2016 WISB Awards Long List

It's that time of year:  time for me to release some kind of list of things I loved in 2015.  This year is different, though.  This year, I'm releasing a long list for the WISB Awards, and it is from this list that I'll select the winners of my annual WISB awards, the jury-less, vote-less monstrosity of an award that is only of value to myself. Since I cannot include my own work on the following long list, I'll include those works here:
  • Best Fancast:  The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, Mike Underwood, Rachael Acks, David Annandale, and Jen Zink); Totally Pretentious (Shaun Duke and David Annandale)
  • Best Non-Fiction Work:  Speculative Fiction 2014:  The Year's Best Online Reviews, Essays, and Commentary edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke (Book Smugglers Publishing)
If you feel there's a glaring ommission, let me know in the comments.  I haven't read everything there is to read (obviously), and it's likely I've missed a lot of really great work. Now here's the official 2016 WISB Awards Long List: Read More

The 2016 Hugo Awards Reading/Watching List (or, My Next Few Months)

Last month, I asked for recommendations for my annual Hugo Awards reading bonanza.  A bunch of you responded with books, movies, TV shows, cookbooks, and so on.  The form will remain open for the next month or so, so if you haven't submitted anything or want to submit some more stuff, go for it! So, without further delay, here is the big massive monster list of stuff I'll be reading or watching for the next few months: Read More

5 Lesser Known SF/F Cold War Films

It seems Ian Sales and I are playing a list challenge game, and this list is sure to disappoint him this round.  Why?  Because I'm pretty sure two of the options on my list don't actually qualify except in my head.  But we do what we can, no? This time around, I was challenged to come up with a list of 5 lesser known Cold War films that fit roughly in the sf/f genre.  The rules were as follows:
  • The film must be sf/f-ish (duh)
  • The film must be set in the historical period called the Cold War OR
  • The film must directly engage with the Cold War via alternate or future history (metaphors and obscure allegories do not count)
  • The film must be "lesser known" based on my interpretation of that phrase
Now for the list: Read More

The 10 Best Science Fiction Movies Since 2000

I recently challenged Ian Sales* to name 10 films since 2000 that were better than Interstellar (2014).  OK, that's not entirely true.  I challenged him to create a top 10 list of the best SF flicks since 2000; for Ian, they're basically the same thing. He's already released his list here.  It contains some interesting choices, to say the least.  While I disagree quite strongly with some of his selections, I do have to give him credit for not creating another boring "usual suspects" top 10 list; sadly, I'm probably going to disappoint people on that front.

My list will only contain feature length productions, as short films should probably be discussed on their own.  I've made no other distinctions with regards to format (live action, animated, adaptation, etc.) or delivery method (theater or straight-to-DVD).

