I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. As always, it only reflects things seen for the first time. “POLTERGEIST on TV, 14th viewing” doesn’t make the list. Nor do films not viewed in their entirety, for example, Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which got ejected from the Blu-Ray player after 15 minutes. I’d never seen Henry Cavill in anything before but he seems to emit some kind of anti-charisma particle.
I didn’t bother making a numbered best-of list this year. But if I had, LOGAN would be at the top. It’s perfect. Damn you James Mangold, for making me cry at your Wolverine movie.
Some of my other favorite releases of 2017 include THE BEGUILED, COCO, ATOMIC BLONDE, THOR: RAGANOK, and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. Of course, DUNKIRK was impressive – but cold, as is Christopher Nolan’s way. MOTHER! is a movie, alright. Darren Aronofsky swings for the fences. And whatever you think of the film, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfieffer were very good. The BLADE RUNNER sequel was amazing, and very nearly great: only Jared Leto’s messianic super-villain seemed out of place, like a character from a different, dumber movie. THE LAST JEDI: wonderful, about 50% of the time. The compelling Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline almost makes up for how they couldn’t find anything interesting for Poe, Finn, or Rose to do. (Yeah I get that the casino plot is a critique of capitalism and arms dealers and yes intellectually that’s interesting for a Star Wars movie but dramatically it was a big bag of nothing and visually it looked cheap & reminded me of the prequels and like this sentence that movie is too long.)
Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.
MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Manchester by the Sea
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (live from the Old Vic)*
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Dave Made A Maze
Dawson City: Frozen Time
The Big Sick
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Coco (saw it January ’18)
MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
The Jungle Book (2016)
The Nice Guys
Shadow of a Doubt
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Trip (Steve Coogan, not Dennis Hopper)
Back To The Future III
Eat Pray Love
The Meyerowitz Stories
The Godfather (pretty good! why didn’t anyone tell me about this flick sooner?)
The Good Place
Game of Thrones
I Love Dick
Last Mom Standing
Star Trek: Discovery
POV: What Tomorrow Brings
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design
BOOKS and OTHER READING
Other People’s Trades – Primo Levi
Broken Frontier (graphic novel) – Various
Lightspeed Magazine – Various
A whole bunch of screenplays
*I am calling this a movie. I saw it at a movie theater. Harry Potter guy was in it. It counts.
Sci-fi fans! Hollywood got you down? Are you drowning in the mainstream? Weary of TRANSFORMERS transforming? Of mugging movie stars dressed as superheroes? Do you despair at what passes for science fiction on the big screen?
Hell, maybe I’m projecting. Maybe you think all that stuff is awesome. It takes all kinds to make a world. That’s why they make more than one flavor of ice cream.
Love or hate it, or love it and hate it, you can be more than a passive consumer of sci-fi film. Do what these guys did, and make some of your own!
Some of these films are unabashedly inspired by the mainstream aesthetic of Hollywood and Lucasfilm. Others serve as reactionary rebuttals. All substitute sweat and ingenuity for blockbuster budgets. Some are charmingly home-made in their look, others are polished productions that give Lucas a run for his money. This is DIY sci-fi.
These are labors of love: no studios and no investors. Budgets are shoestring, and often crowdfunded. Labor is often volunteer.
This article isn’t a comprehensive list of DIY sci-fi, not by a long shot – just some interesting projects I happen to know of. I’d like to know about yours, too. My intention is to append this list over time. Feel free to add your links in the comments.
All I Think Of Is You (Short, 2012)
In this stylish and moody short, a widow is hounded by a stranger claiming to be her dead husband. It’s currently doing well on the festival circuit, but you can see the first two minutes at writer/director Shad Clark’s website. Poke around and you’ll find some of his other videos, including an unsettling little diversion involving misuse of a safety razor. Shudder.
The American Astronaut (Feature, 2001)
Director Cory McAbee (lead singer of San Francisco cult musical act The Billy Nayer Show) cast himself as the lead in what RottenTomatoes.com described as “ERASERHEAD meets BUCK ROGERS by way of an MGM musical.” See the trailer here. McAbee’s singular vision took him to the Sundance Film Festival. Although, like McAbee, I live in the Bay Area, I’ve managed to miss every chance to see his film. What can I say? It’s in the Netflix queue. [Update, April 4, 2014: It’s also now available online for free from online distributor SnagFilms. Search the SnagFilms site or watch it here in this article on Indiewire.]
