Sunday, August 17, 2008

Top 30 Sci-Fi Films of All Time.

Yahoo has a genuinely idiotic list of the top 30 Sci-Fi movies of all time today. First of all, half the movies on the list are superhero enjoyable genre but emphatically NOT science fiction. Just because Peter Parker used science to become Spider Man and Superman is from another planet does not make those guys science fiction characters.
Now I'll grant you, it's not easy to define the genre.

Some films are clearly Sci-Fi like Star Wars. Being set in some hi-tech future almost guarantees inclusion but what about films set in the present or the past that add wildly unhistorical technology or characters? Is H.G. Wells The Time Machine Sci-Fi? If so, why isn't Mary Shelly's Frankenstein? Or is it? Clearly this is something reasonable nerds can disagree about.

For my money, the "monster movie" genre is separate and distinct too. That means no King Kong, Godzilla, Cloverfield etc. If you disagree, I'd like to hear your arguments.

Anyway rather than just complain, here's my alternative list.
Aside from the parameters I mentioned above, I decided that I have to have actually seen each and every movie in question. That means Serenity doesn't make the cut despite it's excellent reputation. Also, most sequels aren't here because they tend to cover familiar ground while trying to squeeze a buck out of a dying franchise. To be considered, a sequel has to bring something radically new to the table. Finally, there are lots of very popular movies that I left off the list simply because I don't like them that much. I'm not going to dispute that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is both "better" and more "important" than some of the films on this list. It just didn't connect with me.

I invite comments.

30) I Robot (2004). Startlingly good, even if it doesn't exactly follow the story by Isaac Asimov.

29) The Mysterious Island (1929) Surviving copies are incomplete. When it was released the entire movie was in Technicolor, with talking sequences, sound effects and synchronized music. Now all that's left is a black and white version. It stared Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life).

Update: Aparrently part of the color sequences survive in the UCLA film archive.

28) Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Am I the only one who thought the Borg Queen was sexy? Looking back on it...yeah I probably was the only one.

27) Soylent Green (1973) It's people!

26) Dark Star (1974) Set in the 22nd Century, the crew of the ship Dark Star roam the galaxy demolishing planets that are a hazard to navigation or colonization. Unfortunately the "smart" bombs they use in this process are...well...really smart and sometimes it's difficult to convince them to do their job.

25) Forbidden Planet (1956) Based on Shakespeare's The Tempest it stars a young Leslie Neilsen in a non-comedy role.

24) Mad Max (1979) The film that made Mel Gibson a star.

23) Running Man (1987) A loose adaptation of a Stephen King story about a world in which criminals are put in an American Gladiators type setting and made to fight for their lives on national television. Staring the current Governor of California, the former Governor of Minnesota and Richard Dawson as the evil game-show host.

22) Heavy Metal (1981) The only animated film on the list. Lots of topless girls and a fantastic score.

21) Return of the Jedi (1983) Could have been ranked higher but it loses points for having Ewoks. Good space battle though.

20) Outland (1981) Sean Connery stars as the sheriff on a mining colony. Faced with hired killers out to get him, he finds himself alone with nobody to turn to. If that sounds familiar it is. It's essentially a remake of High Noon (staring Gary Cooper 1952) and Rio Bravo (staring John Wayne 1959).

19) Predator (1987) Like Running Man this stars a couple of future Governors. This time in the role of commandos in the Central American jungle, they find themselves being hunted by an alien looking for trophies.

18) Logan's Run (1976) Set in the 23rd century, the threat of overpopulation has forced society to take drastic measures-everyone is killed when they reached age 30. Logan is a Sandman, that is he puts people "to sleep". Unfortunately for him, he's got a big birthday coming he decides to make a run for it. Also staring the delicious Jenny Agutter.

17) Independence Day (1996) I almost forgot this one. It doesn't seem to be on television much anymore. I wonder why. It was one heck of a blockbuster.

16) Metropolis (1927) Its the movie that taught us that girl robots are sexy.

15) Alien (1979) In space no one can hear you scream.

