Larry Young 7 of the Best

Larry Young’s 7 of the Best

Written by Larry Young

Look, you are going to get your top ten best SF movies all over the Internet. Everybody is right about the first three, 2001, Blade Runner,Chuck Heston’s Planet of the Apes. The rest is personal taste, a Logan’s Run here, a Solaris there. You don’t need me to tell you. But here’s my seven best no one ever thinks of from the last ten years or so, and they are missing out. No particular order:

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
This movie was directed by the guy who saved the Marvel movies and showed everyone how to do a superhero flick in the 21st Century. It stars James Bond and Indiana Jones fighting aliens in the Old West. There are cowboys. There are aliens; OK, it says so in the title. But there are Indians. There are robbers. There’s a preacher. There are hotties. Magic alien bracelets. An obvious bad guy and his worthless son. There’s a dog. A kid. There’s a bartender named “Doc.”

This movie is preposterous and ambitious. It’s a Western with a bad guy who rises to good, a guy who rides into town giving orders he expects everyone to follow, a small man outside of the action trying to make his way in a world of hard cases. There’s a lovely wench seemingly from another world. She’s not from around here, let’s put it that way.

The best thing is, the movie would be great with just all this. Then they ask you to just buy this one thing: ALIENS.

How this flick did not make a billion dollars, I do not know.

Outlander (2008)
John Hurt. Ron Perlman. Jim Caviezel. Space Vikings versus aliens. I dunno, this is the same deal; asking you to buy just one thing. In Viking Norway, two giant bands of bearded badasses are fighting for control of frozen resources in a desperate battle for survival. Kane from Alien as the grizzled leader of one tribe against Hellboy‘s men on the other side of the river would have made for an interesting period tale of Man’s struggle against Nature, and each other. How do you make this better? Make the Norsemen on Earth a forgotten outpost of a dying alien civilization, and crash-land an alien space soldier and his criminal monster into the Viking forest. Super-soldier from another planet has to kill an alien dragon he accidentally brought in, eating both sets of Vikings, while replacing his lost star-family with a cute Norse girl and a tow-headed scamp that would be a street urchin if Vikings had streets.

The best thing is, the movie would be great with just all this. Then they ask you to just buy this one thing: leading man is from another planet, and needs to make a Viking sword from the hull plating of his crashed ship to slay the dragon he’s responsible for bringing into this idyllic world of drunken debauchery and gluttony and pillaging and Viking whatnot.

How this flick did not make a billion dollars, I do not know.

Lockout (2012)
Speaking of “how do you make this better,” Luc Besson was eating fried cheese and washing it down with the tears of his enemies one night and Escape From New York must have been playing on the hotel TV and he thought to himself, well… probably something colorful in French. But loosely translated, it was something along the lines of “How can I make this perfect movie even better? SET IT IN SPACE.” Unfortunately for him, he pretty much did exactly that. He changed Snake’s name to Snow, instead of the President, it’s the President’s daughter, and instead of blasting his way out across a bridge, the main character parachutes in from space. Obviously, taking one of the best movies ever made and setting it in space and having the main character talk in nothing but one liners is going to get you sued by John Carpenter and you will lose. Which is what happened, but whatever Besson had to pay was worth it, because they can’t take my Lockout bluray away from me. So sometimes I feel like watching Escape From New York, and sometimes I feel like watching Escape From New York in space.

How this flick did not make a billion dollars, I do not know.

Jumper (2008)
I know nobody likes Hayden Christensen because of the Star Wars prequels, but you people really need to get over that. He’s not that bad an actor. Witness this film, wherein people have the ability to teleport all over the globe, there’s a secret society of kids doing it and another secret society of people hunting them, from time immemorial… they only ask you to buy one thing: that no one notices. I dunno, that seems to be the big dig against this flick, but how many times does some weird shit happen in front of you , and you just ignore it or process it or shine it on? Maybe that happens more to me than it does to you, because I live in San Francisco, but, seriously: if you’re eating in a McDonald’s or something off the highway while getting gas and all of a sudden somebody bamfs into the booth behind you, isn’t it more likely that you’re going to think not that that’s the best Nightcrawler cosplay you’ve ever seen, but that you just hadn’t noticed the dude previously?

