It was Stanley Kubrik who first introduced the world to the endless and spectacular possibilities of the science fiction genre. Since that moment of epiphany, Hollywood and other film industries have stopped at nothing to achieve artistic perfection. But what art is art that is perfect? Such questions about the conceptual definition and fusion of art and cinema drive most of the titles in this list. The majority do not boast of state of the art special effects and gigantic production budgets but make their presence felt with the masterful craft and passion of their creators. So here’s a “not-so-mainstream” list of the best science fiction movies of 2019. Happy reading!
10. Alita: Battle Angel
The city of Iron City succeeds a plethora of dystopian realities on-screen before it marked by strong, authoritative rule and marginalization of the public. Its universe, a happening mix of machines, humans, and aliens, beguiles Alita, a recently reawakened cyber-borg, who has no memory of herself. In an attempt to learn about her bearings, Alita discovers things about her past that make her doubt her own morality. The film is adopted from Japanese manga of the same name created by Yukito Kishiro.
The big-budget film features prominent action sequences, most of which are breathtaking and executed with great precision. Rose Salazar shines in her central play as the mysterious Alita, portraying a range of emotions to deliver a well-rounded performance. While not completely fulfilling its duties towards writing and cohesion, ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ more than makes up for it with worthy entertainment.
9. Happy Death Day 2U
‘Happy Death Day’ became a sleeper hit when it first released. The film has since gained an almost cult status among fans, who’ve boldly labeled it the modern-day ‘Groundhog Day’. While far from matching its comparator’s quality, ‘HDD’ successfully created a base for a franchise, that continues with its sequel. Instead of plotting a different character verse, the sequel cleverly expands the scope of Theresa’s experiences to the other supporting characters in the first one. This time, the masked killer comes after all of them, making Theresa’s task from the first one even more improbable.
The makers are smart in crafting the sequel in a fashion that makes a viewing of the prequel mandatory. Although you’ll easily understand the premise and how the film proceeds, you wouldn’t want to miss out on great laughs and easter eggs from the first one. As a followup to ‘Happy Death Day’, this sequel matches its predecessor’s quality and ensures that this time, you don’t get it so easily.
8. Escape Room
‘Escape Room’ had a lot of buzz around it when it first released. People left cinemas leaving claustrophobic and nauseous, praising the movie for its gripping narrative and intense plotline. Six distinctly different people from varying walks of life come together to participate in a fanatical competition with hefty prize money. The challenge, as the name suggests, for the participants is to overcome obstacles that test their grit and wits. A seemingly straightforward occasion to have fun and a chance to bag some bucks turns into a deadly survival race.
‘Escape Room’ assembles its marauding puzzle pieces to good effect. The atmospheric race against death has its moments, especially in the second act. Although dealing with familiar themes and storylines, ‘Escape Room’ packs a solid punch and ensures you don’t leave the theatre disappointed.
Harry Martinson’s ground-breaking, complex, and dangerously appropriate poem becomes the spiritual and thematic base for director Pella Kagerman. Hugo Lilja to camp their dystopian, futuristic tale showing the repercussions of climate change that is in equal parts terrifying and eye-opening. The visuals of a ravaged earth are complemented well by its creators’ vision and some great VFX, perfectly capable of sending a chill down your spine. A mass exodus begins whence the earth’s resources can’t be exploited anymore to a new planet, Mars. When the planned voyage veers off from the scheduled route, things start to go south.
Martinson’s marathon source material is extremely comprehensive and complex. Similarly-plotted to Jennifer Lawrence-starrer ‘Passengers’, ‘Aniara’ is contrastingly much more depressing and hard-hitting, carrying through its runtime a great sense of despair and sadness. The Magnolia production is a deeply satisfying artistic endeavor and largely captures the macabre realities of climate change with great depth and maturity.
6. See You Yesterday
‘Black Panther’ opened new doors for the representation of Afrofuturism on-screen. With the community facing new threats of marginalization every day, it is expedient to empower and inspire young generations to stand up for themselves. Stefon Bristol’s lastest presentation does just that. CJ is a teen prodigy who keeps gnawing at the idea of bringing her brother back to life. Through numerous trials and errors, she finally discovers a formula to create time machines and is successful in getting him back. But, with joy comes inevitable sadness, as CJ is left to face the consequences of her travel.
Probably the biggest drawback of the film, which has also been universally observed, is Bristol’s insistence on prolonging and proliferating time loops. Although the initial interactions are fundamental to the story and seem to go along well with the overall arch, it becomes repetitive after a while. ‘See You Yesterday’ doesn’t offer much in terms of original storylines or concept, but sculpts a thoroughly enjoyable and meaningful film touching upon ideas of grief and the universal appeal to right the wrongs of the past.
