There seems to have been little notice that a decade has ended just a few weeks ago. Most people seem to have fallen into the popular misconception that the decade started over a year ago with 2010. At some point I will have to put together a top ten films of the decade that has closed. I think, however that I can list the best fantasy films of the recent decade. In chronological order the top films are these.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003)
Let me be clear on this. I have no particular interest in stables, clean or dirty. But if the Augean Stables were cleaned up by Hercules, I can be really impressed by the job he did. THE LORD OF THE RINGS is not a style of fantasy that particularly appeals to me. I don't do well with elves. But whether I am enthralled by the story or not, I can concede that it must have been a huge and nearly miraculous task to bring that mammoth novel to the screen in a way that did not look tacky (at least when there were no Orcs on the screen). I count the entire trilogy as a single film released in three parts and that film is a magnificent job. Peter Jackson created a fully realized world that I think that J. R. R. Tolkein would have loved. I am not in a rush to see THE LORD OF THE RINGS again, but I would say it is a phenomenal job of adapting a novel to the screen.
THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)
A medical procedure allows for the removal of painful memories by erasing them. The hitch is that the memories must be opened and partially relived as they are being erased. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's script is demanding--not so challenging as his SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, but demanding. Still it is delightfully engaging, intelligent, and even profound. Charlie Kaufman is showing that he has not yet reached his peak. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is still his best script by a sizable margin. The director is Michel Gondry, but for once it is the screenwriter who got the deserved attention. I would like to think this is a movie that will show the film industry that good writing can do more for a film than good special effects.
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
Toward the end of the 19th century two rival stage magicians compete and battle for dominance. This is a thriller, an education in stage magic, a mystery, and even a bit of a science fiction film. Christopher Priest's novel is brought to the screen by co- writer and director Christopher Nolan in a wonderful adaptation. In spite of the popular THE DARK KNIGHT and INCEPTION I would still pick this as his best effort. This is a film that may be more enjoyable on the second viewing once you know its intricate secrets. Where THE PRESTIGE varies from the Christopher Priest novel it is based on it does something very interesting. The film is no less fascinating than the book on which it was based.
THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007)
Years ago Jerome Bixby wrote a Star Trek episode entitled "Requiem for Methuselah" about an immortal man. That was really a somewhat superficial exploration of the concept of immortality and what it be like to live for a very long time. It is clear from THE MAN FROM EARTH that he could not shake the idea and has given great thought to many ramifications of the idea.
John Oldman is a young-looking college professor who has lived for a very long time. He may even be a Cro-Magnon, but at the time he thought of himself only as one of "the People" and the topography of his first home has long since changed. The film is little more than a stage play, done without flashbacks or special effects. This film is carried entirely by conversation. But it playfully examines humanity's history, civilization, and ideologies. The film is constantly challenging and never patronizing to the viewer. I would be hard-pressed to find a more intelligent science fiction film.
SLEEP DEALER (2008)
This near-future extrapolation takes place in a Mexico maybe two decades hence. The world is much like ours with a few major differences. Rudy lives in a small village where the water resources have been privatized, this is not so farfetched and is probably based on the real-life privatization of water resources in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2000 when the water supply was sold to an international consortium. Similarly in SLEEP DEALER the water has been diverted and dammed. People have to purchase the water that was formerly theirs for the taking.
With a simple operation people who can afford it can connect electrical jacks directly to their nervous system so they can connect their bodies into the Internet. Their vision can be recorded or used for virtual reality. Day laborers can connect to the Internet from Mexico and have their labor transmitted via telepresence to robots doing the work.
The film is an interesting near-future extrapolation. The networking related scenes are done using a primary color palette giving a layer of unreality. Though it is a US-Mexican co- production, the director, Alex Rivera, and actors are Mexican. Writer-director Alex Rivera's film is negative on the US but still gives a very believable extrapolation of the next two or so decades.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper