The 10 Best Astronaut Films to Date

In preparation for the newest space travel film coming to the big screen, Ad Astra, I’d like to give the ten best astronaut films of all time, to date. This won’t be my personal ranking, but something more unbiased. To do so, as I’ve done with other film lists I’ve generated, I’ve created a simple equation that multiplies and combines scores from both critics and cinephiles alike. The difference in ranking at times is down the hundredths of a decimal point! As the ten “best,” I’ve intentionally not taken into account other factors, like accolades or box office success. This also, more or less, will simply be a list with brief synopses, not commented on by me as I do with movie reviews. 

As with all of my lists I’ve posted elsewhere, I’ve ran many films through, though only the ten best are listed here. As such, feel free to let me know or ask if I’ve checked a certain film! 

Oh, and a final word: these are astronaut films that either 1) are sci-films that center around an astronaut’s journey and not merely space exploration (e.g. not Star Wars or Avatar, etc.), 2) are astronaut films that are based on documented history, and 3) are not documentaries, as far as genre. Bottom line: these films are astronaut/narrative films more than anything else, not merely sci-fi space exploration! Enjoy!

astronaut

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Synopsis: Humanity finds a mysterious object buried beneath the lunar surface and sets off to find its origins with the help of HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced super computer.

2. Solaris (1972) 

Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky

Synopsis: A psychologist is sent to a space station orbiting a planet called Solaris to investigate the death of a doctor and the mental problems of cosmonauts on the station. He soon discovers that the water on the planet is a type of brain which brings out repressed memories and obsessions.

3. The Right Stuff (1983) 

Directed by: Philip Kaufman

Synopsis: A chronicle of the original Mercury astronauts in the formation of America’s space program: Alan Shepherd, the first American in space; Gus Grissom, the benighted astronaut for whom nothing works out as planned; John Glenn, the straight-arrow ‘boy scout’ of the bunch who was the first American to orbit the earth; and the remaining pilots: Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

4. Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón 

Synposis: Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first Shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The Shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone-tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness of space. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

blue and white planet display

5. Apollo 13 (1995)

Directed by: Ron Howard

Synopsis: The true story of technical troubles that scuttle the Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1971, risking the lives of astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew, with the failed journey turning into a thrilling saga of heroism. Drifting more than 200,000 miles from Earth, the astronauts work furiously with the ground crew to avert tragedy.

6. First Man (2018)

Directed: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

7. Moon (2009) 

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Synopsis: With only three weeks left in his three year contract, Sam Bell is getting anxious to finally return to Earth. He is the only occupant of a Moon-based manufacturing facility along with his computer and assistant, GERTY. When he has an accident however, he wakens to find that he is not alone.

8. Interstellar (2014)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: Interstellar chronicles the adventures of a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

9. The Martian (2015) 

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

10. High Life (2018) 

Directed by: Claire Denis

Synopsis: Monte and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system. They must now rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.

“Films.” Films • Letterboxd. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://letterboxd.com/films/.

Movie Review of Peanut Butter Falcon

If you know young actor Shia LaBeouf, you might associate that name with all sorts of shenanigans. From the viral video exclaiming to “just do it!” to wearing paper bags over his head at movie premieres, in which it says he is no longer a famous person, LaBeouf has been on a journey to say the least. In one of his most recent films, Peanut Butter Falcon, he also sets off on a journey. In this case, he delivers one of the best performances of his career, which is supplemented by an excellent, feel-good adventure comedy about two guys, a girl, and the chance of tasting pro wrestling.

Watch It: If you want to laugh, see some creative camera work of coastal areas in the American South, a fun story, and a modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn. 

Skip It: If you want a hyper-realistic story, loads of action, something entirely original, and/or a more R-rated tone. 

firewood near seashore

Peanut Butter Falcon is an indie film that has been gradually expanding to more and more screens with its acclaim and popularity. Director/Writer duo Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz make their directorial debut, a debut that is crafted with care and intentionality to deliver a well-structured story that never feels messy, boring, or dragging on for too long. We enter into a new situation just as we’re beginning to want something else. 

LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson (the Fifty Shades film series), and Zak Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome and in fact plays a 22-year old with Down syndrome in the film, all deliver different sorts of roles that round-out a trio of characters with reason, spirit, and soul. For those perhaps more familiar with LaBeouf, his character contrasts (for the most part) with previous and younger roles he had in the Transformers series, which were filled with constant chaos, excitement, and obnoxiousness. Here, he plays more of a parental and mentorship role for the spirited and ambitious Zak, who enthusiastically wants to go to a wrestling school put on by his wrestling hero. 

Some have critiqued this sweet film as being a bit too familiar or predictable. Yet a century after the film industry was just beginning, audiences still desire stories on screen that are sometimes familiar. We desire structure; we’re creatures of habit. Creativity is welcomed, and such creativity is still well-executed within the confines of structure and what audiences will recognize. These young directors knew the craft and structure of screenwriting, and as a result, delivered a structured film that perhaps is familiar for some that many will enjoy. 

Peanut Butter Falcon gets a strong recommendation from me for its hilarity, unexpected pathos, cinematography of the adventure we join, the performances by three young actors, and a subtle but effective use of music to benefit the story. Though perhaps too convenient, predictable or sentimental for some, Peanut Butter Falcon is a tearjerker/comedy that anyone should try seeing as we head towards the end of the year. 

Zimm Score: 8.4/10

Movie Review of Downton Abbey

With a wide release coming September 20th, I had the chance to catch an advance screening of Downton Abbey, a continuation of the hit television series of the same name. Set in 1927, two years after the sixth and most recent season, King George V and Queen Mary visit Downton Abbey, “causing a stir among the Crawleys and servants alike.” And considering that it’s been said that George V despised modern art, it would be all the more interesting to be a fly on the wall, observing what his reaction would be to this cultural depiction of himself on the big screen. One thing is certain: though not maybe a great or phenomenal film, Downton Abbey is nothing to despise, offering delight and escapism for fans of the franchise, fan service in fact that many will relish in. 

Watch It: If you want to see a lighthearted comedy-drama period piece with beautiful scenery, music, set pieces, and costume design.

Skip It: If you want low levels of dialogue, large amounts of action, and/or one storyline that follows a central character throughout. 

Downton Abbey has many high points. From the outset, the cinematography the makers brought to this film is astounding to watch on the big screen. Whether exterior shots of the estate with the use of drones, or interior shots of large table settings, Downton looks great in theaters. In addition, the musical score composed is beautiful, as if much work was put into this area, as opposed to recycling the same theme from the series over and over throughout the film. In terms of technical aspects, the final department to point to is the production and set design. It may go without saying, but every last dinner plate, tuxedo, and food pantry look meticulously cared for. Every scene is so visually polished, which some may love, while others may not. 

united kingdom marching band

My main contention with the film is the story, and the decisions that were made within it. Understandably, any television series you choose to adapt to a film will have its difficulties; it’s a completely different art medium. Where the six-season series has ample time to bring immense poignancy and drama to Downton, this two hour film ends up being a lighthearted comedy-drama with too many sub plots that go off on their own tangents. 

For anyone new to Downton, nothing much will be learned about the characters themselves, other than they’re scrambling to host the king and queen. It certainly has comedy that some will find hilarious. In my advance screening of mostly the elderly, the audience was practically rolling on the floor. I wasn’t to that extreme, but the script still has very well-written dialogue, some of which is quite comical. Performance-wise, the cast brings solid renditions of their characters, nothing better or worse than you would expect if you’ve seen the series, and new cast members shine just as much. 

Downton Abbey, at the risk of sounding all too on-the-nose, is a delightful film. Though it’s a story I found somewhat problematic, as well as serving up too much fan service for the main course, the comedy, the characters, the costume design, and the camera work all make for just enough to yield a recommendation from me. Though not amazing, this is a good film that many fans are sure to enjoy. 

Zimm Score: 6.4/10

My Top Five Movies of the Year (So Far)… and Five More We Can Anticipate

As we get closer to awards season, many films will premiere at festivals this month that many of us, including the world’s best filmmakers, will be excited to see on the big screen. In this feature, I’ll be listing just a few of these that are already getting some buzz in the film community, buzz that may be enough to not only receive some Oscar votes, but also get many of us excited for the big screen in this last movie phase of the decade. 

