This is the continuation of a series I began in January of this year that examines and remarks on The American Film Institute and its recent propensity to create Top 10 lists. Specifically, the organization’s need to gather publicity by documenting their celebration of cinema’s centennial via a series of TV specials. Each time, the AFI went about giving importance to a set of motion pictures based on criteria and judgments their groups of ‘experts’ determined. It has generated opinions among fans and film aficionados ever since in varying degrees of disagreement. If you’re unaware, the AFI is a non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts back in the 60s. One of its main charters is the preservation of American film legacy. As they put it,
“Each special honors a different aspect of excellence in American film.”
Unquestionably, their prime purpose was to get people talking about film. So be it. This series on AFI’s Top 10s (out of their 100s lists) for 2012 is my motivated response to compare their picks with a moviegoer (me) per each of their indexes. Naturally, I’m fully aware that readers’ mileage may vary (indeed, we know they will) when it comes to these selections. Fair enough. Either way, it’s going to be painful as picking one above the other always is in such endeavors. You’re invited to add your own and/or disagree all you want in the comments or your blog site (all I ask is that you leave a link so we, the readers, can peruse). Shall we continue?
AFI defines “science fiction” as a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with imaginative speculation.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
- E.T. – The Extraterrestrial
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Day The Earth Stood Still
- Blade Runner
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- Back to the Future
- Blade Runner [AFI #6] – I’m proud that it is this film that breaks the streak of me matching AFI’s #1 genre selections. I’ve seen just about every version of this Ridley Scott film over the thirty years since its début. Haunting, visionary, strangely touching and insightful as only science-fiction can, and regularly does, intrigue and absorb those who follow it, I could not have chosen otherwise.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey [AFI #1] – my close second is AFI’s top pick, and the second Stanley Kubrick film I ever saw (Dr. Strangelove being the first). As I once tried to describe it, the film remains a “… one-of-kind and enjoyably stupefying sci-fi film“. Its Arthur C. Clarke tale still manages to enthrall me to this very day.
- Planet of the Apes (1968 version, that is) – the other sci-fi film out the same year as my #2 pick and one no less stunning and fitting for that seminal annum. Franklin J. Schnaffer’s film blew the doors off of the genre and viewers expectations with this masterpiece. As with the others on this list, it has been influential.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still [AFI #5] – the original 1951 Robert Wise film was one of the first science-fiction works I ever saw growing up and remains my one better pick over AFI’s. As much as its initial visual wonderment brings, it is the movie’s small, interpersonal moments between the alien visitor (Klaatu) and the Earth woman (Mrs. Benson) that make this a sci-fi classic.
- Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – I’m well aware that AFI’s #2 pick is what started it all for the sci-fi blockbuster in 1977, but this was the rare case where the sequel, directed by Irwin Kershner three years later, actually exceeded the film it followed. It brought an unexpected maturity to all that swashbuckling in outer space story.
- Alien [AFI #7] – the second Ridley Scott film on my list is one better than AFI’s. Like what Star Wars did two years earlier, this was another game-changer for science-fiction given the style, craft, and the unanticipated story woven across movie screens and the frightened and anxious faces of the audience.
- Forbidden Planet - another sci-fi classic from the formative 50s must break into this top ten of mine. Fred M. Wilcox’s loose but imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, now situated on a distant planet of Altair IV, would prove pivotal for audiences and instrumental in sci-fi projects to come (like Roddenberry’s Star Trek in the very next decade).
- The Matrix - the next one that completely changed the way sci-fi (and even action) movies were done, thought about, or made occurred with this film in 1999. Plus, the Wachowski Bros. managed to turn on its head viewers thoughts in unforeseen ways — certainly by bringing to life the now mundane computers and networks users had gotten so used to by this time.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers [AFI #9] – I agree the 1956 film fits perfectly in this slot. It had the ability to simultaneously creep out audiences while making them contemplate what was the nature of life as they knew it. Don Siegel’s film was notable enough that it would be remade three times with generational incarnations in later decades.
- Children of Men - I feel the need to close this list with a science-fiction film I think will be thought of, years from now, like my lot of sci-fi fanatics currently feel toward Blade Runner. Though Alfonso Cuarón’s motion picture is so unlike it, the connection it generates with its protagonist in a dystopian world is similarly as remarkable for those genre fans of this time.
What would be yours?
Next Up: Fantasy
The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series: