My 10 favorite sci-fi and fantasy films, 2010-2019

I tried to mash all of my favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies into one top 10 list, but alas, it didn’t work. There were just so many great films in the past 10 years, I had to make a separate list for my 10 favorite superhero movies. I’ll post that soon. For now, here are my favorite non-superhero movies of the decade. I’m not going by Rotten Tomatoes or Oscar noms or box office numbers; these are my personal favorites.

1. “The Shape of Water” (2017) is a movie about a cleaning lady who falls in love with the creature from the black lagoon, and it won an Oscar for best picture, which would sound unbelievable if you didn’t know who made it; Guillermo del Toro is known for making films that are works of art. Like all good sci-fi, it asks the big questions. How do we treat “the Other” in our society, whether the Other is a sea creature, a mute woman, a gay man? 

2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015). The final trilogy in the Skywalker saga recently ended, but this is where it started. The highly anticipated “Force Awakens” introduced us to new characters and reacquainted us with old favorites. You can check out the review I did with my friend and fellow blogger Lavender (nomansland.blog) here: ‘The Force’ awakens two Star Wars fans’ inner Siskel & Ebert

Interstellar_023. “Interstellar” (2014) is an epic outer space drama directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan. Matt McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. The movie is almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

4. “Inception” (2010) is one of those trippy, mind-bending movies like the one I was just talking about – “Interstellar.” This one was also written and directed by Christopher Nolan, so I guess that’s no coincidence. Instead of going into space, though, the characters in this film go into people’s minds. Leonardo DiCaprio is an “extractor,” a thief who steals info by infiltrating the subconscious. He is offered the chance to have his criminal record expunged if he can do the opposite: implant an idea into a person’s subconscious. What’s real? What’s not? It can get confusing if you’re not paying attention.

5. “Hunger Games,” 2012. A friend of mine convinced me to read the books not longpora6w964o9iq before the first movie was released. I really liked the books, so I had high hopes for the film, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I contracted “Hunger Games” fever and saw it in the theater twice. The first film was the best of the bunch. Jennifer Lawrence was a perfect Katniss Everdeen.

6. “Elysium,” 2013. Matt Damon stars in Neill Blomkamp’s futuristic morality play, in which Damon’s character attempts to reach a Med-Bay on the luxury space habitat Elysium after being poisoned by radiation on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Even if Blomkamp is a bit heavy-handed with his symbolism, I love his movies. I also love Matt Damon, so this one is a win-win.

7. “Never Let Me Go” (2010). Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley star in the heartbreaking film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking novel in which clones are raised to have their organs harvested. Pass the tissues please.

8. “Gravity” (2013). There has been some discussion about whether this is science fiction. Wikipedia calls it a “science fiction thriller,” so I’m including it. Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space may sound boring, but it’s actually a suspenseful, inspiring story, and I loved it. “Gravity” was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also wrote another one of my favorite movies, the dystopian “Children of Men.” Cuarón is another filmmaker, like del Toro, who doesn’t just “make movies” – this film is a masterpiece.

9. “Okja” (2017). This Netflix film by Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite,” “Snowpiercer”) is one of those movies where you’re constantly thinking, “What the … ?” Bong sort of reminds me of Yorgos Lanthimos in this way. Is it weird that I still loved it? Maybe I’m biased because I’m a vegetarian; it’s about a giant, genetically engineered “super pig.” Tilda Swinton plays the eccentric CEO of a big corporation and Paul Dano plays a member of the Animal Liberation Front. Check it out, but don’t blame me if you never want to eat pork again.

Alicia-Vikander-Ex-Machina-FilmFad.com_-110. “Ex Machina” (2014). Alex Garland also did the movie “Annihilation,” but I prefer this more subtle, less creepy film. A programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to his CEO’s (Oscar Isaac) secluded home, and meets an intelligent humanoid robot (Alicia Vikander).  I’ve noticed a lot of futuristic films fall into one of two camps: One vision of the future is an AI takeover. The other suggests we are headed for the apocalypse. I’m fine with either – fictionally speaking – as long as it’s a good story. Like many robot flicks, “Ex Machina” asks the question: What makes us human?

On that note, I leave you. But I’ll be back soon with my Top 10 superhero films of the decade.

Credits: “The Shape of Water,” Fox Searchlight Pictures; “Interstellar,” Paramount Pictures; “Hunger Games,” Lionsgate Films; “Ex Machina,” A24. 

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‘The Martian’ celebrates teamwork, optimism

You might think that if you were stranded on Mars, you would feel hopeless and depressed. Well, you wouldn’t if you were Mark Watney, the protagonist of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller “The Martian.”

And who else could pull off a smiling, cheery astronaut, even as he is dying on Mars, but Matt Damon? Watney rarely allows himself to let his situation get him down. He’s much too busy calculating mathematical equations to figure out how he’s going to survive until NASA figures out that he’s alive and sends someone to rescue him.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Damon recently played another astronaut stranded on a planet, in last year’s epic space adventure “Interstellar.” (Jessica Chastain was also in both movies.)

