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Looking for recommendations for Smart Sci-Fi movies

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08 Jul 2019 19:09 #299389 by mezike
About a year ago my wife surprised me by suddenly developing a taste for Science Fiction cinema, specifically “Smart” Sci-Fi. She’s been mixing with nerds for far too long, I guess it was inevitable. So far we’ve been working through the movies that I have on disc but I’m starting to run out and we’re both really keen to get some recommendations.

There isn’t a direct definition of what exactly constitutes Smart Sci-Fi, so for her it means science fiction/fantasy which involves realistic characters with real emotional arcs and something to say beyond spaceships being kewl. Alien invasions, space-battles, horror, excessive violence or bloodshed, or demeaning treatment of female characters is right out. Also, weirdly, is anything involving Bill Murray. English is not her first language so anything that gets too detailed in jargon or hip and snappy repartee can be too difficult to follow.

Here’s a list of what we have watched to date and a brief summary of her thoughts (inadvertent spoilers may abound):
  • Gattaca – just about the perfect representation of the form. Real characters, real drama, real emotional stakes, packaged in a format that is believable as a possible near-future.
  • Inception – loved this one but needed a couple of viewings to untangle the plot. Was fascinated with the idea of altered perceptions and characters coping with a thin divide between reality and fantasy, which is why I thought she might also enjoy…
  • Through a Scanner Darkly – but we didn’t get very far into this one before she got too weirded out. Found it very difficult to follow because of all the snappy dialogue and the opacity of the plot. Also, she’s averse to anything involving drug culture so struggled to find a sympathetic angle into the story.
  • Interstellar – didn’t get the whole fourth dimensional thread toward the end, but particularly enjoyed the early scenes on Earth and the impact of the father-daughter relationship.
  • Arrival – another hit, liked the way that the story cut between timelines before dropping the twist that made sense of all the unease that came before it.
  • Moon – fell a bit flat. Hearing Kevin Spacey’s voice coming out of a manipulative lying robot was a bit unsettling as well. I was really surprised to see Matt Berry in one scene and made the experience even weirder by crying out “good lord its Toast!” for apparently random reasons.
  • Source Code – did not enjoy. The plot is interesting but the exploitation of the protagonist was difficult, especially the awkward happy ending that is forced on the end that tries to excuse what’s been done to him for the previous ninety minutes.
  • Galaxy Quest – I don’t know if it qualifies as smart but we love it. It’s such a great satire of the cheesier side of Sci-Fi whilst still remaining respectful of the form.
  • Idiocracy – really liked this one, it’s played for laughs but is so biting and dark by unhappily being a more realistic future than most other movies portray.
  • Gravity – she found this inspirational and really liked that it was set in the present day so not dwelling too deep in the fantastic. Sure, the actual science is a bit ropey but that’s okay.
  • Cloud Atlas – was a bit bemused and wasn’t totally sure what to make of it all, and didn’t easily grasp the whole shared souls thread. It was a bit too long and the slightly bloody bits with the cannibals put her off, as well as all the sleaze in the 70’s thriller segments. Couldn’t quite accept either Hugh or Tom in villainous roles. Best bits for her were the farcical comedy in the retirement home, so not so much a Sci-Fi hit.
  • Twelve Monkeys – doesn’t like this one at all, which I can accept as there are many things that can make it an acquired taste.
  • Hunger Games –she really enjoyed the whole series, actually watching most of it without me because I struggled to stick with it.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – too dang weird, didn’t buy in to the central romance and Frodo creeped her out in this one with his downright abusive identity theft.

Next on the slate is Donnie Darko and 2001. I think that both of those could be slightly too weird and not go down well for being too out-there. I’d love to show Timecrimes but the early sleazing is a bit distasteful and the bit at the very end is unnecessary and a bit cold which is a shame as it is otherwise amazing. Primer is very heavy on the smart and science elements, perhaps a bit too much. Thinking about tracking down a copy of Pleasantville of which I have vague and happy memories and could be a good fit.

Any thoughts or suggestions of what we could try next? I'm sure I've missed some classics along the way along with some hidden gems.

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08 Jul 2019 19:28 #299390 by hotseatgames
Well you already listed Gattaca, so it's all downhill from there!

Have you watched the Black Mirror series on Netflix?
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08 Jul 2019 21:13 #299400 by jeb
SOLARIS is good. Either version; the first is way ahead of its time, but seems very dated now.

