Sci-Fi Gets Some Oscar Love

GRAVITY

This time the sci-fi genre had significant bones thrown at it last night by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While Gravity, arguably the best picture released in 2013 didn’t win the coveted Best Picture Oscar, the same film did nab the Best Director prize for Alfonso Cuarón. Additionally, director Spike Jonez won the Best Original Screenplay for his sci-fi romance Her.

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What was interesting about this Oscar awards ceremony was that Gravity was a serious contender for the Best Picture award. That is something that I never saw with these Oscars. I remember how openly derisive critics (and even some sci-fi fans) were to Avatar back in 2010 when it was up for Best Picture. Usually the Academy is very snobbish when it comes to recognizing the creative achievements of genre films, especially sci-fi stuff. There are many important and impactful sci-fi films that are never even nominated for Best Picture. Even Alfonso Cuarón’s last film, Children Of Men, probably the best sci-fi film of the last decade, didn’t get nominated for Best Picture.

Still, anyone who is disappointed should realize that there isn’t any way that Gravity would persevere against more “lofty” and “high-brow” productions like 12 Years A Slave. Not to take anything away from that film, but it’s clear to many genre fans the bias the Academy has against genre films, especially sci-fi movies. If 12 Years A Slave wasn’t nominated the Oscar might’ve gone to American Hustle or some other film that will be found in the $5 DVD bin at Walmart. That’s just the reality of the situation.

oscar winIt’s great that Gravity won the most Oscars, even though most of them were for the usual technical categories. It deserved each award because it was genuinely groundbreaking. Furthermore, the stature and clout of Alfonso Cuarón has risen (as has that of Spike Jonez) and he must be placed in the same caliber of genre directors like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron.

The other positive aspect from the 86th Academy Awards is that the sci-fi genre is undeniably getting closer to getting the creative recognition it deserves. So perhaps one day a sci-fi film will win the Best Picture Oscar.

Lewis T. Grove

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Best Of 2013

 

 GRAVITY securing-yard

Best Sci-Fi TV Show

Doctor Who has been going on for fifty years and it’s still an entertaining and imaginative romp. The show was at its creative peak this season thanks to wonderful scripts, a spunky new Companion (Jenna Coleman) and Matt Smith’s perfect portrayal of our favorite time-traveling alien. All this was topped off with its fiftieth anniversary special that united the Doctor with past incarnations to save his world.

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Best Horror TV Show:

The Walking Dead is the best genre show on TV right now and for good reason. Gory, suspenseful and gripping, The Walking Dead reached creative heights with the introduction of the evil Governor (David Morrissey), who was a greater force for our heroes to grapple with than the flesh-eating zombies. The show has become a must-see event with each new episode.

Best Fantasy Show

thronesGame of Thrones, man can the Starks ever catch a break? The wedding event was a surprising game changer and the body count both infuriated many and created new fans of this adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga. Its rich production values, dense plotlines and acting make it one of the best shows on TV.

Best Documentary/Reality Show

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited, throughout the year BBCAmerica aired at the end of the month three-hour long specials that examined each incarnation of the Doctor starting from William Hartnell’s era up to the present. Then once that was done, we were treated to episodes from each era. This was a great way for old and new fans to see each version of Doctor Who.

Best Cancelled TV Show

Touch was cancelled after its second season, touchwhich was too bad. After its over reliance on touchy, feel-good stories in its first season, Touch switched gears and introduced an evil corporation that wanted to kidnap Jake Bohm (David Mazouz) to harness his near-precognitive ability. Meanwhile, he was stalked by a religious fanatic. With these developements, Touch added a much-needed narrative and purpose as Jake’s father (Keifer Sutherland) struggled to understand his son and protect him.

Best Animated Show

Beware The Batman, the computer-animated show looked at the early years of the Dark Knight’s crime-fighting career. The stories and the animation were great, as was the use of lesser-known villains like Firefly and Anarky. We cannot wait to see new episodes next month!

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Best TV Character

The Doctor (Matt Smith) in Doctor Who was very memorable this year thanks in large part to Smith’s performance. Showing an unexpected maturity while retaining his zest for life, the Doctor was someone who was a joy to watch as he outwitted his foes. Sadly, while Smith was at his peak, he decided to leave the show. But his last couple of outings were a tour de force and brought a tear to the eyes in his final moments as he reflected on how while things will always change, it’s important to remember your past.