But before I mention just some of those, I want to review five highlights of 2019 that have already released. These five will clearly be my personal best and favorites, not necessarily what may have been your five best or favorites. I also know that in reviewing many movies this year, there are some that I have missed. Two of these were both popular and critically acclaimed: Jordan Peele’s sophomore horror feature from the director’s chair, Us, and the folk horror from Ari Aster, Midsommar. Additionally, there are three or so moderately popular movies that released on Netflix I haven’t made the chance to see yet. 

With that said, here are my top five movies of 2019… so far: 

Toy Story 4

photo of ferris wheel with neon lights at night

Toy Story 4 easily surpassed my expectations, expectations that were founded on what appeared to be (from trailer) nothing more than a cute, formulaic sequel. Toy Story 4 fits the canon of near-perfection quality that many of us have come to expect from the Toy Story franchise. I know that’s saying a lot, but it’s simply true. Some will critique this as a superfluous money maker for the Mickey machine. Yet if that were the mere case, why has such an incredible and original story been produced yet again, out of the creative minds of many seasoned filmmakers? Toy Story 4 has my recommendation, so far as the best movie of the year.

Avengers: Endgame 

Yes, two of the best five movies of the year so far in my opinion were released by Disney. No, I don’t secretly work for the Mouse machine! But such an outstanding, epic, and poignant finale to a film saga that’s over 20 movies deserves at least some attention. Producer Kevin Feige has accomplished a film continuation on the big screen that’s never been done to this extent. Additionally, endings are everything. As many were dissatisfied with the ending to Game of Thrones, for example, many will negate or forget everything that came before if the final chapter doesn’t satisfy viewers. Avengers: Endgame is the finale that leaves fans satisfied, and for some, wanting more. Even if Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination this year, the film is well-deserving of nominations in the technical department, including its score, visual effects, and sound. 

The Farewell

photo of chinese temple

Resulting in great direction by Lulu Wang, solid performances from the cast, a moving musical composition, artistic cinematography, and a raw, real, and grounded script, The Farewell is easily one of 2019’s best films we’ve been offered so far. And while it may prove to be not quite as moving for some (including myself) as it will be for others, this film is an excellent and surprising late-summer viewing that is sure to please those who simply desire a great film and a great story.

Booksmart 

accomplishment ceremony education graduation

In her directorial debut, actress Olivia Wilde has brought what amounts to arguably the best coming-of-age comedy to date for the young Generation Z. Booksmart is to White, high school-aged girls in 2019 as Superbad was for some Millennial, White boys graduating from high school in 2007. Olivia Wilde somehow makes a high school comedy that reveres what the big screen can do. Though a coming-of-age comedy, Booksmart feels big. It feels powerful. Part of this is the hip-hop soundtrack that beautifully gels with each and every comedic scene, and part of this is the emotional ferris wheel we go on with two best friends in high school. It’s a must-see and one of the best of 2019 so far. 

Rocketman

selective focus photography of piano keys

My final and fifth pick was difficult, as I was deciding between many films for the fifth spot. Yet with Rocketman, this musical biopic gives us a taste of the energy and affection that hall of fame musician Elton John went through, and is plenty to make it into my personal pick for the top five of the year so far. Though on the surface, one may feel like they’re watching Bohemian Rhapsody with Elton John as the singer instead, a deeper reflection will reveal a more rounded character who embodies the real-life counterpart, something that makes Bohemian look all too two-dimensional, in retrospect.

Five Films (Among Many Others) to Anticipate for the Remaining Year

Uncut Gems

Scheduled to open Christmas Day, Uncut Gems is a crime-comedy that stars Adam Sandler in the lead role as a New York City jeweler. Directed by the Josh and Benjamin Safdie, the movie is already generating a lot of buzz around Sandler’s performance, enough to possibly put him in contention for the Oscar in the Best Actor category (along with possibly Joaquin Phoenix in his role as the Joker). 

Marriage Story

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Streaming on Netflix December 6th in the vein of last year’s Roma, Marriage Story is a comedy-drama starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. It tells the story of a stage director and an actress struggling through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes. So far, the film is receiving immense critical acclaim, and placing both Johansson and Driver in award-worthy territory. Yet as many felt that Roma was snubbed from winning Best Picture last year (including myself), believed to be because it was in fact streaming and not in theaters, will Marriage Story receive the same fate? Will it even compete enough with other films or be on an award-winning level to deserve such a prize? We’ll see come this December. 