A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is smart and good.

BLADE RUNNER and BLADE RUNNER 2049 probably end up too violent, but they are excellent.

MINORITY REPORT is very good. Again, somewhat violent—but Spielberg? You make the call.

WALL-E
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08 Jul 2019 21:14 #299401 by Gary Sax
Wall-E is a good pull.
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08 Jul 2019 21:16 #299402 by ubarose

hotseatgames wrote: Well you already listed Gattaca, so it's all downhill from there!


This^

Maybe...
Blade Runner
City of Lost Children
Children of Men
PI
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08 Jul 2019 21:24 #299404 by hotseatgames
I forgot to mention Sunshine. It's been a while but I recall it being decent.
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08 Jul 2019 21:38 #299405 by Greg Aleknevicus
I took my wife to 2001 last year when it was re-released in Imax theatres. Surprisingly, she enjoyed it (she's not into "heady" films). I think this was only possible as I gave her a primer on the major plot points. This allowed her to appreciate the film instead of trying to "figure out what was going on" -- something that can be difficult even for those who enjoy such things.
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08 Jul 2019 21:56 - 08 Jul 2019 22:07 #299406 by Sagrilarus
2010 should be on your list, as should The Martian.

The Abyss maybe though its a bit too Cameroney to be declared smart.

Forbidden Planet

Silent Running

Godzilla, the original if she can do subtitles

Village of the Damned

Things to Come

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow might be an interesting selection.

I'll also recommend two Graphic Audio selections -- the Vatta's War series and the Serrano Legacy series. Great for long drives.
Last edit: 08 Jul 2019 22:07 by Sagrilarus.
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08 Jul 2019 22:12 #299407 by WadeMonnig
Predestination
City of the lost children
5th element
Time freak = Don't judge it too soon, it plays out so well.
About time (2013) on Netflix
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09 Jul 2019 00:06 #299412 by Shellhead
Gattaca was my first thought when I saw this thread title.

Some non-redundant recommendations:

Brazil
The Iron Giant
2010
The Andromeda Strain
The Martian
Dark City
Hardware
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09 Jul 2019 02:06 #299416 by Wetworks
Some movies that other people haven't mentioned,

District 9 - commentary on racism
Her Story - falling in love with an a.i.
Ex Machina - great a.i. story
Edge of Tomorrow - Tom Cruise action movie with an interesting premise
The Fly - has body horror but a great movie nonetheless
Looper - time travel movie
Alien 1 & 2 - definitely horror for the first one, but these movies have influenced so many other movies they are must watch
The Matrix - first one was great
Star Trek reboot - fun movie for non serious Star Trek fans.
Avatar - Dances With Wolves in space
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09 Jul 2019 02:11 #299418 by mezike
Some GREAT recommendations here, thank you all! I’ll reply in more detail when I have some time as there’s a lot to digest.

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09 Jul 2019 07:11 #299421 by Turek
Most of the recommended ones are already listed but you could also try these:
Automata
Europa Report
Ghost in the Shell
The Orville (my wife is loving it)
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09 Jul 2019 07:49 #299422 by mezike
Thanks again for the suggestions so far – so many of them! – please keep them coming if anything else comes to mind. I’ll give an answer to everything mentioned so far.

Things we’ve already watched but I forgot to mention:
• Wall-E – a really strong recommendation, but as you can guess with a couple of kids at home we’ve burnt through the Pixar back catalogue.
• The Martian – watched this one in the cinema, she wasn’t keen on how gung-ho and macho it all was but it came across better on a second viewing on Netflix. Seeing it mentioned did remind me to check out Hidden Figures though.
• Silent Running – this came around a few months ago on TV but she didn’t stick with it. The kids also got bored so they all thought I was crazy but my nostalgia pump was working overtime. Altogether now: “Fields of children running wild in the sun…”
• 5th element – she’s seen it before and I don’t think she’ll watch it again. I re-watched it a while back and it felt like it had aged badly.
• The Iron Giant – beautiful movie with a positive message that avoids heavy-handed moralising.
• The Matrix – yeah she’s seen this one before, it was too violent and the sequels disappeared into their own nonsense. It also looks really dated now so I can understand why there’s been talk over the last few years about a reboot.
• Avatar – didn’t work for us, too silly and too bombastic.

