Monday, October 1, 2007

Dystopia


No, this is not a post about the Bush Administration, as the title might suggest. On the contrary, it is my 2nd post in a row (!) without political content.

From the Snarkerati site, this is a ranking of the top 50 Dystopian movies of all time. The list was compiled from averaging IMDB's user rankings and Rotten Tomatoes' compilations of reviews from professional critics.

I'm a very big fan of this genre (draw your own conclusions as to what this says about my personality). A few of my personal favorites:

45. Idiocracy (2006). Mike Judge roolz. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a good 'un.

41. Soylent Green (1973). I was shocked that this wasn't higher on the list. I had always thought it was pretty much the quintessential dystopian flick. On a recent re-watching, its genius was confirmed. The dystopian elements are very incisively done, and, of course, the ending is an all-time classic finish.

39. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). Adapted, of course, from one of my all-time favorite books, and what has to be the best-ever dystopian story told in any medium, George Orwell's book of the same name. I recently watched this, and -- though I was prepared to be disappointed -- it was actually quite good, mostly because it stayed very true to the book.

29. Total Recall (1990). One of the Governator's best. I like movies where the plot screws with your mind. I always love the scene where Ahnahld pumps a bullet through Sharon Stone's forehead.

25. Gattaca (1997). This one ranks high for me for no other reason than the central dystopian plot element appears very likely to happen at some point (assuming the human race doesn't destroy itself in the next few years).

23. V for Vendetta (2005). If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. Where is our Guy Fawkes? (This one also ranks highly on the "are we really that far from this?" scale.)

16. Pleasantville (1998). This movie has its faults (pulls just a bit too hard on the ol' heartstrings for my taste), but you've got to give a lot of credit to the cleverness of idea behind it, and also the way it uses the b&w/color dichotomy to drive the theme and story.

15. Serenity (2005). Joss Whedon did this movie, which is based on the "Firefly" television series, which didn't catch on but is worth watching. The "River" character is fascinating. (An interesting detail is how the characters lapse into speaking bits and pieces of Chinese, a fact that is never actually addressed in the movie but appears to reference Chinese dominance of "Earth-that-was" at some point in the past.)

14. Twelve Monkeys (1995). I have this movie on DVD, but my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. Terry Gilliam is a dystopian master. I remember Bruce Willis being really good, and Brad Pitt plays the only kind of character he is really good at (a person with a mental disability).

9. Minority Report (2002). I wouldn't put this quite so high on the list, and I'm not so sure it is really all that "dystopian" (though I can see why it was included), but really it is just a very good futuristic action thriller with a really clever plot. Lots of cool chase scenes, fight scenes, great CGI, etc.

7. The Matrix (1999). In my mind, The Matrix is a great, classic movie. There are so many awesome things about it, and it is just too bad the Wachowskis cheapened it by doing those two (terrible!) sequels (especially the third one, which was just about totally unwatchable).

6. Children of Men (2006). I think this is the only movie on the list that I actually saw at the theater. I had seen the trailers and it looked spectacular. I was a little disappointed, but I would still recommend it. Clive Owen is predictably great, and the rest of the acting, settings, story, etc is all good, but I just thought the director (Alfonso Cuaron) could have done a better job punching up the themes (or, really, making whatever theme there was more clear, because -- and this could possibly be chalked up to my own denseness -- but I wasn't real sure what it was I was supposed to take away from it).

5. Blade Runner (1982). I don't need to explain this one to you, do I?

2. A Clockwork Orange (1971). A bit of the ol' ultraviolence, eh? (One of) Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece(s). So powerful that a few of the scenes are truly hard to watch. The soundtrack is perfect in its chilling creepiness. I love the mother's tragic explanation of what she thinks (or sooo badly wants to think) it is that little Alex does to earn money: "Well, like he says, it's mostly odd things he does. Helping, like, here and there as it might be."

Some other notes:

3. Brazil (1985). Another Gilliam flick. I liked it, but: someone please tell me the meaning of this movie?

12. The Trial (1962). I've not seen this, but the book by Franz Kafka is excellent. I wonder if Blockbuster has this...

36. A Scanner Darkly (2006). Crazy way they put this movie together. They filmed all the scenes, and then had an army of artists spend a couple of years drawing over the filmed images (apparently this is called "rotoscoping", which I thought was actually a different technique entirely). This makes the movie look like it should be a Grand Theft Auto type Playstation2 game. It was a bit hard to follow (I plan to read the book, which I own, that was written by Phillip K. Dick, who also wrote the book that Blade Runner was based on (which I have read), called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"). Directed by Richard Linklater, of "Dazed and Confused" and "Slacker" fame. It has an excellent cast, but it seems like it would have been better if they had done away with the neat-o rotoscoping bit, and just used CGI to do the tricky make-me-look-like-someone-else-suit thing.

42. I, Robot (2004). On second thought, this should be in my list of favorites above. Good cast, good story, great CGI, and a decent makes-you-think kind of theme.

The Running Man (1987). This gets an honorable mention. Another of the Governator's best. The premise is pretty good. I love when the guy wearing the neck collar gets his head exploded. Richard Dawson is perfect as the game show host.

Should be on the list:

Aeon Flux (2005). This movie is based on the anime series that aired on MTV in the late 80s (or early 90s?). As a commenter on IMDB noted, it is way better than you might expect. Highly stylized, with some good action, and a pretty awesome plot twist at the end.

The Island (2005). This is a very underrated movie. If for no other reason, Scarlett Johansson looks incredibly hot. Ewan McGregor is good too (he's best when he plays a dumb guy -- though in this case he is ignorant rather than dumb, but in this context it's the same). The premise is very clever (though in retrospect, it seems perfectly obvious (maybe even reasonable??)), and the plot is good, the story moves along really well, there are some good action scenes (though some of the settings could have benefited from a bigger budget), and overall it is just a really well done, engaging movie. I've tried to figure out why it didn't do better at the box office, or receive more acclaim, and I just can't figure it out. For my money, it's one of the best movies to come out in the last couple of years.

6 comments:

Gleemonex said...

Agree with most of your picks, although I sorta thought The Matrix blew. Have you seen Dark City (#30 or thereabouts)? LOVE that one. Creeps me out in a really satisfying way. And I would definitely recommend reading Children of Men, by PD James -- I thought the book was far superior to the movie. I think you would like it.

I guess we share whatever quirk of personality that makes this dystopian stuff appealing, because, you know -- me too. :-)

dodger said...

two peas in a pod, i would say that 90% of the films you just said said are favorites in my book, why didn't we get together again...
lyn

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