5. Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, 2013)
Made with a bare-bones script and largely improvised dialogue, plus genuine reactions from the actors, that didn’t know most of what would happen next, Coherence is a wonder precisely because it maintains that quality for which it is named.
James Ward Byrkit strives to make it so by weaving a complex and mind-boggling narrative that has something to say about the choices we make and how we become different people because of it (or not, as it is more the point). It uses a simple premise and the very methods of science fiction to tell that story, and it more than entertains the spectator in the process.
Emily Baldoni is great as the lead, one of eight friends who get together in one couple’s house for dinner, on the same night a meteor is passing through in the night sky. When strange things begin to happen (let’s not dwell too much on that), they have to find a logical, and increasingly more complicated way to make sense of reality.
James Ward Byrkit: Very unfortunately, the director/writer hasn’t announced a follow-up yet.
4. I Origins (Mike Cahill, 2014)
A lot of people’s favorite indie filmmaker working right now, Mike Cahill is a storyteller fascinated with the possibilities of the stories he tells. And that might sound obvious, but his wonder and will to move forward and explore those possibilities is what makes him a great sci-fi director/writer.
In I Origins, Cahill delves into a complicated discussion about the limits of science and the eternal conflict it poses with religious and mystical faith. Cahill’s film is about eyes and evolution as much as it is about the wonders of romance and belief, and that makes for beautiful filmmaking.
Michael Pitt does stunning work the lead scientist in a research about the progressive evolution of human eyes, and I Origins navigates its essentially sci-fi premise into strange new territories, inventing a complex puzzle and solving it in the most emotional, heartbreaking way.
Mike Cahill: Of course, indie wonder boy Cahill has directed two movies previous to I Origins – the documentary Boxers and Ballerinas and the somewhat similar (but not as good) sci-fi Another Earth. He’s since stick to TV, helming episodes of The Magicians and The Path.
3. The Congress (Ari Folman, 2013)
Considered by some as a misfire by Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman, The Congress persists as an undiscovered cult film, an aching, wonderful drama who’s not afraid of exploring untraveled lanes when dealing with its sci-fi elements.
Half live-action, half animated, this weird little gem portrays a world of escapism as it really would be: a dry and unattached land in which every sliver of humanity is lost to individualism. Robin Wright’s unforgettable performance stands in the middle of it, the most affecting, fascinating “actor-playing-a-version-of-themselves” performance in years, if not ever.
She’s the beating heart behind Folman’s visual trips and narrative ambitions, and the film works because it anchors itself in that humanity, a beacon of warm light in a cold word that makes for a pure, meaningful, important piece of science fiction.
Ari Folman: Besides Waltz with Bashir and this one, Folman has only made two films in his homeland: 2001’s Made in Israel and 1996’s Clara Hakedosha.
2. Predestination (The Sprierig Brothers, 2014)
In his review of Predestination, back in 2014, Variety’s Justin Chang got it right: “The film succeeds in teasing the brain and touching the heart even when its twists and turns keep multiplying well past the point of narrative sustainability”.
The Sprierig Brother’s movie is a mind-boggling journey that eventually kind of loses track of itself, but it’s also a moving story told with the help of science fiction tools and conventions, so it earns its place so high on our list. Sarah Snook does wondrous work in a gender-bending part, and the script reflects on gender inequality and, well, predestination, with remarkable clarity.
In summary, Predestination’s shortcomings are far surpassed by its qualities, especially in playing with the genre’s machinations and possibilities in a free and adventurous way without losing sight of its characters.
The Sprierig Brothers: Prior to Predestination, the German directing/writing duo made vampire movie Daybreakers (2009) and horror comedy Undead (2003). They have yet to deliver a follow-up.
1. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
Shane Carruth made what’s possibly the best sci-fi movie of the 2000s, the forever-fascinating Primer, so it’s only fitting that his follow-up, Upstream Color, takes the title this time.
A puzzling love story between two characters who discover they have more than romantic chemistry between them, a weird speculative sci-fi tale with paranoid overtones, a film about overcoming personal loss that pulsates with rhythm, stunning visuals and even more stunning narrative tricks – Upstream Color is all of the above, brought together by the Carruth’s vision, and his stellar performance alongside Amy Seimetz.
The story primarily concerns a woman who’s drugged and ordered to deliver everything she has to an assailant – a crook who has some sort of new substance that makes everyone completely obedient to him. She meets with the other lead, Jeff, years later, and the story begins to show its teeth and its sharp turns. Upstream Color is a wonder, and it warrants multiple views as much as Primer did.
Shane Carruth: Ever-so-allusive, Carruth is currently composing themes for Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, but no new directing/writing projects seem to be ahead.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.