14. Pi (1998)
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) uses stunning imagery in his films to engage his viewers. Sometimes the imagery is unpleasant but is powerful nonetheless. Pi is slower in pace but is a great character study into the mind of a troubled genius.
Maximillian Cohen (Sean Guillette) has built his own supercomputer named Euclid. He is a numbers theorist who believes that all patterns in nature can be predicted through numbers. He looks for patterns in the stock market as well. Max begins to make stock predictions based on Euclid’s calculations. At some point Euclid crashes, but not before printing out the 216 digits of the number Pi. Max is also suffering from blinding headaches that often cause him to pass out.
This film is shot in 1.66 : 1 aspect ratio and black and white. It only adds to the films somber tone. You feel empathy for Max, as there is often a thin line between madness and genius. Next to Requiem for a dream, this is perhaps one of Aronofsky’s best films.
13. Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982)
The original Star Trek TV series was only on for three seasons but has spawned several films and spinoff TV series. This particular film is based on arguably one of the best episodes of the first series of the show. The character, Khan Noonien Singh is introduced as a genetically superior warrior from the 20th century who was cryogenically frozen until his crew could find his ship and reanimates him.
Admiral James T. Kirk is on a training cruise aboard the USS Enterprise, which is now a Starfleet Academy training vessel. Scientists are currently working on Space Station Regula I while conducting research on top-secret Project Genesis. Admiral Kirk is thinking this might be his last mission. Unfortunately, his nemesis Khan Noonien Singh has other plans. Khan is aided by a group of genetically engineered super men. He plans to take control of Project Genesis and destroy the universe.
This is one of the better films in the series as well (First Contact comes close). Fans of the series are by now well familiar with Shatner’s theatrics as well as Nimoy’s brilliant portrayal of Spock. This a fun film to watch even though all of the technology is steeped in sci-fi fantasy.
12. Gattaca (1997)
In a world full of people who want to be something different, preferably better than what they are, Gattaca was not as appreciated in its time as it is now. The film explores issues of class and genetics. It’s a tight technological thriller that foregoes lots of special effects but still tells a compelling story.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) dreams of travelling to the stars. In an unknown distant future, Vincent is genetically deficient and in this society, is seen as unsuitable for space travel. Vincent figures out a way to assume the new identity of James Morrow, who is a perfect DNA specimen. He has little time as an accident prompts of police investigation that might expose his secret.
There are many issues presented in this film that pervade society today. Genetics don’t necessarily preclude people from doing things they want but privilege can definitely be inherited. People who are deemed to be genetically superior through pedigree and outward appearance do fare better than those that don’t. This film was critically underrated at the time but seems to be more appreciated now. Technology serves as the backdrop for the main premise but it is present in the film.
11. The Social Network (2010)
It’s not inconceivable that most people reading this right now have a Facebook page. In fact, Facebook has 1.23 billion users currently. If ever there were any truth in the phrase “And the geeks shall inherit the earth”, Mark Zuckerberg is living, breathing proof of that ideology. It’s also a cautionary tale that if you can come up with a valuable idea, you should probably learn how to code so you can keep the profits to yourself.
The always reliable, Jesse Eisenberg plays the technologically savvy, Mark Zuckerberg. The movie begins with Mark’s girlfriend, breaking up with him. In anger, he goes back to his dorm room and creates a website that allows Harvard men to rank the attractiveness of Harvard women based on an algorithm supplied to him by Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The traffic on the site causes parts of Harvard’s computer network to shut down and Mark is punished by the administration.
At this point, the Winklevoss twins have heard about Mark’s extraordinary computer skills and approach him about building a social networking site for them called the Harvard Connection. Mark agrees and enlists the help of his friend Eduardo who puts up some seed money for the endeavor.
Eventually, the site gains so much popularity; he extends the use to people outside of the Harvard network. He also runs into a host of legal problems as Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins accuse him of underhanded tactics.
Jesse Eisenberg shines in roles like these. He can be self-aware when it suits him or completely lacking in self-awareness. He plays this role with as if the character has some Asperger’s like qualities to him. The biting dialogue is delivered impeccably and the movie depicts the technology behind Facebook just as much as it does the fallout behind it. In the end, it seems as if this all stems from the fact that he felt slighted by a girl.
10. The Terminator (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Had a few Conan movies under his belt before he gave his breakout performance as the Terminator in 1984. Clearly, Hollywood has created much better special effects in the last thirty years, but for its time, The Terminator was one of the first films of its kind to feature cyborgs trying to murder humans. There is currently another Terminator film being added to the franchise with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the year 2029, we see a war torn Los Angeles. Humanity has long been at war with what are referred to as the Machines. These Machines consist of robots, tanks, and hovercrafts that are designed to kill humans. Flash forward to the year 1984, where we see a finely tuned naked Arnold Schwarzenegger appear out of thin air. The Terminator has traveled back in time to kill a woman who will give birth to the man who destroys the Machines.
This won’t be so easy as another man, Kyle Reese also travels back in order to save this woman. Sarah Connor is a single waitress who is caught in the middle of this. Reese explains to her that a piece of technology called Skynet will wage a nuclear war and has taken control of all defense systems in the future. Her unborn son defeats Skynet down the road, so it sent a Terminator to destroy her.
The plot is well developed and the action sequences were exciting. One has to laugh at the tongue in cheek “Tech Noir” nightclub sign that flashes in neon in several scenes. The idea behind the Terminators in this film is that they are as lifelike as possible so there is still an element of blood and some gore.
This film took off at around the time that home video was increasing in its popularity in addition to an interest in sci-fi. This movie and Aliens definitely solidified James Cameron’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest directors.
9. Her (2013)
Joaquin Phoenix has definitely proven himself as an actor with the ability to transcend any role he takes on. The premise of this film, on its face, may seem a little silly or whimsical, but Spike Jonze creates a visual masterpiece with this film. Scarlett Johansson has the perfect voice as Samantha, the operating system who captures his heart.
Theodore is a lonely letter writer who is finalizing his divorce. He does have some friends but is otherwise shy and withdrawn from the world. He decides to by the new OS1, which has been marketed as the world’s first AI operating system. It has a consciousness.
This definitely sounds like it could be a dangerous thing but at its best, a super inventive idea. As Theodore spends more and more time talking with his OS1, Samantha, they find themselves falling in love with one another. Naturally, this creates complications for both entities.
The color palette in this film is beautiful. Everything looks like candy which fits perfectly within this world that does not want to delay gratification. It’s attractive and seductive in a visual way but also the idea that a conscious OS can cater to your every whim is also a very attractive idea. For those who are socially awkward, this could be a solution but inevitably this film portrays the pitfalls as well. As bizarre as the premise sounds, this film is definitely worth a viewing.
8. Primer (2004)
People seem to fall into two stringently divided camps when it comes to this film: either they love it or hate it. Shane Carruth directs the similarly esoteric Upstream Color. For those that have seen it once, it might be worth another viewing.
Over the course of several nights and weekends, four men have built a variety of error-checking devices in a garage. Internally, they recognize there is potential for something greater or more purposeful but they need to invent the device that is standing between them and greatness. Two of the men recognize that the value of this object is priceless. The ensuing conflict puts a strain on their relationship.
This film obviously has technological aspects of it but on some level it doesn’t fit neatly into any categories. It deals with themes that go way beyond technology. The film is challenging on several levels but it’s the kind of film that will keep you debating about it for years to come.