For me at least, the year in film started with a bang in the form of Gregg Araki's crazysexycool apocalyptic collegiate comedy Kaboom and ended with the whimper that was Stephen Daldry's flat, feeble 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. In between those two bookends, 2011 proved a pretty great year for movies, particularly if you thought outside the Hollywood box. After lumbering through a mostly fallow winter, spring and summer, the big movie studios rebounded with a strong fall slate of releases that included the bold new works from veteran filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh among them), star vehicles that actually emphasized brains over brawn (Moneyball, The Descendants) and even a few above-average franchise entries (Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, Paranormal Activity 3). And when Hollywood faltered, the independent and international film industries picked up the slack. If you lived nearby an art house or had access to a video-on-demand service, every month brought a steady stream of terrific titles that ran the gamut of genres, from ultraviolent samurai tales (Takeshi Miike's 13 Assassins) to moody Westerns (Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff) to stories of young love in bloom (Andrew Haigh's Weekend). Some years, I struggle to decide which films absolutely deserve a place on my Top Ten list. This year, I struggled to decide which ones I could leave off without too much regret. (That explains, by the way, why my list of Honorable Mentions includes another twenty-odd movies I couldn't bear not to single out.) So without further ado, in one of the best years for movies in some time, here are the best of the best.
Source Code is meant to be director Duncan Jones' mainstream follow-up to Moon, 2009's existential sci-fi critical darling, and though it has all the hallmarks of the work of a previously proven director transitioning into blockbuster territory -- plot holes galore, bad dialogue, flimsily supported themes, a sci-fi premise supported by nonexistent science, a crack screenplay written by someone hot off of direct-to-DVD sequel Species III -- the majority of critics are still filing positive reviews for it. Back-handed ones, but still, predominantly positive reviews. Personally, though I liked Moon a great deal and am rooting for Duncan Jones just as much as the next critic, Source Code really didn't work for me. No hard feelings, Mr. Moon-maker.
Time travel movies always raise such interesting paradoxes. Would you kill Hitler as a baby? Would you attempt to profit from your knowledge of the future? Or would you prevent some of the worst movies ever made from coming to fruition? The science-fiction genre has long been a haven for the mediocre, even the awful, usually due to the belief that everything else is secondary to the sci-fi concept, and while the 1950s and '60s are famous for their goofy schlock as well as their timeless masterworks, there are plenty of high-profile targets from the past few decades that could disappear, and nobody would care. The day we get perfect our source code technology, we're going back and killing these in the script stage.
Jake Gyllenhaal teams up with Duncan Jones for one of 2011's most entertaining films and an influential Akira Kurosawa classic arrives on Blu-ray.