Most Missed TV Character

rick and hershelHershel Greene (Scott Wilson) in The Walking Dead was a gentle and wise patriarch and the voice of reason for the show’s characters, especially Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). As the show’s moral compass, Hershel’s shocking death at the hands of the Governor was outrageous and we can only wonder how Rick and the others will carry on without him now.

Best TV Villain

The Governor (David Morrissey) in governorThe Walking Dead was one of the most malicious, manipulative and sadistic characters ever to grace a TV show. His character elevated the show as he and his machinations were one of the best reasons to tune in each week. His well-deserved death after the destruction he created was welcomed, but we can’t help wondering how the show’s creators will follow up this character. 

Most Improved TV show

Supernatural and many other genre shows greatly improved this year. But the long-running show about two brothers facing down the supernatural found new life in its latest episodes. Gone was the turgid storyline about the Leviathan with a renewed emphasis on Castiel (Misha Collins) and the troublesome angels that are just as bad as the demons in the show.

Best Series Finale

fringe season 5Fringe, the show came to a very satisfying conclusion very early in 2013. The storyline wrapped up the future invasion of the Observers and we got to see the parallel world for one last time. More importantly, we were allowed to say goodbye to the quirky characters that defined Fringe. The final episode’s last image of the white tulip drawing that Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) held was pure perfection. Thanks guys for five great years of stimulating weirdness. We’ll leave out some licorice for Walt if he ever leaves the distant future and drops by to visit.

Biggest Disappointment

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, Joss Whedon, the  mastermind behind Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is the show’s executive producer. For Pete’s sake he directed The Avengers! How could this show be so bland with generic and annoying characters? Instead of elite, badass super spies this show is riddled with so-called cute and perky morons that should be tossed from that S.H.I.E.L.D. plane at the first chance!

Best Sci-Fi Film

Gravity, it was a hard choice graitybetween this and Pacific Rim. An argument can be made that Gravity isn’t really a sci-fi film, but there are a few elements that imply that it is such as a still functioning space shuttle program (perhaps it’s an alternate reality?) and the nature of the space disaster. Nonetheless, Gravity was an electrifying and immersive viewing experience thanks to its perfect depiction of living in space and direction by Alfonso Cuarón’s expert hands.

Best Horror Film

The Conjuring set out what it wanted to do, which was to provide good, old-fashioned scares thanks to James Wan’s direction. What is even more frightening to ponder at night when you’re all alone is that this was supposedly based on actual events.  

Best Fantasy Film

smaugThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson continues his journey into Middle Earth with this lush and exciting adventure. The entire affair was elevated to new heights with the revelation of the dragon Smaug. His presence was so captivating that it made some forget about Gollum!

Best Animated Film

Monsters University, none of 2013’s animated movies were really exceptional, but this was the best one released. A surprisingly good and effective prequel that accomplished its goal of examining its main characters and helping audiences understand where they came from. It was also very funny.

Best Superhero Film

Man Of Steel, after the perceived misfire of Superman Returns years ago, it seemed that making an exciting Superman movie was impossible. Well, folks it was done with Man Of Steel. It had its flaws (another round at the editing station could’ve helped) and was controversial, but it’s clear that it got people talking about Superman again. Those fight scenes over Metropolis and Smallville were really epic, too.

MAN OF STEEL

Best Superhero on Film

Superman in Man Of Steel, thanks to Henry Cavill’s performance the Man of Tomorrow became relevant again in this bold and exciting film. While Christopher Reeve will always be Superman, Cavill’s interpretation takes him to the new century.

Best Film Character

GRAVITYDr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in Gravity. She was the emotional core of the movie and audiences empathized with her as she found her inner resolve to fight on and survive in a hostile environment. Audiences couldn’t help but root for her during her struggles with herself and her plight.

Best Film Villain

Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Star Trek kahn2Into Darkness. One of the highlights from the latest Star Trek film was Kirk’s greatest nemesis. Putting aside the complaints about using the genetic superman in the rebooted Trek, it can’t be denied that Cumberbatch gave a chilling performance.

Best Surprise In Film

World War Z, it should’ve been DOA like After Earth given its many production problems. It went into massive reshoots, which delayed its release. All this spelled a crappy film, yet this zombie apocalypse film was actually well done.

Best Use of 3D & IMAX In a Film

Gravity is the kind of film tailor made for 3D and IMAX with its space visuals that looked so realistic. The entire thing looked like it was actually filmed up in the I.S.S. It’s hard to see how typical home theater can do this film any justice when it’s released on Blu-ray and other outlets.