Bellflower (Feature, 2011)
This hallucinatory bromance depicts two guys preparing for an apocalypse they seem convinced is coming. How? By building a souped-up super car and a fucking FLAMETHROWER of course. It’s broken hearts and brain injuries, it’s geek culture meets machismo, and it will get under your skin. This debut feature played Sundance, is distributed by Oscilloscope and is probably a bit high-profile for this list. But the DIY aesthetic on display is undeniable, both in front of the camera and inside it: the filmmakers shot Bellflower on a home-made digital camera pieced together from vintage camera parts and Russian lenses.
La vie d’un chien (The Life of a Dog) (Short, 2005)
Would I be blogging about DIY sci-fi if I wasn’t making some of my own? My story of a scientist and the serum that turns him into a canine is told in a montage of black-and-white stills. This technique allowed me to depict biological transformation and societal upheaval for a pittance, while serving as homage to Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée (DIY sci-fi from 1962!).
Microgravity (Short, 2006)
A tense, surreal thriller about an astronaut alone in orbit. Loneliness and boredom turn on a dime into claustrophobia, panic and fear of that cold, hard vacuum just outside the bulkhead. Beautifully, expressively shot. Great set design too. Watch the entire film, below:
Pig (Feature, 2011)
Pig begins with a somewhat familiar movie premise: amnesia. As the lead character tries to unravel the mystery of his own identity writer/director Henry Barrial demonstrates that sometimes it’s less about premise and more about execution. Strong performances from the leads keep this slow-burner absorbing, right through to the revelatory final scenes. [Update, April 4, 2014: PIG is now available via many outlets including iTunes and Amazon. Or cut out the middleman and get it from the filmmakers.]
Primer (Feature, 2004)
Shane Carruth’s debut feature marked the first time a science fiction film took the top prize at Sundance. It’s very self-assured filmmaking. What begins as a low-key, brainy story of engineers who accidently invent a time machine becomes increasingly strange and confusing as the plot begins to loop back on itself. I have yet to meet anyone who claims to fully understand it. Rent it. Or go to Carruth’s website for a digital download, and a preview of his second film, which looks to be even more disorienting.
Project Arbiter (Short, 2013)
It’s World War II. The Nazis have invented an invisibility suit, and the Allies have to steal it! Who wouldn’t want to see that movie? They just wrapped post, so you might be able to, very soon. Meanwhile, here’s the trailer and the website.
Project London (Feature, 2013)
It doesn’t get more DIY than this! Chockablock with cool vehicles and giant robots, this futuristic feature out of Seattle, Washington was birthed by an all-volunteer crew using Blender, a free, open-source 3D software. Currently in post. Will it be any good?! Check out the trailer and Project London website and see what you think.
The Third Letter (Short, 2010)
Both director Grzegorz Jonkajtys and producer Bastiann Koch are SFX pros with serious industry credentials. It bleeds from every frame of this tale of futuristic dystopia.
Radio Free Steve (Feature, 2000)
This “1980s vision of the future” is like BELLFLOWER’s idiot trailer-trash cousin. It’s your basic post-apocalyptic road comedy, with nods to DAMNATION ALLEY and containing a crazy “lost film” backstory about the supposed director, one “Lars Von Biers.” Loose, profane and occasionally quite funny. The producer somehow managed to secure songs for a soundtrack that includes tracks by Luna and Boards of Canada. Watch the NSFW trailer here.
Radio Free Albemuth (Feature, 2010)
This indie feature based on one Philip K. Dick novel which is apparently so weird Hollywood hasn’t found a way to make an action movie out of it. I have yet to see it but it should be noted RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH has earned the approval of hardcore Dick fans and the Dick family estate.
They’re Made Out Of Meat (Short, 2005)
After an extensive survey of planet Earth’s dominant species, an alien reports his astonishing findings. A clever staging of the clever (and much-circulated) short story by author Terry Bisson. Watch it!