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John Scalzi – The Most Notable Science-Fiction Films of 2010


With the successful release of Tron: Legacy, we’re pretty much done with science-fiction film in 2010. Last year around this time I did a piece on my thoughts on the most-notable science-fiction films of the year; I’m going to repeat that now, except, you know, with this year’s films.

Inception
Christopher Nolan’s inner-space exploration of the mind gets my nod for the best science-fiction film of the year, hands down, and also my nod as one of the best films of the year in any genre. I also think it’s a lock for a Best Picture nomination and probably a Best Director nomination as well. (It already has nominations for both at the Golden Globes.) Importantly, it’s good science fiction in no small part because it’s a very good film. Its plot rewards attention — Nolan is a director who takes as a given the idea that his audience isn’t stupid, which is gratifying these days — and its look offers a sumptuousness that rewards staring. The acting wasn’t bad, either.

Significantly, Nolan used practical effects whenever possible (the hallway fight scenes used a revolving set), which gave his dream worlds an ironically concrete grounding in reality. He’s in many ways as old-school a filmmaker as there is out there. Nolan’s attention to detail and willingness to assume his audience has a brain despite the fact that he’s making $200 million films makes me hope that the future of intelligent film isn’t just confined to tiny indies. And that’s worth an award or two right there. Iron Man 2
Financially the most successful science-fiction film of the year — domestically, that is. (Inception has it beat worldwide, which tells you something about the movie-business wisdom that movies can’t be too complex if you want them to
travel.) Iron Man 2 represents the current state of the art for studio filmmaking. And what is the current state of the art? It’s pretty, loud, steeped in pop culture, and just smart
enough that you don’t have to feel embarrassed that you’re watching it
as you shovel popcorn into your mouth.

This is a better state
of the art than usual, so you won’t hear me complain
too much. On the other hand, I will say that if Hollywood decided to
take a year or two off on comic-book-hero films, I wouldn’t complain too
much about that either. They won’t do that, of course — they’re
making too much money off of them — but creatively they can do worse than to give us a breather.

Despicable Me and Megamind
A friend of mine griped about the fact that these animated films did better financially than the large majority of science-fiction films made for
adults. But I can’t find it in my heart to get too worked up about it. First, they were perfectly decent entertainments, particularly Despicable Me, and when a film pretty much does what it says it will on the tin you can’t fault it too much. Two of the most successful films of the year amused children with the power of science fiction? Cry me a river. It’s never too early for geek indoctrination.

Predators
This film, aside from being the best Predator film since the first one — yes, I know, what does that really mean? — interests me because it’s pretty much the exact definition of a “programmer”: a not-too-expensive flick designed to appeal to a
particular segment of an audience and to make just enough money to pay
itself back. It did. For this I commend producer Robert Rodriguez. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have been happy if his film made more, mind you. But I think he looked at the $125
million the film made worldwide — three times what it cost to make —
then looked at the flick and said, “That’ll do, Predators. That’ll do.”

Splice
And
this is what happens when you make a programmer and it doesn’t work.
Shame, that. I find it interesting that Adrien Brody was the star of this
and Predators.

Tron: Legacy
I know that as a
geek of long standing I’m supposed to look at the $46 million opening
weekend of this film as a vindication of my lifestyle choices. Some
wit online noted that Tron was like Twilight for nerds, and, God help me, I can’t fault that assessment. But I’ll tell you what: I look at Tron: Legacy, and the thought that comes to my head is not, This is payback for the jock
who stuffed me into a locker, but, instead, Why does Tron have a sequel and not The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension? Because that, to me, would be vindication. For everything. Ever.

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