2011 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

A funny thing happened at the movies this year: absolutely nothing blew me away.

There were things I really liked, but my list of favorite movies is kind of a joke, really. They’re not bad movies (not in my mind, anyway), but there are few, if any, Best Picture candidates in the bunch. Compare that to last year, where six of my top 10 movies were nominated for Best Picture. This time around, that’s just not happening. Just want to lay that out up front.

Worse, there isn’t one movie that stands above the others. I liked my favorite movies equally, more or less. That might sound like a copout, but it’s true. Of the movies I’ve seen so far, this was the year where movies were just sort of…there. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

My Favorite Movies of 2011


Margin Call
Selling one’s soul is a popular subject in movies, since no two people are willing to settle for the same amount. “Margin Call” explores the subject on a massive scale, since the ripple effect of the actions of a few will be felt around the world. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but it’s absolutely gripping. Kevin Spacey shines here, as does the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci.


Super 8
It probably helped that I grew up in a small Ohio town not terribly unlike the one in “Super 8” (though no one used the word ‘mint’ the way Riley Griffiths’ character does here), but “Super 8” wasn’t merely an exercise in nostalgia; the movie delivered top-notch thrills, well-drawn characters, and the most spectacular sequence of the year with that jaw-dropping train crash. Elle Fanning, meanwhile, put on an acting clinic, and she’s only 13. Wow.


Read the rest after the jump...

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SXSW 2011: Source Code

Duncan Jones was probably bombarded with a number of offers to direct a big studio movie following the release and cult success of his directorial debut, “Moon,” but there’s something about his decision to choose “Source Code” as his follow-up that tells you a lot about the kind of filmmaker he hopes to become. To some extent a companion piece to “Moon” in that they’re both morality tales about technology, Jones has succeeded in taking yet another high-concept premise and spinning it into a captivating thriller that’s both incredibly simple in execution and yet brain-teasingly complex the more you pick it apart. A thinking man’s sci-fi film with real mainstream appeal.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Cpt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up suddenly to discover he’s riding on a commuter train headed to Chicago. The twist? He’s in the body of a man named Sean Fentress, and before he can figure out what’s going on, the train explodes. But Stevens isn’t actually dead, and when he awakens in a strange capsule seconds later, he’s greeted by a woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who informs him that he’s part of a military experiment that’s trying to stop a terrorist attack in Chicago. Using a computer program called the Source Code, they can send Stevens’ consciousness into the body of Fentress for the last eight minutes of his life, granting him a unique opportunity to examine the scene of the crime before it even happens, in the hope that he can identify the bomber and prevent a second attack on the city. But as Stevens gets closer to tracking down the culprit with each new pass, he sets his mind on saving his fellow commuters (including Michelle Monaghan), despite the fact that the creator of the Source Code (Jeffrey Wright) tells him it isn’t possible.

source_code

That might sound like an awful lot of information to process, but “Source Code” isn’t nearly as confusing as it lets on. With the exception of one exposition-heavy scene at the beginning of the film that tells you just about everything you need to know, the rest of the movie is split between Stevens’ investigation of the train’s passengers via a time loop that always ends with him dying, and communicating with the people running the mission. Of course, there are several twists and turns along the way, but Jones doesn’t hide his hand particularly well. Two of the film’s biggest revelations are not only predictable, but pretty obvious if you just pay attention, and though it would have ruined a lesser movie, “Source Code” is still engaging even when you know how it will end.

You wouldn’t think that a film about a guy experiencing the same eight minutes over and over again would be very interesting (even “Groundhog Day” took place over the course of a day), but Jones manages to prevent the loop from feeling monotonous by making every trip into the Source Code unique. He also relies greatly on star Jake Gyllenhaal to keep the audience invested, and it’s one of the actor’s best performances to date, providing the character with an Everyman quality that allows him to be serious without being humorless. The rest of the actors are just pawns in the story, but Vera Farmiga does add some depth to the thankless role of Stevens’ sympathetic handler. Not that the movie requires especially strong performances to work, because the real star is Jones himself, who proves here that he’s more than just a one-hit wonder. Your reaction to the movie will ultimately vary based on how you feel about its ending, but for fans of the sci-fi genre and time travel in particular, “Source Code” doesn’t disappoint.

  

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“Please, can’t I at least save the hot one?”

In what looks like another engaging science fiction drama from Duncan Jones (“Moon“), Jake Gyllenhaal is forced to relive the same unfortunate eight minutes, via computer-assisted time-travel, in search of a railway bomber in “Source Code.” For some reason, he seems to want to save Michelle Monaghan from her already past death. The rest of the passengers on the train aren’t weighing on his mind as much. Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga costar.

Thanks to noted writer, cartoonist, and filmmaker Peet Gelderblom for this one.

  

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