So this is the Writer's Block suggestion for today. But unfortunately, the movie critic in me has several different answers for this question! Sci-fi cinema is a lot bigger and more complex genre than a lot of people give it credit for, so "best" really covers a lot of ground. And I watch a lot of sci-fi film; though I don't pretend to be any kind of expert film critic, and I judge films primarily on the enjoyment I get out of them. So, for your pleasure this freezing winter night (they're forecasting 8 degrees tonight, which for Brisbane is pretty damn cool), here are the 2010 Solid Gold Awards for the best and worst in sci-fi cinema of the last fifty years, as voted by an audience of one.
The Holodeck Award for Visual Effects must, with no shadow of doubt, go to Avatar. Whatever you may think about the plot, the world of Pandora was visually the most photo-realistic and spectacular creation ever to hit the screen, assisted not only by the use of 3D technology but by the judicious and subtle use of it. Other possible contenders were Independence Day, The Matrix and Jurassic Park; Independence Day loses out because of the woeful Praxis Effect at the end, which was probably awesome in the cinemas in 1996 but which is showing its age.
The Jugs-t Because We Can Award for Most Blatantly Gratuitous Use of a Female Love Interest is, of course, the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact (hell, everyone else was getting some except for Data, and how else was that going to happen?), though it was a close-run thing between that and Nova in Planet of the Apes - the original Charlton Heston one, not the Marky Mark joke, which resembled the Pierre Boulle novel (excellent, especially in the original French) only insofar as there was a planet, and there were apes on it.
The I Can't Believe It's Not
The Through a Crystal Ball, Darkly Award for Most Disturbingly Likely Prediction of the Near Future goes to Gattaca, a film I haven't seen in some time but found both intriguing and unsettling. Fortunately DNA profiling hasn't become a problem to this degree - yet. Honourable mention to The Island, though I found myself distracted from the film by Scarlett Johansson's lips. I bet her makeup kit contains two litres of red paint and a bicycle pump.
The Not Nearly Enough Tissues Award for Biggest Tearjerker goes to Armageddon. The science is dodgy, the idea of a grizzled old oil-well driller and his team being trained to be put on an asteroid to save the human race terribly unbelievable, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the tugging of my heartstrings in the final sequence.
For the Oh Gosh, Maybe I Should Have Packed My Biohazard Suit Award for Most Ridiculously Overdone Gorefest, there is absolutely no competition with Starship Troopers. I'm told that the film was originally called Bug Hunt and was planned as basically a splat-'em-up, and that the association with the Heinlein novel Starship Troopers was actually done after the script was written. An honourable mention goes to Cube, whose inventive manners of death were the first and, to date, only time I've ever actually been physically squeamish in a movie.
And the Purulent Plague-Ridden Leper Award for Science Fiction Film I Least Want To Be Assocated With In The Slightest is Battlefield Earth, a film which I'm told even the director of disowned. Nothing I've heard about it makes me want to even pay the two bucks to hire it from the local video shop, especially not the quite extraordinary rating of 2% Fresh that it garnered from Rotten Tomatoes.
My own personal favourites? Probably Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Stargate, Avatar, Independence Day and Star Trek: First Contact. It's hard to pick a single one amongst those, though Stargate would probably win just because the main character is an archaeologist AND linguist, which has obvious appeal to me. Let's be fair, we archaeologists don't get a whole lot of exposure in the cinema, Indiana Jones aside (and he's only counted as an archaeologist because he has tenure at a university - don't even get me started on Lara Croft), and that goes doubly so for linguists... other than My Fair Lady and Atlantis: The Lost Empire I can't think of any films with linguists as the main characters.