Things to follow up:
• Black Mirror – I love these but yet to convince her to watch them.
• Solaris – excellent choice, it often comes around on TV so I’ll remember to record it.
• A.I. – I think she’s seen it before but another one to put forward as we’ll now be watching it from a different point of view. I’m not personally keen on the Spielberg candyfloss that was added to it.
• Blade Runner – I have to admit that this is a film that I feel I am supposed to like more than I actually like. Worth a revisit as I don’t recall it being too violent, and I haven’t yet seen the sequel.
• Minority Report – thinking about it. It leans toward being an action movie more than anything else, plus it loses points due to featuring the Cruiser who she finds objectionable.
• Edge of Tomorrow – we started this at one point but she didn’t like it (too violent) and, again, Cruise is a problem. I enjoyed it.
• City of Lost Children – uh, yeah, a film about the kidnapping and torture of children is going to be something of a hard sell.
• Children of Men – great choice, will check it out (it’s also frequently on broadcast TV so easy to catch)
• Pi – might prove too dense and impenetrable, a good film though.
• Sunshine – great, great movie, from recollection it turns into a light horror part way through which might be a turn-off (literally).
• 2010 – I can’t even remember the last time I saw this myself. If 2001 goes down well we will certainly check it out.
• The Abyss – yeah, not sure about this one, from memory it has a bit of a horror/action vibe?
• Forbidden Planet – yes, absolutely, one of the greatest movies of all time! Also need to check out the original Day the Earth Stood Still, old timey B&W isn’t a problem for us.
• Godzilla – giant monsters aren’t going to fly in much the same way as she dislikes films about aliens. I suggested Gareth Edward’s Monsters and even that got politely declined even though the aliens barely feature as anything more than a backdrop.
• About time – I’ve seen it but she hasn’t, it’s very watchable and I really like Domnhall Gleeson even though I think he’s running on low wattage in this one. Definitely a good one to watch together as a couple.
• Alien series – she’s not keen on any of these due to the violence and horror (and aliens), but I do love them myself.
• Brazil – I think this one will be tough given how badly she received 12 Monkeys. It also has some light horror elements that would likely result in an impromptu early finish.
• Village of the Damned – I’m assuming the original and not Carpenter’s awful version? Either one is going to be far too creepy and too close to a horror movie vibe.
• Things to Come – absolutely need to check this one out.
• Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow – it has some problems with the writing but looks pretty so an enjoyable romp, as a result it’s probably the opposite of what she’s asking for.
• Predestination – the synopsis reminds me of an old time-travel paradox where someone becomes their own mother and father, will look into it.
• Time freak – I’ll look into it, it’s pricey to pick up at the moment so I’ll wait a bit given the lacklustre critical reviews.
• The Andromeda Strain – yes, another classic I need to watch out for when it next comes around again.
• Hardware – this is straight up killer-robot horror so not going to work.
• District 9 – I have a copy of this but haven’t put it forward yet due to the profligacy of aliens and the light body horror toward the end.
• Ex Machina – another great movie, I think it’ll be a good one to add to the list. I think it’s still on Netflix over here as well.
• The Fly – nope, not going to get this one past the gate!
• Looper – I have this one but was holding back for now as she wasn’t keen on the premise. It’s a good movie.
• Dark City – great movie but I fear it’ll be a little too grimdark for her tastes.
• Her – this already got a pooh-pooh I’m afraid.
• Star Trek – she has no interest in anything Trek, she lost interest a few minutes into the reboot.
• Automata – haven’t heard of it before, the critical response is that it’s light on narrative and high on action which could be the wrong way around but it’s cheap so I’ll track down a copy and watch it first.
• Europa Report – we started this but the found footage and slow burn failed to keep us watching. I should give it another go, it might still be on Netflix.
• Ghost in the shell – I dunno, I watched it for a bit and it comes across as a bit exploitative. I don’t think she’ll like it.
• Orville – something I’m keen to check out. She doesn’t like Red Dwarf so that might be a barrier, but then again she loved Galaxy Quest so who knows.

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09 Jul 2019 09:05 #299426 by mads b.
Another Earth is really good even though I have a hard time explaining exactly why.

I think Under The Skin may be to weird and horror-ish, but the strangeness of it is very interesting. It's a very different kind of sci-fi movie.
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