Tad Friend’s recent New Yorker article The Mogul in the Middle reminds us that movies are like everything in this life: a business. Friend focuses on STX Entertainment founder, Adam Fogelson, who “is not interested in movies where they all talk too much, that Sundance shit of jerking off on the screen.” Instead, Fogelson is celebrated for taking risks on films that larger distribution companies are scared of: “In 2012, If you asked a roomful of people ‘What’s “Ted”?,’ some might have said, ‘A conference’. Four months later, all around the world, a giant portion of people would have said, ‘A movie about a magical bear who comes to life.’ That is an exciting, terrifying, magical truth.” Friend goes on to explain that “the six major studios have bet that the future on films that are predicated not on the chancy appeal of individual actors but on “I.P.”—intellectual property, in the form of characters and stories that the audience already knows from books or comics or video games. 29 sequels and reboots came out last year, many of them further illuminations of a comic-book universe. Friend cites one studio head as to claiming, “Movies may not have gotten better over the years, but they’ve gotten more satisfying.”
Or to put it in laymen’s terms, they have become much bigger and far more dumber, exemplified in recent Oscar nominations forMad Max, Fury Road and The Martian. Following the logic of these nominations, the 1981 Oscars would have expunged The Elephant Man and Raging Bull for Road Warrior and The Empire Strikes Back. Humanity, it appears, requires a better marketing department.
I have always been a sucker – like a Christmas Tree – for Science Fiction films. I was insanely hyped for Prometheus (2012), Sunshine (2007) and Event Horizon (1997) and, 15 minutes after the opening credits, let down by a predictably dull and stupid story. And I expectOblivion (2013) will be the same. However every once in a while, there are films that follow through past the set-up, that actually have a thought-out story with characters who are interesting and a plot that intrigues to the end. Here are my Top Five:
5. Planet of the Apes (1968) The costumes and sets might be dated, but the concept and characters work very well. The relationship between Taylor and Zira challenges us to this day. 4 Alien (1979) This film has everything in it, from the typical military conspiracy to grumbling union guys and, of course, the alien’s retractable punching bag jaw. Signourney Weaver’s Ripley is one of the great female leads in science fiction. 3. The Road Warrior (1981) Mad Max is a great ant-hero, and the villains have ever since been used as prototypes for the post-apocalyptic films that followed. Max’s dog provides the tragedy.2. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) The human – and alien – aspect is developed beautifully with some unsettling moments of alien sexuality. It is a contemplative film that makes great demands of the audience.1. Blade Runner (1982) This is at the top of many lists not only because it is a well-constructed film with a strong setting, story and cast of characters, but also because of its fidelity to the tenets of the Film Noir genre.