Some genres of film don't get as much talk and praise as they deserve. Take sci-fi, for example; it's so heavily loaded with big-budget flicks that the smaller works get lost over the years. And that means a lot of great works that never get seen by large audiences. Sure, science fiction die-hards are always on the look-out for something more, whether it's a glossy art flick or a ridiculously enjoyable b-movie, but some still slip through their fingers.
With The Signal -- one of our most anticipated summer indie flicks -- releasing this Friday, without as much advertising as a cool-looking film like it deserves, it's time to look back at some other fairly recent sci-fi flicks that the world might have missed.
You'll hear the name Moon thrown around every so often as one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade, and it rightfully deserves that title. Preceding the pretty entertaining Source Code, director Duncan Jones' debut is basically a one-man show. More specifically: it's the Sam Rockwell show. You might know him as the guy who was fantastic in practically everything he's ever done, including but not limited to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Matchstick Men, Galaxy Quest, and even Iron Man 2. If watching a mind-bending flick with him trapped alone on a spaceship isn't enough to pull you in, maybe knowing that Kevin Spacey voices the ship's creepily optimistic robot GERTY will do the trick.
9. The Congress
So maybe this is cheating a little bit, because the film still isn't out officially in the US, and makes its wide release in July on demand. However, The Congress has been making a lot of festival runs, two screenings of which were at the Miami International Film Festival earlier this year. Part animated fantasy, part family drama, part ambitious sci-fi, The Congress is a hell of a movie. Not only is the way it flows between live-action and animation top-notch, but the way it takes Robin Wright's real life and blends it into a narrative that critiques an industry uninterested in the filmmakers it supposedly cares about is just plain fascinating.
There's this little film (that's been on Netflix forever) that few people outside of those who loved Emma Caulfield's Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer have probably bothered watching. It's called TiMER, and it's a film that wonders, what if your body had a clock that would count down to the moment you met your soulmate? By no means is it all that high-concept, but in its short length (just under 100 minutes), Jac Schaeffer gets a lot out of this reality he's created. Sometimes sad, sometimes romantic, and often clever, it might leave some a little frustrated with its ending, but it's an enjoyable ride regardless.
7. Beyond the Black Rainbow
By no means is this totally insane Canadian thriller of sorts a perfect film, nor is it one that will please everyone. And yet, it's so damn appealing to look at and listen to. Light on the story and narrative propulsion, Panos Cosmatos' flick is all about the aesthetics, but that's not necessarily a bad thing (even if the two hour running length is a little longer than it should be). Cosmatos draws from every remotely artistic sci-fi film possible, from Kubrick to Lucas, as well as some of the good ol' horror masters from the 70s and 80s. Again, not for everybody, but people who dig films that are primarily visual feasts will be plenty satisfied with Beyond the Black Rainbow.
6. Sound of my Voice & 5. Another Earth
Here's a double feature to treat yourself too: the main link being the presence of the ultra-talented Brit Marling. Not only does Marling star in both films, she's the co-writer of the feature debuts of both director Zal Batmanglij's Sound of my Voice and Mike Cahill's Another Earth. Neither of the two films received incredibly wide praise, but they're both well-deserving of the positive reviews and word of mouth they got. The first is about two people who infiltrate a cult in order to document their proving the cult's leader a false prophet; the other about the discovery of a duplicate earth and the conflict that comes with it. Each one is quiet and thought-provoking, with the actress' performance truly making both rise above any minor flaws they might have. With Cahill's intriguing I Origins coming up later this year, it's the perfect time to check both out.
Whenever I think about the latest Godzilla film, my heart sinks. When you've got a director who made a film as subtle and solid as Monsters, you expect a lot better. For everyone who has (or hasn't) checked out the director's big-budget monster, his former monster-themed feature is fairly more interesting. It's a simple little film, made on a far smaller scale and budget than Godzilla, but it gets the job done. The movie tells the tale of a journalist and tourist who choose to travel through one of the infected alien life zones in Mexico to arrive at the US border. It's a film more interested in creating atmosphere and focusing on the humans involved (like Godzilla wishes it was), but when the aliens are finally revealed, it all feels worthwhile.
3. Under the Skin
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Easily one of the best films this year, Under the Skin has been, pardon the pun, getting under everyone's skin. Folks who walk in with the promise of seeing Scarlett Johansson in the nude will find themselves plenty disappointed, because the film is far more than that, and intended to deter the people who would watch it for that reason alone. While a fair share of films have explored the concept of an alien blending in with humanity while preying on its people, Jonathan Glazer's third feature does so much more than just that. It's an entrancing tale of predatory sexuality, and just as his former works have been steeped in Kubrickian style, this one draws from the experimental and contemplative nature of something like the great 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an entirely different beast from that sci-fi masterpiece, but it's a work that won't be easily forgotten, deserving of larger audiences than what its limited release managed to bring in.
2. Primer & 1.Upstream Color
Forgive me for throwing another double feature in here, but I couldn't resist. Shane Carruth is a master. Seriously. Ten years ago, his low-budget feature film -- supposedly made for $7,000 alone -- about time travel, Primer, made major waves at Sundance. It's engaging as can be, it constantly messes with your mind, and practically begs for multiple viewings because of how intense its use of time travel is. But with as much of a cult following as it's built up, I still find myself having to tell people about it time and time again. It's arguably a masterpiece, and his second film, Upstream Color, could be called one just as well. Here's a film that has the existential goodness that contemplative cinema is all about, leading one to recall the works of Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky when discussing it. Just as cerebral and tough to completely figure out upon first viewing, the film is one that looks into the world of mind control, albeit in a way that a concept like that isn't usually explored. Above all else though, they're about the way humans react to these science-heavy situations. You may love or hate his work, but Shane Carruth's films deserve viewing. Plus, they're both on Netflix, so why not give them a go?