Parasite 

Another film that has been generating a lot of critical acclaim for months now is international and black comedy thriller film, Parasite. Both cinephiles and critics alike have been head over heels for this South Korean thriller, coming to theaters October 11th. It already has won the highest prize awarded at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Korean film to receive the award. Critics deem it as an “urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes,” a film that may have a chance of garnering enough votes by filmmakers to win Best Picture, Best Director, or both. 

Ford v Ferrari

auto automobile blur car

Though I haven’t mentioned bigger films coming out for the remainder of the year, such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Frozen 2, Downton Abbey, Joker, or Little Women, some or all of these films could potentially receive some award-winning buzz come the end of the year. One film that most likely will be one of these bigger films that is checking off necessities that Oscar voters look for is James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Coming this November, Ford v Ferrari tells how automotive designer Carroll Shelby and race car driver Ken Miles lead a team of engineers and designers from Ford to build a race car that can beat legendary Ferrari. Time will tell if this high-octane movie can earn enough votes to race to Oscar victory (Sorry, I had to.) 

The Irishman 

My final selection for 2019 anticipations comes from the great Martin Scorsese. As another movie streaming on Netflix this November, this epic crime film comes in at a lengthy three and a half hours. With award-winning Scorsese in the director’s seat, award-winning Steven Zaillian behind the script, and iconic actors in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, it will be worth watching whether such a long film will be the sort of epic that has won so many awards at past ceremonies, or if it will simply be a bloated and overstuffed film without much substance left. 

There you have it! It’s a bit longer of a post, but we’re at the right time of the year to look back on what we’ve received so far in the world of film, and what we have to look forward to for the rest of the year! Happy viewing! 

Movie Review of The Farewell

Playing in only 800 and some theaters across the country, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell may prove difficult to find (as of this writing) in theaters nearby. My challenge to you, nonetheless, is that you’d find a way to view this melancholy, yet excellent film, led by none other than actress and rapper, Awkwafina. Resulting in great direction by Wang, solid performances from the cast, a moving musical composition, artistic cinematography, and a raw, real, and grounded script, The Farewell is easily one of 2019’s best films we’ve been offered so far. 

Watch It: If you want, as just stated, solid performances, a string-centered and effective musical composition, artistic cinematography, a believable and genuine script, and topics that are universally relevant, wherever we find ourselves. 

Skip It: If you want a film spoken, for the most part, in English, and/or a fair amount of heavy action scenes, and/or either strictly a comedy or strictly a drama. (This is a dramedy; it’s a blend of the two.) 

Based on a true story, The Farewell tells of a family who, upon learning their matriarch has only a short while left to live, decide not to tell her and schedule a family gathering before she dies. What follows are cross-cultural, internal, and generational conflicts that families and individuals around the world will relate to. 

closeup photo of brown and black wooden houses digital wallpaper

Lulu Wang is in complete control of her craft, directing a film that’s based on her own family’s experience. Set pieces bring you greatly into the world of modern-day Changchun, China, and one will get the sense that she primed key motivations and desires for each character that the actors would be portraying. At the helm in only her second directorial feature, Wang had a superb cast to make the film glide all the more smoothly. 

As a comedy-drama, the entire cast carefully balanced each role between a comedic lightness and a melancholic drama. Yet it’s Awkwafina in the lead role who runs away with a star performance. As becoming known for her quirky and off the wall humor in various works that include last year’s rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians, portraying a role in The Farewell that’s quite the contrary from the former begins to establish her well-rounded acting into her creative wheelhouse. 

Finally, and what may stand out most clearly for some, the beautiful work behind the camera with each and every scene and the poignant bowing of the violin musically only benefit the film even more. Though it’s a simple and “small” plot, Wang creatively utilizes various backdrops of Changchun, or even a mundane prep room for a wedding reception to form artistic and cinematic images for the big screen. 

The Farewell joins three other films in my review of this year so far that falls anywhere from the “great” to “amazing” range. And while it may prove to be not quite as moving for some (including myself) as it will be for others, The Farewell is an excellent and surprising late-summer viewing that is sure to please those who simply desire a great film and a great story. 