Alright, here goes:
  1. Inception (2010)
    This film continues to haunt me. Though its concept may not be original (Duck Tales, FTW), its clever use of the heist format to tell a dream-laden scifi action thriller with an ambiguous ending left me clamouring for more.  Inception forced me to rethink about the soundtrack's engagement with the narrative, too; the collaboration of Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan has produced some of the most experimental scores in blockbuster cinema (listen to the film next time you watch it; really listen).  Through and through, this is my favorite movie from this period.
  2. Children of Men (2006)A beautiful, yet grungy examination of an infertile human culture struggling to survive.  Much like the other films on this list, Children of Men examines humanity's variant responses to catastrophe.  Alfonso Cuarón's direction, however, gives this one an edge over other dystopias.  The single-shot chase scene is easily one of the most impressive moments in SF film since 2000.
  3. The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho)(2004)
    Makoto Shinkai's alternate history allegory for the Cold War remains one of my favorite animated films of all time.  Crafted with a certain minimalist style in terms of its characters, PPOED's teenage protagonists are nuanced sides to a coin resting on its side.  Even the science fiction premise -- an experimental tower which has the ability to re-map our Earth with the landscape of an alternate, barren one -- gives the film a beautiful symbolic resonance that I cannot stop thinking about (which may explain why I published a paper on this flick).
  4. Interstellar (2014)
    I contemplated placing this higher on the list, but the more I thought about it, the less sure I was that Interstellar fit the #1 SF film since 2000 rubric. Regardless, the epic character drama and visual spectacle that is Nolan's almost-magnum-opus will continue to resonate with me for years. McConaughey's performance alone is enough to break your soul, and the concentration of themes, though heavy-handed at times, left me physically affected.
  5. Cloud Atlas (2012)
    Easily the most ambitious film on this list, Cloud Atlas is as much a theme-movie as Interstellar.  The Wachowski brothers managed to take a complicated, almost unfilmable novel and translate it into a multi-layered, multi-themed dramatic epic.  Though the film may have taken a misstep in its racial presentation, the overall product is a thing of beauty that will probably be forgotten -- a great tragedy of our time. 
  6. Her (2013)
    Of the films on this list, Her is probably the most character-oriented of them all.  This nuanced examination of near future Millenials interacting with their AIs takes pains to give us an honest look at what that might mean.  How would our relationships progress?  Could you love an AI?  Could an AI love you?  The film's ending provides an almost somber answer, demonstrating the real violence inherent in artificial intelligence:  that they might abandon us entirely.
  7. The Dark Knight (2008)
    Heath Ledger's performance deserved its Oscar; here, Nolan strips Batman completely from his comic book roots (something I think Batman Begins failed to do) and injects the gritty reality of larger-than-life crime into a franchise that had for so long been about visual spectacle (of the Gothic variety).  From the Joker's social experiments to Bruce Wayne's questionable actions, The Dark Knight offers a landscape within which we should think about the interaction of morality and law.
  8. Sunshine (2007)
    The first Danny Boyle film on this list, Sunshine is one of those films which gets a lot of flack for its "twist ending."  I, however, love the ending if only because it resonates with the film's opening shots of Cliff Curtis "communing" with the Sun.  Personally, I am a fan of films which can bring a little philosophical depth to an otherwise standard "save the world" narrative.  Boyle delivers with a diverse cast and a whole lot of gorgeous shots of space.
  9. Pacific Rim (2013)
    The only CGI festival blockbuster on this list, Pacific Rim is the kind of film that you love unless you're someone with bad taste or a desire to be punched (I kid).  Guillermo Del Toro's mecha vs. giant monsters spectacle gave me everything I had hoped for in a film of that type, but then layered on a decent character-oriented plot to give the film a little bit of soul.  Unlike other giant robot movies which shall not be named, this one seemed to care about the main cast and their trials rather than giving all of the attention to overblown action sequences with no purpose other than to make our eyes bleed.  I've seen this film multiple times now, and I'd see it again in a heartbeat.
  10. 28 Days Later (2002)
    A novel engagement with an otherwise tired horror concept. The opening scenes of Cillian Murphy wandering the dilapidated streets of London are chilling, but it is the terrible cost of humanity which makes 28 Days Later my favorite zombie-themed film of all time.  There is a certain beauty in Boyle's direction, which may explain why he appears twice on this list.
Honestly, the ranking is meaningless.  I don't think I'd put things in the same slots if you asked me to look at this list in a year.  So do with that what you will.  It's also worth noting that only one film from this year appears on the list, and that's for a good reason.  Films need time to sink in, to find their place within the SF field; they also need time to get away from their hype or anti-hype.  I feel weird about including Interstellar here before it has had that time, and if you asked me later whether I'd still include it, I'd probably tell you "no."  Not because I don't love it (I do), but because I don't feel I can actually assess the film outside of the context of its release.  But Ian and I disagreed about how good Interstellar was, and so I had to include it on this list.

In any case, you're free to disagree with me in the comments.  If you think I missed something, let me know!

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*Ian Sales is the author of the exceptional "Adrift on the Sea of Rains," which I've been meaning to review since I could walk.  I'm a terrible reviewer who deserves no love...That said, you really should read that story (and the ones that follow it).

Announcement — 2010: A SFF Film Odyssey begins in February!

