Recommended Fantasy & SciFi On the Screen from 2009

Part 3 of my recommendations of great SF from 2009 – fantasy & scifi on the screen, including film, television, and other miscellaneous forms of dramatized entertainment. (Just wait until you see the miscellaneous.)  These are the works that I’ve nominated for the Bradbury Award (basically, the Nebula Award for Dramatic Presentation – technically not a Nebula, but it’s pretty Nebula-like since it’s nominated on voted on by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America).  Some of my recommendations pretty much follow the mainstream, others less so:

  • Up: One of my favorite Pixar movies to date, write up there with Wall-E and The Incredibles. So many things I loved about this.  The fact that a cranky old guy is the hero (not just a colorful supporting character).  The fact that many laws of physics are defied but no one cares because it’s awesome.  (E.g., I’m no expert, but you probably can’t walk around pulling along a house held aloft by hundreds of balloons as if it were a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.)  And the fact that the metaphorical, character, and plot arcs all come together so beautifully.
  • Doctor Who – “The Waters of Mars”:  I’m a recent convert to Doctor Who and this special was one of the strongest from the show.  I love that they’re pushing David Tennant’s Doctor to such challenging new places before he takes his final bow. And, as they’ve done in many Doctor Who episodes, they’ve taken something ordinary – water – and made it disturbingly horrific.
  • Pontypool: This independent film is sort of a sophisticated zombie apocalypse story.  The premise is that you are infected with insanity not by a blood or saliva, but by the English language itself – certain words carry the virus.  Wonderfully original surreal science fiction horror.  If you can find a way to see it, then do so.
  • District 9:  Despite some drawbacks, this was one of the most sophisticated and thought-provoking pure science fiction movies to come out in a while.  Broke a lot of new ground for SF on screen. 
  • Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” Music Video:  Yes, Lady Gaga.  This is a ground-breaking pop music video akin to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and like “Thriller” it is firmly rooted in the SF genre, drawing on traditions of horror, science fiction, and surrealism.  In five minutes Lady Gaga makes a stonger artistic statement than James Cameron does in 162 minutes of Avatar. I know I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, so I may need to write an entire post on this one…

So those are my personal top five dramatic presentations in SF from 2009.  The new Star Trek movie was also entertaining, but not much more than that – and I do hope for more than just entertaining when it comes to Trek.  Despite my swipe at Avatar, I found that entertaining too, and I was very happy any time I was watching luminescent alien landscapes in 3D.  But the story and characters were just not interesting enough to put it in my personal top five. This year’s Harry Potter movie was my favorite to date and probably would have made my top five if there weren’t such other good contenders this year. 

 I also am waiting to catch up on Season 4 of Doctor Who before watching David Tennant’s final appearance, otherwise that one might have made it too.  Similar note for Torchwood: Children of Earth and Moon – heard they’re both excellent but haven’t seen them yet.   And, lastly, oh how I wish the last episode of Battlestar Galactica had been even worth considering for a nomination, because it was a really awesome show up until that disappointment…

Still to come: recommended books, and possibly a note on why we should enthusiastically embrace Lady Gaga as a member of the science fiction community.


Thoughts on District 9

Saw District 9 the other day and I think I liked it. It’s one of those movies that takes a while to sink in, that requires some marinating before you can really be sure how it tastes.  The clearly-cool thing about it is that it’s totally different from any SF movie ever made.  It has a certain gritty realism to it that makes it compelling and, at times, appropriately horrifying.  I love the central premise of aliens being refugees on earth, facing all the prejudices that humans tend to have, even when it comes to things that are much less alien than, well, aliens. 

The movie combines a gritty documentary realism with a more standard Hollywood narrative – which is understandable, since it is a Hollywood movie after all. But as the movie progressed it shifted more and more toward the Hollywood end of the spectrum, which was less interesting to me and also felt a bit clunky at times. I also generally liked the choice of South Africa as a setting, but the depiction of the Nigerians felt like it strayed into a colonialist view at times.  E.g., do we really need subtitles for Nigerians when they’re speaking English?  Despite those disappointments, overall it’s an engaging movie charting new territory for scifi on the screen.

The novel is progressing very well – I’ve written a total of about 4,700 words since I started the marathon four days ago, which puts me only a few hundred words behind schedule.  I’m skipping around quite a bit, jumping ahead to the parts that are clearer in my mind or that come to me with a burst of enthusiasm.  Which has been working well, because then it’s fairly easy to go back and fill in the gaps.