Space battles. Time travel. Journeys into the mystical unknown. The Science-Fiction/Fantasy films of 2000-2009 enjoyed a creative and financial resurgence unlike anything since the late 1970s, when Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind ruled at the box office. Avatar, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest passed $1 billion in worldwide grosses apiece, while Return Of The King took home 2004's Academy Award for Best Picture – the first Fantasy film in history to accomplish such a feat. The best genre titles aren't content to wow us with their Utopian futures and wondrous special effects; they also hold up a mirror to the social, political and philosophical issues of our times. They challenge us. The final frontier, indeed.
The Top Five:
5. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009)
It might be too early to call it a great film, but J.J. Abrams' blockbuster relaunch of the U.S.S. Enterprise is certainly a great entertainment, which dives headfirst into action and never looks back. Like Batman Begins and Casino Royale before them, Paramount returned to the drawing board to offer a fresh perspective on what gave Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy and the rest such cross-generational appeal in the first place. Trekkies' hardcore devotion to canon, however, made a complete retrofitting next to impossible, so Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman busied themselves with a time travel plot that's both obvious and ingenious: obvious, because it's been done before, and ingenious, because the physics at play allow them free reign to tinker with the mythology without seriously uprooting the fan base. With its breathless pacing and candy-gloss textured set design, it makes an admittedly cultish sci-fi phenomenon officially "cool" again. And the cast is perfection.
4. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
3. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring / The Two Towers / The Return Of The King (Peter Jackson, 2001 / 2002 / 2003)
2. Children Of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
I still get exasperated sighs at the mere mention of its name, but I'll defend it until the day I die: Stanley Kubrick, that pessimistic purveyor of all humanity, and Steven Spielberg, the feel-good pop sensationalist of our time, have collaborated on perhaps the strongest and most personal project of either director's collective filmography. It's a glorious mixture of 2001, A Clockwork Orange and E.T., a fairy tale, modeled on Pinocchio, with powerful things to say about the human condition – our capacity to feel, to love and be loved. Those sensibilities don't always mesh, but that's exactly what I find so fascinating about it, as if Kubrick's ice-cold reserve had satiated Spielberg's appetite for sticky sentimentality, and vice versa. Such are the ambiguities of this complex moral fantasy that I can argue its points all day and still have people tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about (the movie's final twenty minutes are its most important, by the way, especially once you realize those sentient beings who populate it are not, in fact, aliens). Very well. If one defines the term "masterpiece" as any work of art that evolves over time, that continues to spark critical and social debate, then I'd say A.I. more than qualifies. Let the hate mail begin.
And like that, a year-long project that really should have taken just a few months is over and done with. But don't congratulate/berate me just yet... I'll be back in a bit with a look back on this whole "Best Of The Decade" thing - what I learned, what took me so long, what it means for the blog, etc. If you've stuck with me this long... and I thank you for that... we'll give it one more go and then put this to rest.