There are moments when I miss regular film criticism, not least of which because it allows me to argue over one of my favorite subjects: the state of film, and by extention art, its purpose, and why so much of it does little more than siphon currency from our wallets. Today the Internet is awash in movie criticism, with some of it being very good indeed (especially to YouTube channels such as Channel Criswell or the hipsters at CineFix) while most scales the shallow steps of mediocrity, a problem exacerbated when one looks at genre. We praise the newest releases when they arrive in theaters (and when they do we offer strident, shrill defenses), then discard them less than a year later when we discover their beauty is only photons deep, only to beam in awe at the next possible Greatest Skiffy Movie Ever Made. (Nope, my own choice as the greatest still hasn't been topped.) As a genre writer and critic, I want to embrace the finest work available to us, yet when confronted with the most popular science fiction releases I often find myself quoting major league baseball manager Earl Weaver: "Are you gonna get any better, or is this it?"
This, perhaps, is why I dismissed Ian Germane's list of the best science fiction movies since 2010. Yes, he mentioned some fine movies, but the inclusion of too many bad (Prometheus) and uninspired (Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) ones hampers an honest attempt to showcase the state of the genre, while the selections themselves lack adventurousness. Yes, I spoke well of both Ex Machine and The Martian on their initial release (and still do), but also maintain that their high profile leads to low-level criticism, the discussion of each as meaningful as clicking the "like" button on your viewing platform of choice.
To that end, I've decided to list my own ten favorite science fiction movies since 2010, with brief commentary on each. While I do suggest a couple that secured major release and acquired a large following, I tried to limit myself to those that audiences may have overlooked during their theatrical run or only became available on streaming channels like Hulu or Netflix. All aspire to art, even if they never attain the summit of the greatest sf movies ever made. (Yes, I do have a list, which you can find here.) All are worth seeking out.
Monsters (2010). For his first feature, Gareth Edwards tells a tale of a young couple who must travel through an alien invasion zone between Latin America and the United States. Edwards makes the most of a tiny budget (the movie cost $5,000 but looks like it had an eight-digit price tag) to focus on characters lost in a Conradesque landscape. Eerie and at times touching. You can find my review at SF Signal.
Melancholia (2011). I'm not the biggest Lars Von Trier fan (nope, I won't be seeing Anti-Christ, so don't ask), but I found this meditation on depression and loss powerful, its images as arresting as any available in much lighter fare. Starring Kirsten Dunst, a newly married woman must come to terms with a world that is about to be destroyed.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). Because science fiction encompasses big ideas, it often neglects some of the most basic human stories, and often excludes love stories completely. So it's a relief to find that Colin Treverrow's touching time travel fantasy no only never skimps on real human emotions, but does so in the guise of an often funny romantic comedy, with Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza working very well together. (Review here.)
Under the Skin (2013). Based on Michael Faber's dizzying, odd novel, Jonathan Glazer's adaptation follows an alien in the guise of a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) roaming the streets in search of...what, we are never told. Rife with questions, Glazer's odd movie uses cinema verite techniques to explore exactly how an alien might view our pale blue dot and the people who live on it. It's one of the most chilling movies on this list. (Review here.)
Spring (2014). In Spring, a grieving young man runs off to Italy, where he falls in love with a mysterious woman. As their relationship develops, she attempts to keep secret her true nature. The surprising thing about Spring is how it shifts gears from a slow-burn horror movie to science fiction love story. Beautifully shot, and with a powerful lead in Nadia Hilker, it resembles a story that might have been written by Lucius Shepard were he in a very good mood. (Review here.)
Time Lapse (2014). A trio finds a camera that can take pictures of future events, and they begin to use it to their advantage. I'm never fully convinced that science fiction and film noir merge well together (with one or two obvious exceptions) but Time Lapse uses its fantastic elements to weave a tale of paranoia and fate that shouldn't be missed.
Embers (2015). Lyrical and haunting, Embers follows several people in a world where almost everyone has lost their memory, and one young woman who retains hers. This premiered at Other Worlds Austin and remains one of my favorite science fiction movies, illuminating the fragility of identity and the bonds we share with others.
Polder (2015). Another Other Worlds Austin entry, but replace the words "lyrical and haunting" with "batshit insane." (You know you're in for a wild ride when your pretitle sequence includes a quote from John Clute.) Polder is a movie that breaks down reality with a sledgehammer, pulverizing it into powder and leaving its audience to make sense of it. It's somewhat reminiscent of Cronenberg's eXistenZ, only far stranger.
Midnight Special (2016). A young boy possesses unusual powers and becomes the focus of a manhunt by a religious order as well as the target of a federal investigation. Jeff Nichols focuses his otherworldly tale on fascinating, driven characters in a picture that has elements of Steven Spielberg in the 1980s, but with far more depth. Midnight Special works very well until the end, but the journey doesn't disappoint. (Review here.)