I keep hearing this movie described as “a love letter to NASA,” and it absolutely celebrates the camaraderie, teamwork, and sense of adventure for which the space agency is known. But more than that, it is a testimony to the ingenuity and determination of one man who refuses to give up.

Throughout the movie, I couldn’t help thinking, “I would never have thought of that” and “Well, that would be the last straw for me.” I clearly don’t have the knowledge base or mental stability required to be a space explorer. I kept waiting for him to crack, but I guess they weed out all the sissies from the space program with psychological testing.

I also kept waiting for some flashback scenes of Watney with his loved ones back on Earth. They never mention a girlfriend, only his parents, and even though there are brief scenes with the other astronauts’ families, we never see Watney’s parents, even though he mentions them a couple times.

Perhaps this was to show us that Watney wants to live for the sake of living, because he has a zest for life, not because he wants to see his children grow up or because he’s made a promise to a girlfriend that he would come back, which is how this is usually done.

Or maybe, this just isn’t a movie about family. Not the blood-related kind, anyway. It’s more about the faith and trust and the love of science that bond all these people together – the stranded astronaut who says “I love what I do,” the Ares 3’s other five astronauts who have become his friends, and the entire ground crew at NASA, who are faced with making tough decisions without much time to consider the odds.

And most of all, it’s about optimism in the face of adversity – a quality we should all aspire to.

What to watch while you’re waiting for ‘The Force’

I keep hearing about this new movie that’s coming out in a few months – ‘The Force Awakens’? Or something like that. I guess it’s a sequel to those Star Wars movies. People are getting excited about all this new merchandise from the movie. I don’t really know much about it.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m super excited about the new movie too. But can we please admit that Star Wars fever has gotten a bit out of control when someone is selling Han Solo frozen in carbonite Pop-Tarts? And they aren’t edible – they are made out of resin. And they cost $30. For a replica of a Pop-Tart.

I think we need to take a few deep breaths and put the Star Wars frenzy on hold until Dec. 18. Then we can dress up like stormtroopers and camp overnight for tickets. Like normal people.

In the meantime, there are dozens of great sci-fi flicks to watch while you wait for the new film. Here are some of my favorite outer space adventure movies:

All the Star Wars movies. If you can think of nothing else but Star Wars, just have a Star Wars marathon. Again. My husband and I grew up with the original trilogy, so those are our favorites. And they are better, let’s face it. But we watch all of them, because as you know, you can never have too much Star Wars. Although you can definitely have too much Star Wars memorabilia. And you can definitely have too much Jar Jar Binks, so maybe stay away from that one.

All the Star Trek movies. I love what J.J. Abrams did with the last two Star Trek movies, lens flares and all. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably worried about what he’ll do to George Lucas’ legacy. But if “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” are any indication, I think “The Force” will be awesome. If you’re a huge Trek fan, you could boldly go where probably others have gone before and binge watch all 12 of the Trek movies. But that would be like, 24 straight hours of movie watching, which would be, um, illogical.

“The Fifth Element,” Luc Besson’s wacky outer space action flick is one of my all-time favorites. Bruce Willis is perfect as Korben Dallas, a futuristic cab driver who ends up rescuing a beautiful alien (Milla Jovovich) sent to save their planet. Ian Holm is great as priest Vito Cornelius, and Gary Oldman, as always, is the perfect villain. “You’re a monster, Zorg,” the priest tells him. His deadpan reply: “I know.”

“Moon” is an underrated movie starring an underrated actor, Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is always to fun to watch, whether he’s playing a two-headed alien in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or the alcoholic coach of a high school girls’ basketball team in “The Winning Season.” In “Moon,” Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of a solitary three-year job mining helium-3 on the moon. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. Right now.

The Alien movies. I really don’t like scary movies, or monster movies, so I will admit the first time I was coerced into watching these movies, I was less than thrilled. But after repeat viewings, they grew on me. Sigourney Weaver is a total badass. Enough said.

“Starship Troopers.” Loosely adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein novel and directed by Paul Verhoeven, this satire is campy and smart at the same time. Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris star as military recruits tasked with fighting a war on Bugs. Giant Bugs. This is one of those guilty pleasures that comes on TV and you can’t help but watch it again.

“Gravity.” Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space sounds boring, but it’s so not. It’s a suspenseful, inspiring story, and I loved it. “Gravity” was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also wrote another one of my favorite movies, the dystopian thriller “Children of Men.”

“Interstellar” had mixed reviews but I thought it was amazing. Matthew McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. It’s one of those movies you need to pay attention to, like “Inception” (also written and directed by Christopher Nolan). You can’t just go to the bathroom and then come back and say, “What did I miss?” It’s also almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film adaption of the Marvel comic book was a huge hit, and deservedly so. A cocky Han Solo wannabe, a green-skinned warrior woman, a simple-minded brute bent on revenge, an alien that looks like a tree, and a genetically engineered raccoon team up to save the galaxy; it seems like there were a thousand ways this could have gone wrong. The plot is predictably cheesy, but the movie is saved by the cool ’60s and ’70s soundtrack and a wry sense of humor. It turns out that “Guardians” is a comedy. I can’t wait for the sequel. Let’s just hope no one makes a Groot Pop-Tart.