of the cold, universal vacuum.
If you’ve seen Shane Carruth’s first film, Primer, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into with Upstream Color, an inscrutable scifi mind bender that feels like a combination of Terrence Malick’s imagery and Jim Jarmusch’s pace. The end result: a hypnotizing descent into intellectual chaos. We’re not going to pretend we fully understand Upstream Color. What we do know is that it’s a story of two lovers whose identities begin to merge and break down under the influence of an anomalous parasite born of pig shit and orchids. This parasite (and the lovers) seems to be under the control of an unnamed man known as “the Sampler”, who uses infrasonic ground vibrations to manipulate them. This is the kind of film that will be experienced and interpreted differently by every single person who watches it, which is part of what makes it so magical and vital.
Antiviral is one of the weirdest movies we’ve ever seen. Unsurprisingly, it was directed by David Cronenberg’s son–ingenious dementia must run in the family. The premise is that in the near future, celebrity-obsessed humans buy viruses cultivated from sick celebrities and inject them into their bodies in order to feel a closer connection. This world also features a celebrity meat market, where scientists harvest and sell meat from their cells. Salesman Syd March, who peddles the celebrity pathogens for the Lucas Clinic as well as the underground market, is himself a user. Soon Syd’s near-fatal addiction to celebrity Hannah Geist lands him in trouble with black market pirates.
Antiviral contains some of the most wicked, disturbing imagery we’ve seen in a long time, and the message of the film couldn’t be more perfect as a harbinger of the dystopian consumerist nightmare. No wonder it’s Canadian.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
If the land of Oz was re-imagined as an Orwellian fascist regime you would get The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. To say this movie blew our minds is an understatement. Rarely has a mainstream movie critiqued political corruption, financial inequality, and media control so furiously. The scariest part is…. how eerily similar the dystopian future portrayed in Catching Fire is to modern day society. One can’t help but make comparisons to the corruption on Wall Street, the insidious rise of a corporatocracy or the ever growing divide of the rich and poor. Throw in a powerful story, top notch acting, and eye-popping set designs and you have a solid sci fi gem that surpasses the original in every way. The Hunger Games franchise is shaping up to be one of the best trilogies since Lord of the Rings. Let’s hope the sequels are “ever in our favor”.
The Europa Report
This movie took us by surprise. While it’s by no means a masterpiece, it’s the best found footage space movie in a while–far better than the insipid Apollo 18. The plot revolves around a crew of astronauts making the journey to Jupiter’s moon Europa to look for evidence of extraterrestrial life under its frozen surface. They discover that the moon’s geothermally heated ocean holds a secret and decide they are willing to risk their lives to make the greatest discovery in human history. This movie has an extremely well structured story arc that jumps back and forth in time, showing the first and final hours of a brave team determined to complete its mission against all odds.
John Dies At The End
If you can imagine an amalgam of The Evil Dead, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Gentlemen Broncos, Naked Lunch, and The Frighteners, you get an idea of how counterculture this film tries to be. Of course, that also means there are parts that are rather derivative. Based on a comic horror novel, the story is basically about a drug called Soy Sauce that enables its users to travel across dimensions and interact with alien beings. It never gets too heavy-handed and is actually extremely funny in places. Plus, it features Paul Giamatti. We love Paul Giamatti.
The long-awaited Ender’s Game movie is far from perfect and in a separate post we’ll likely compare the film to the Orson Scott Card masterpiece it was based on. For now though, we can say that there were enough interesting components to this film to get it on the best of 2013 list. We thought the depictions of the children–especially at the end, when they realize what they’ve been a part of–as well the different kinds of competition and intelligence, were pretty phenomenal. While the ‘humanity’ of the bugs isn’t explored as in the book, the ‘gamification’ of the military has eerie resonance, as does the idea of a Total War that is completely culturally immersive (i.e. Cold War, War on Terror). Also, this newcomer Harrison Ford turns in a gritty performance–it’s nice that he’s finally being discovered in the twilight of his career.
A lot of people lambasted Cloud Atlas for being too long, too obtuse, too scattered, and too pretentious. But when all is said and done, the movie weaves together six compelling stories into what the original novelist, David Mitchell, calls a “pointillist mosaic”. And Cloud Atlas isn’t nearly as pretentious as the Fountain, which critics drooled over. We love both of these movies and, thematically, they’re kind of similar. Essentially, Cloud Atlas is a story about how the past, present and future impact one another, and how small acts and gestures from one century can spark revolutions in another. One of the most expensive independent films ever made, Cloud Atlas spans four centuries of human history, starting in 1849 and ending in 2321. Our favorite scene is when a curmudgeon author (one of a dozen characters played by Tom Hanks) shows a critic what he really thinks of his opinions.
Elysium was not as good as we had hoped it would be–a far cry from Neil Blomkamp’s brilliant first film District 9–but there was enough here to warrant a spot on the list. It has a hauntingly plausible near future premise, in which the very rich have absconded to an off-planet Edenistic ring world while the lower classes slum it out back on Earth. Matt Damon, scalded in a grisly workplace radiation accident, is forced to go transhumanist and infiltrate the opulent Elysium colony against an ingeniously psychotic black op agent and a heartless bureaucrat, played by Jodie Foster.
There’s still one month left in the year to cull more films–any suggestions for great science fiction films from 2013??
Also, check out our Best Horror Movies of 2013!