What is it?
The SFF Film Odyssey (2010 edition) is the result of a twitter conversation I had last year, in which I remarked that it would be super cool if I could figure out a way to review every SF/F movie released since 2000 in one year.  Unfortunately, that's nearly 1,000 films, and I have three jobs...so clearly that's impossible.  Instead, throughout 2014, I will watch and review every science fiction and fantasy film released in 2010!  A more reasonable goal, and one that will give me a reason to go through the years of SF/F film one at a time!

What will it entail?
Reviews, discussions, and rants about SF/F movies from 2010.  I'm keeping away from a single format for these posts in order to add some variation, which will hopefully keep readers interested...and me.

A couple caveats:
  1. Films that do not have English subtitles or dubs (where relevant) will be removed (I don't think this will matter, but just in case).
  2. Films released straight to DVD do not apply, nor do films which appeared on television, but not in theaters.
  3. Films which are sequels will be replaced by the first film in the series (there are only a handful in the list right now).  If I have time, I'll review an entire series.
  4. I am sure to miss some films, as my list currently consists of what can be found here and here.  There are roughly 63 films there, but if you know of any others that should be considered, leave a comment here or send an email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com
  5. Films which are not American in origin will be discussed on The Skiffy and Fanty Show blog, which is currently on a World SF Tour.
When exactly will it start?
It's possible I'll get things started next week, but since my laptop will need to go in for repairs on Monday, it may be a little while before I'm able to really dig in deep.  On a more realistic note, this thing will likely start around the first or second week of February.

And that's that.  So...time to get to work!

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*Thanks to Justin Landon for helping me with the name for this feature.  He gets three gold stars for his efforts.

Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Anime Movies

I've been sitting on this list for months because I didn't think I'd seen enough anime movies to warrant the creation of a list.  Turns out I was wrong.  When I did a bit of searching, I discovered I'd seen quite a lot of anime films, many of them viewed at 1 AM on some random satellite station my grandma had a decade ago.  I still don't know which station played anime at 1 AM, nor do I remember all of the films I saw (Black Magic M-66, which does not appear on the list below because it's not that great, is one for which I am particularly nostalgic).

So here I am with a list of 10.  Don't hesitate to tell me what you think in the comments (or share your own lists).  Here goes (in no particular order):

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (Yutaka Fujioka)

Flying beds, nightmare kings, magic scepters, flying squirrels, and dreams!

The Place Promised in Our Lonely Days (Makoto Shinkai)

Alternate realities, Cold War analogues, rebellion, and homemade jets!

And I'm presenting a paper on it at the 2014 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando!  *dances*

Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki)

Talking flames, animalistic transformations, mystical castles, and Miyazaki's classic genius.

Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki)

Mythology, modernity vs. the old world, giant spirit animals, and muskets!

The Cat Returns (Hayao Miyazaki)

Talking cats in tophats, kitty kingdoms, and magic transformations!

Oh, and the English-dubbed edition, which is surprisingly good, features Cary Elwes, Anne Hathaway, Kristen Bell, Rene Auberjonois (from DS9!), Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, and many more.  That's one hell of a cast, no?

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo)

Do I really need to explain this one?  It's a beautiful, mess-with-your-head kind of film.  And it's a classic.  At this point, you should have seen it already...

Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii)

What happens if a human mind merges with an artificial one?  And are cyborgs still human?  A cyberpunk classic.

Ghost in the Shell 2 (Mamoru Oshii)

Can you really trust cyborgs when their ability to exert free will is always in question?  Nothing like a little cyberpunk to tackle the tough questions!

Macross Plus (Shoji Kawamori & Shinichiro Watanabe)

Jet battles, artificial intelligence, mass hypnosis, and Robotech!  Yeah!

Patlabor (Mamoru Oshii)

Mecha in everyday society + hackers + mecha police = greatness.

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P.S.:  I really wanted to include the OVAs for Samurai X in this list, but they are technically episodic in format, rather than proper films like the ones listed above.  That means I'm going to have to write a whole new list about my favorite SF/F anime series!