Doug Liman directed this; the dude who did The Bourne Identity, Swingers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Its consistency is arbitrary and its off-handedness seems more a conceit than a natural casualness… but teenagers can teleport themselves at will all over the planet and an ancient order is trying to stop them for no particular reason and if that isn’t an apt metaphor for being a teenager in the first place, I do not know what is. I am special and nobody knows and I have to keep it secret or the adults will take it from me. Oh, and the sublime Diane Lane is Hayden’s mom.

How this flick did not make a billion dollars, I do not know.

Source Code (2011)
I loved Duncan Jones’ Moon, so chances were high I was going to dig on a similarly ridiculous story. As Moon asked you to buy one thing after the mystery is revealed, so, too, does Source Code. A crazy-ass riff on Quantum Leap… the face in the mirror you see isn’t your own… you strap yourself in and ready yourself for a rumination on the nature of identity. Which… you know? sort of happens. But initially the audience thinks that’s the main point when it’s revealed that’s only the second margarita from the pitcher. There’re secret labs, harvested memories, fear of terrorism, the duality of consciousness, the screenplay throwing sense up like blowing through a tollbooth at speed throwing pennies in the air.

Just buy that one thing, though: the creators of Source Code thought they could do Groundhog Day better a mere eight minutes at a time. And explained it with computers. And Michelle Monaghan.

How this flick did not make a billion dollars, I do not know.

Armageddon (1998)
OK, the brief at the beginning was that I’d keep this one to the last ten years or so and nobody is denying that Armageddon is coming up on twenty years, now. But I don’t care about arbitrary distinctions that I set up myself, so if you’ve read this long, you have to keep reading. Armageddon is probably one of the finest screenplays ever. Oh, sure, you can quibble with the execution; that animal crackers scene is agonizing, and all that Aerosmith is obviously contractually obligated to assure the inclusion of the otherwise sublime Liv Tyler. But anybody who studies film is in awe of the first twenty minutes. There’s a voiceover from the dulcet tones of God Himself warning about impending doom; there’s an introduction to the specific conflict; the main characters take a bow; the seriousness of the threat is delineated and a possible solution is expressed… all before it says “directed by Michael Bay.”

The whole movie is a series of assaults on the audience, but that’s apropos as the postulate of the plot is that cosmic space is assaulting the very fabric of Nature. One-liners delivered with gravitas, and romance shouted at the character’s intended. The whole point of the film excuses excess, because, really. At the end of the world, there’s going to be some excess, isn’t there? “I don’t suppose you can tell us who really killed Kennedy?” No one can admit that any more than they can admit a bunch of guys led by John McClane in a spacesuit can save the world.

This flick probably made a billion dollars. I’m not going to look it up, because it should have. This thing is better than the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. And WAY better than Citizen Kane.

Timeline (2003)
Another one that didn’t make the ten year cut, but shut up. Nobody is talking to you. Everyone thinks Michael Crichton’s heavenly achievement is Jurassic Park but if you’re not old-skool and lay out for The Andromeda Strain, I think we all have to give it up for Timeline. Time-travelling corporate espionage by way of Doctor Who, with extra balls? Who isn’t going to love this?

The absolutely cool thing I love about this is the explanation and dismissal of the conceit at the same time. It’s postulated that when you travel to the past and return to the present, you’re a Xerox of a Xerox. Your original self dies, a copy is sent to the past. When you return, a copy of the copy is made, and you show back up with some minor transcription errors. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD DO THAT? Having trouble with your girlfriend? She’s telling you that you’re not the guy she fell in love with? She is literally correct. You’re a copy of a copy of a copy. I bet you don’t even like watching Caroline in the City with her, anymore.

They ask you to buy that one thing; people from the present exuent to the past, and don’t wildly change things, but their presence definitely makes things better. Like these dopey films. They may not have made a billion dollars (although they should have), but they have changed things for the better, bringing smiles and entertainment to those who were ready to dig it.

Related Post