Imagine a scenario where Superman is evil and you’ll come close to gathering a rough premise of ‘Brightburn’. Gore horror films seem to be the new trend that independent filmmakers are following. Since the phenomenon of ‘Raw’ back in 2017, such features only appear to be multiplying in number. 2019 has churned out a gem, though slightly imperfect, that takes the genre forward. Although not spectacularly different from what’s been attempted before it, ‘Brightburn’ presents an interesting challenge for its viewers in the form of Brandon Breyer, an antithesis to Superman.
Breyer’s journey is similar to the caped superhero in almost every way. They both land in a spaceship on a farm to a husband-wife pair devoid of children; they both do not learn about their origins until a fairly explosive age of their lives, and neither is their transition thereafter anywhere near to normalcy. But what separates them is character; while Kent is noble and uses his powers to help people, Breyer is the exact opposite.
A lot of credit goes to Yarovesky for his sedated moral instincts. He successfully brings out a contradiction in Breyer’s personality and depicts his struggle to choose with a great impact. ‘Brightburn’ marries worthy and frequent jump scares with a macabre, atmospheric narration to produce a relentless mystery that never quite comes to its resolution.
4. The Last Boy
‘The Lasy Boy’s bleak, pessimistic undertones can be hard to get over for many. The general manner in which the people of this world are bred alludes towards optimism and hope that at the end of the day, everything will be fine. Perry Bhandal provides such minded people with a brilliant futuristic reality that burns with a feverish, consuming pace, enough to reawaken serious discussions about the nature of humanity, conscience, and compassion in our modern-day setup.
Without glamorizing proceedings or sugar-coating his valuable message, Bhandal proves that nothing else can drive a movie quite like content and substance. His personal vision (Scorcese would be so proud) imagines a world where nothing prevails. A dying mother’s wish for her son prompts him to embark on a voyage in search of answers and redemption from his own personal troubles. ‘The Last Boy’ exceeds expectations and promises an intimate and poignant expression of one’s deepest insecurities and desires.
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3. Fast Color
In what is a very similar story about a kid with special powers on the run from authorities to Jeff Nichols’ ‘Midnight Special’, director Julia Hart carves an opportunity to examine the effect of yielding such powers has on an individual. Her grounded protagonist doesn’t run around punching bad guys and sending them flying. Instead, she emerges a role model embodying sacrifice and selflessness, using motherhood as her vehicle of articulation.
Ruth’s seizures often hold the power of causing earthquakes. She becomes a target of scientists and government institutions seeking to research her inhuman powers and abilities. As the inevitable end nears, Ruth’s primary energy is directed towards securing the most compelling piece of her heart. A powerhouse singular performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw sets ‘Fast Color’ on an exciting path and flattens the rather uneven overall execution in bringing the story to screen.
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2. Ad Astra
If the world of cinema lacked something, it was a proper, conventional space drama. Several stylistic versions do exist that come alive with the personal touch of their creators. ‘Ad Astra’ treads rather steadily in terms of self-expression. Directed by James Gray (‘The Yards’, ‘The Lost City of Z’), the film follows the journey made by a bereaved son, looking for answers about his father’s mysterious disappearance. Brad Pitt brilliantly inhabits his character’s emotional state, wearing his vulnerabilities, fears, and determination with immense ability. He’s clearly the star of the show, although ‘Ad Astra’ is a very well written and performed film.
The very first thing that strikes you watching the film is its gorgeous visual scale and color palate. Quite similar to Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Ad Astra’ is appealing to the eye and intriguing to the mind. The ambitious space epic comes close to matching space classics with its surrealist narration and a fresh storyline, but it is its charming protagonist who drives the film home with one of the year’s best performances.
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1. High Life
You’ll never quite be satisfied after watching a Claire Denis movie. Irrespective of whether its a first-time watch or a hundredth time, her altruistic understanding and depiction of different themes in a film can be hard to grasp. While this enables her work to stand out, it also brings a lot of pessimism and attaches labels to her work. ‘High Life’ suffers from a similar fate. While her audience showered the film with adulation, the masses expressed dissatisfaction.
Denis’ oeuvre indicates her tendency to be highly metaphorical and latent in her expression of the story. There’s an element of personal touch, a part of her, that seems firmly integrated with her films. The trajectory of her narration, ‘High Life’ included, resists adherence to traditional cinema commonplace and instead parabolas in a fashion that is abstract. ‘High Life’ is an eclectic spectrum of emotions and gradually, but surely painfully, unravels the mysteries and macabre secrets it harbors inside while painting the cover with a delicate portrait of a father and daughter.
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