Best Trailer For an Upcoming Film

Godzilla, beat out a crowded crop of many excellent trailers (X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Transcendence, Interstellar) but this one hit all the right notes with its ominous mood. From the beginning with the Navy SEALs preparing to take on a force of nature to the mayhem shown in quick cuts, Godzilla is now a must-see for 2014.

Best App

Plants Vs. Zombies 2, the sequel to the hit app is one of the best free apps around. Addictive with great content and game play, Plants Vs. Zombies 2 is worth downloading to your devices.

Best Online Social Network Game

AAMarvel: Avengers Alliance, is a very addictive, turn-based game based on the Marvel superheroes. It’s very buggy and the player vs. player feature is annoying as hell, but it’s a lot of fun to play. The game rocked fans with the introductions of obtainable lockbox characters and group bosses that had to be fought by you and your allies online.

Best Video Game

Bioshock: Infinite, the sequel to the superb Bioshock video game took the story in a new and fresh direction, in a year with many great games like The Last Of Us, this one stood out thanks to its storyline and game features.

Best Hallmark Ornament

It wasn’t the best year for genre ornaments with the slim pickings offered by Hallmark. Still, the Star Trek ornament based on the classic episode “Arena” is our pick for best Hallmark ornament. Whether it was the sight of Kirk cowering in terror from the might of the Gorn or hearing the alien hiss, this ornament is a very kitschy thing to hang on a tree.

Biggest News Item

Forget the government shutdown and batsupe symbolthe Obamacare debacle! The news that truly shook fandom came in the summer when it was announced that the Man Of Steel sequel would pit Superman against the Caped Crusader himself, Batman! DC and Warner Brothers have clearly thrown the gauntlet at Marvel and its cinematic universe. Each new update, ranging from Ben Affleck being cast as Batman to the confirmation that Wonder Women will appear has sent fandom into tizzies.

*Be sure to check out our Facebook page for our lists of the top 10 films and TV shows of 2013.

Gravity Won’t Let You Go

gpWhat Alfonso Cuarón, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney pull off with the film Gravity is nearly miraculous. It’s astonishingly accurate in its depiction of being in outer space, as we experience its dangerous but beautiful aspects.

Director Alfonso Cuarón triumphantly filmed this unforgettable movie experience starting with the very first shot. It’s one of his signature minutes-long takes that begins with the majestic vista of the Earth seen from orbit as a space shuttle slowly appears, seemingly out of nowhere. The spacecraft gradually fills the screen as we are introduced to Gravity’s main characters. Darting around the shuttle are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie astronaut, who is repairing the Hubble telescope that is docked to the shuttle’s main bay. Darting around her and the ship, almost playfully, is retiring veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who still can’t get enough of the space experience. Stone, on the other hand, seems unimpressed with the magnitude of where she is and is somewhat withdrawn. Later in the film, we learn why.

GRAVITY

Before Gravity can turn into another one of those pleasantly relaxing IMAX films about space travel, the astronauts are abruptly warned about an approaching debris field from a destroyed satellite. Then the chilling terror begins as metal debris showers the shuttle. The astronauts are thrown about like rag dolls and the shuttle is damaged beyond use. These pulse-pounding scenes create a sense of terror since we see early on how fragile our heroes are and realize the enormity of their life-and-death situation. Despite the turmoil, Kowalski stays cool and collected, while Stone, like most of us, is in panic mode and for good reason. Somehow, she has to fight her terror and find a way to safely return to Earth.

Bullock gives one of her very best performances in this film. Through minimal dialogue and tension-filled sequences we feel an empathy for her. Stone is a rather nuanced person; GRAVITYwhen we first meet her she is passive and gives in to her feelings of helplessness. She almost seems innocent, and the moments when she is floating in a space station curled up like an infant drive this point home. But by the end of the film, she undergoes a rebirth of sorts as an intense, spiritual metamorphosis takes place. Stone develops an inner, steely resolve. She becomes a fighter, not in the screaming warrior sense, but as someone who can think clearly during a crisis, while displaying a indomitable fighting spirit.

The director uses a minimalist approach to express these themes. There aren’t any great mysteries or philosophical questions to ponder. It’s a movie about survival and finding that inner strength that most of us have to fight against the odds. In this case, Stone has to find a way to return to Earth despite overwhelming odds and her tenuous circumstances. That’s what is so inspiring about Gravity.