Zimm Score: 8.2/10 

Movie Review of Where’d You Go, Bernadette

International magazine editor Bill Gibron stated, “As we enter the dog days of summer, we get the summer movie season dregs as well.” August and September have been known to be two of the biggest “dump months” when it comes to movie quality and success. Still, I was anticipating a great movie this weekend that stars none other than the amazing Cate Blanchett. Unfortunately the new dramedy, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, lives up to its poster’s tagline: “Disappearances Can Be Deceiving.” 

Watch It: If you want to see a great performance by the award-winning Cate Blanchett, a few scenes that were shot in Greenland, and a Seattle setting. 

Skip It: If you want to see a tight, well-structured story that delivers on the premise that you’re promised when you’re wanting to see it.

Based on the novel of the same name, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is as lost as its central character. The film is completely disorganized, failing to take us rhythmically from one sequence to the next. It is yet another instance in which producers fail to realize how difficult it can be to adapt a novel, which is a completely different medium, to film. A novel thrives on conflict that exists within the minds of characters. This is very difficult to show on the big screen in entertaining ways, even for skilled professionals. This is only compounded when you hope to do this, as is the case here, for the majority of the film. 

space needle

Yet this is very much what the story is about. Still, Cate Blanchett gives everything she can with every shot of her that we see. Her character breaks down, she laughs, she patronizes, and she encourages. It’s easy to say that Blanchett’s performance is the one shining element to the movie. I’m not sure if it will be enough for an Oscar nomination, given its lack of gravitas at times, but it is still very good. Additionally, Kristen Wiig gives a great performance as a wealthy and theatrical suburban mother. 

Part of the problem is connected to the marketing itself. When someone pays for an excellent vacuum cleaner, you don’t want to open the box and find disassembled parts for a used chair. Yet this is the feeling when you progress throughout the movie. It’s not that we don’t as viewers want twists and turns; we certainly do! But we also pay and go into a movie with certain, minimal expectations, while producers hope that a movie of course positively exceeds those expectations. 

At the end of the day, Where’d You Go, Bernadette once again proves that you can have an amazing cast, an acclaimed director (Richard Linklater), a successful novel, and still very much be an underwhelming movie. 

Zimm Score: 4.5/10 

Movie Review of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has arrived this summer, finding Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie starring as its core in superb fashion. As a special homage to Los Angeles in the sixties (specifically 1969 and when the Tate murders occurred), Once Upon a Time blurs fiction with reality, as it follows the ups and downs of a fictional and aging television actor (DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Pitt). As they both struggle to adapt to the changes that have come to the Hollywood film industry, reality runs parallel to these fictional characters through the real-life actor Sharon Tate, played here by 29-year old Margot Robbie. 

Watch It: If you want to see great acting and an amazing production of 1969 Hollywood in an alternative history, with some laughs and graphic violence to boot. 

Skip It: If you want an exciting, well-paced, and structured story that contains continual conflict, character development, and poignancy. 

At right around two hours and 40 minutes, Once Upon a Time is long. I must say though, it’s also very funny at times! Unfortunately, there’s plenty of film that feels its length. Though Tarantino’s magnum opus in Pulp Fiction, with its earth-shattering effects on filmmaking, had spectacular inventiveness, rapid-fire dialogue, and plenty to chew on, much of what has followed has been little more than talking heads. (I did very much enjoy Inglourious Basterds, however!)

sunset los angeles hollywood

Once Upon a Time runs much the same. At the expense of a well-paced story that puts us on an exhilarating rollercoaster, however, Tarantino’s work here does boast, in my opinion, spectacular and award-worthy production design, visuals, costume design, sound and its soundtrack. Every last scene contains within it the most meticulous attention given to props, entertainment and wardrobes that entirely encapsulated LA in 1969: everything from hippiedom to the worn set pieces at the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. 

My biggest complaint with Once Upon a Time, in the end, is its absence of plot. For two whole hours, the audience is being wound up for a third act delivery. The awkward reality is that the payoff is not worth the two hours of sitting we’ve already committed ourselves to. Casting such stars such as DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie was an excellent decision, considering that the movie very much portrays less of a story, and more of a snapshot of these moving pieces in 1969 Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood still ends in Tarantino’s climactic fashion. The question is whether viewers will be satisfied, or leave Hollywood a bit disappointed. 

Zimm Score: 6.5/10