14) RoboCop (1987) A Detroit cop is killed in the line of duty. Do you A) give him a decent burial, or B) take whats left of him, graft it on to a crime fighting robot and turn him loose on the city? If you chose A you have no future in science fiction writing.

13) Starship Troopers (1997) Now I'll grant you, it doesn't really have the charm of the book on which it is loosely based and a fair amount of it really doesn't make any sense. I mean really we're fighting bugs who stab people...why don't we just use tanks and artillery? That's still incredibly bad-ass.

12) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) If the plot made any sense this would rank higher. It's cultural significance is huge.

11) Planet of the Apes (1968) "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

10) Demolition Man (1993) Set in an orderly but bland future where this is (virtually) no crime. Unfortunately a "real" criminal (Wesley Sinpes) from an earlier more violent age (the present) has escaped from the "cryoprison" — which keeps its prisoners cryonically frozen in suspended animation. How do you catch him? How about unfreezing a disgraced cop (Sylvester Stallone) who's also in the deep freeze. With nice performances by Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock.

9) Aliens (1986) One of the few sequels that is actually better that the original movie.

8) The Empire Strikes Back (1980) There's a lot of great stuff in this movie but I still prefer the original.

7) The Terminator (1984) Really an amazing movie.

6) Star Wars (1977) I expect this to be controversial. Episodes I-III don't even make the list and to rank the originals this low is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Don't get me wrong-I love the original movies...and for what it's worth I genuinely like the the more recent prequels...but there are five movies that I think are better.

5) Total Recall (1990) Douglas Quaid (Governor of California Again) is a lowly construction worker who is inexplicably married to a young Sharon Stone. Lately he's been having some very strange dreams.

4) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) A considerable development and expansion of the premise of the original film. At the time of the movie's release the special effects were considered jaw-dropping. Literally nothing like it had ever been done before.

3) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) Unquestionably the best Star Trek movie ever made.

2) The Matrix (1999) An unusually smart film. I mean how easy it it to persuade an audience that the entire world we live in is an illusion?

1) Blade Runner (1982) Futuristic film noir meets Frankenstein. There are amazingly seven different versions of this movie...which speaks volumes about how troubled production was. I may be the only person alive who prefers the original theatrical release.

Well there you have it. That's my list. It's very heavy on movies I grew up with (mostly '70's and '80's) but I think they stand up pretty well.

Castro's Dictatorship and Cuban Health Care.

Cuban communism may be repressive, but at least it provides good health care. This is a common trope of left-wing apologias for Castro's brutal dictatorship. This claim is getting recycled yet again in the wake of Castro's recent resignation (e.g. here). One response to this point is that of liberal Berkeley economist Brad DeLong: Cuba would likely have a much higher standard of living (and better health care) today had it not gone communist in 1959. As DeLong documents, Cuba in the 1950s was one of the richest countries in Latin America and rapidly approaching Western European standards of living and health outcomes.

Under communism, it became one of the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere - despite receiving vast quantities of heavily subsidized oil from the Soviet Union for decades. Taking Cuban official statistics at face value (as DeLong does), Cuban health outcomes and standards of living are roughly similar to those of Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In the 1950s, DeLong notes, Cuba was vastly better off than these countries and, on some measures (such as infant mortality) better than many Western European nations.

More here.

Surge for the dollar as global fears rise.

For years now people have been saying that our fiscal policies were undermining the value of the dollar (some truth in that) and the trend toward the the Euro signaled an end to the dollar as the worlds principal reserve currency. But that argument only made sense if Europe's underlying economic fundamentals were better than ours-and they aren't. Add an increasingly erratic and dangerous Russia to the mix and what do you have?

Against sterling, the US currency notched up its 11th consecutive day of gains – its longest uninterrupted rise in more than 35 years – as markets became increasingly convinced that the US was best-placed to weather the global downturn.

Iran says its warplanes are capable of reaching Israel.

Of course the hard part is getting back.

Ukraine Offers Missile Defence Co-Operation with US.

First Poland now this. It seems Russia may have overplayed their hand.