GRAVITYAlfonso Cuarón demonstrates why he is a filmmaker to be revered. His work drew me into the film and made me feel like I was there. There are so many little touches that sell the impression that the characters are in space. Things like the lack of sound, except what is heard inside the spacesuits, and the cramped interiors of the I.S.S. with all the floating objects. It’s so realistically rendered that a part of me wondered at times how he filmed all those scenes of weightlessness. It seems like Cuarón took a camera up to the I.S.S. and filmed segments in zero gravity. It’s needless to say that the special effects and cinematography are beyond flawless.

Are there flaws with Gravity? Of course, there are. But so does Star Wars, Avatar, 2001: A Space Odyssey and other groundbreaking movies. Without going into details, let’s just say that a careful observer can spot when dramatic licenses were taken during pivotal moments. But that’s just nitpicking, and such instances don’t approach the level of inaccuracies and plot flaws seen in other recent blockbuster films. Without sounding too hyperbolic, Gravity is a game changer. We see the majestic wonder of observing the Earth from above, but are made too aware of how precarious life is outside of the world’s protective influence. However, its core message was about the resiliency of the human spirit and the fragile but beauteous nature of life. That along with breathtaking visuals, auteur direction and bravura performances, is why Gravity won’t let you go long after seeing it.

José Soto

Comic-Con 2013 Highlights

Another Comic-Con at San Diego has come and gone, leaving many fans whetting their appetites over upcoming film releases, TV show premieres, comic books, etc. While the convention is supposed to be about comic books and related matter, the biggest news had to do with pending films and TV shows.

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Godzilla

Stealing the thunder in the early days of the convention was the immersive Godzilla Experience exhibit that gave convention goers a chance to see what the aftermath of a Godzilla rampage is like. Also, fans got a look at the new design of the famous Kaiju for next year’s Godzilla. Film director Gareth Edwards promises to deliver a true Godzilla movie unlike the abomination that came out in 1998. Reports are that the footage shown at Comic-Con allegedly captured the mood of the early Godzilla films.

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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

This anticipated sequel to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, 2011’s successful reboot of the Apes franchise, looks mighty interesting. A special teaser was put together for Comic-Con that showed an older and angrier Caesar (mo-capped again by Andy Serkis) in his ape camp meeting with human resistance fighters. Many were excited by the tease, which presented even more realistically rendered CG apes.

The Walking Dead

The people behind the very successful TV show The Walking Dead seem to have outdone themselves. At least, that is what it looks like with the riveting trailer for the show’s fourth season. We find Rick Grimes and his group of survivors dealing with the nitty gritty of life in a post-apocalyptic world. As usual with The Walking Dead, characters apparently die as shown in the trailer and the tension and thrills seem to be in overdrive.

Gravity

Many curious fans got a gripping look at thrilling and captivating clips from Alonso Cuarón’s Gravity movie. Featuring endangered astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the movie looks incredible. Thanks to the clips, which showcase the director’s masterful long takes, anticipation has greatly grown for Gravity. This film was delayed from last year, but based on the clips, the wait may have been worth the delay.

Almost Human

J.J. Abrams’ Lost and Fringe may no longer be on the air, but his new TV offerings may make up for that. The most promising "Almost Human" Season 1TV show seems to be Almost Human, which had its pilot screened at Comic-Con. It stars Karl Urban as a cop whose partner is an artificial being in the near future. While the premise sounds formulaic, the pilot was very well received by those who viewed it.

Marvel & DC Movies

The biggest news and reactions were generated by the Marvel and DC movie announcements and previews. Arguably, the most intense and joyous reaction was from the announcement that the next Superman movie will team him up with DC’s other iconic superhero, Batman.

mutantsNot to be outdone, Marvel previewed footage, props and concept art from an impressive lineup of films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy. Along with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, two other Marvel films generated a lot of buzz. One was the sequel to The Avengers with the announcement that the evil android Ultron will be the villain. The other film is the eagerly awaited X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Aside from shown footage and anti-mutant posters plastered all over the place, the spectacle of the entire cast appearing to promote next year’s film was noteworthy.

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Many comic book fans lament about the way that Comic-Con lost its focus on being about comic books. But at least, the films generating the most talk out of the convention are based on comic book properties. This illustrates how the characters in those comics have evolved past their traditional trappings into something larger.