Just like it was a sparse year for books, it was also a sparse year for movies. I felt it was a much better year for TV science-fiction and fantasy. Still, there was some good SFF movies to be had if you ignored a bunch of middle of the road superhero films. Here are my four favorite SFF movies for the year:
Rogue One: The most recent movie on the list and an amazing addition to the Star Wars catalogue of films. It wasn’t perfect – it was unevenly paced in its first half and the leads, while competent, were a step down from last year’s now iconic Daisey Ridley and John Boyega. But Disney set out to do something different with its now forty-year old franchise and it succeeded. I just re-watched Star Wars: A New Hope and found Rogue One changed the whole tone of the film for me – I enjoyed the heroics but now realized there was a great human cost behind the eventual Rebel victory. It makes for a more complete experience.
10 Cloverfield Lane: I enjoyed Cloverfield – I thought it effective and certainly thought better of it than the dismal Godzilla remake a few years back. I never realized it needed a sequel but it got one anyways and I’m glad. This movie works because it doesn’t try to one-up or heck, even try to reference the first film. Instead, it is a claustrophobic study of personalities inside a fallout shelter. Putting aside my love of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman steals the show as a dangerous and erratic man-child in charge of the bunker. I forget how good of an actor he can be and here he reminds us. I’ll be happy to revisit this universe if we can get good high quality film like this one.
The Witch: I love horror movies but I’m often disappointed. Modern horror seems to be either about jump-scares or torture porn and frankly I’m bored with both. Real horror is about the blurry shape in the woods, the things unseen, and the dread of impending unstoppable doom. The best horror movies are bleak and quiet. The Witch is about a family of Puritans expelled from their 17th century colony and living in the rural woods of New England apart from everyone. It is about religious fanatics living a hard scrabble near starvation existence and may be under threat from Satan himself. I’m not easily frightened but this movie terrified me – the family goat, Black Phillip, is a more frightening creature than anything seen this year.
The Arrival: This one is a polarizing addition to the list. I adored it but so many of my friends were turned off by its slow pacing. Movies like this just don’t get made anymore. I felt it comparable to 2001, a slow-paced movie about how science works in a high-pressure situation, a film filled with majesty and not afraid to linger. There were moments which I could have did without in this film – the conflict in the final third felt a bit contrived and tacked on to me, but the ten-minute sequence where the linguist first meets the aliens was far more cinematically interesting than the entirety of Independence Day Two.
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