One down, nine to go. I'm locking in my first of 10 nominations for Best Picture of 2011. I know, I know, it's only June. But in less than a week, I've already thrilled to Super 8 twice--it was even more exciting the second go-round. Super 8 is that rare blend of blockbuster fun sustained by a memorable story and heart-tugging performances.
Director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek) and producer Steven Spielberg (what planet do you live on if you need a list of his credits?) have once again made it utterly entertaining to go to a summer movie. A tried-but-true formula of pitting ordinary people against extraordinary challenges is a hit-or-miss proposition. But when the characters are complex and funny, and are required to muster the better part of themselves to face the unknown, it's a cinematic treat.
While Abrams and Spielberg evoke a style not unlike some of their previous films, they never seem to be ripping off their own genres. Sure, scenes of young boys riding their bikes at twilight are reminiscent of E.T., and anti-heroes reluctantly saving the day brings up memories of Lost, but Super 8 is, if nothing else, original. It's not a sequel and the ending is airtight, and those factors alone set it apart from everything else this summer.
A big hand for Joel Courtney, the little man from Moscow, Idaho. The 14-year-old stars as Joe, the film's young hero. His wonderment is a testament to a highly skilled director (and it's likely that Zen master Spielberg helped wrangle the kids' performances, too). Courtney, in his film debut, performs as well as anyone three times his age. He's surrounded by a goofy crew of friends and a love interest--or at least crush--Alice Dainard, played by Elle Fanning.
The grownups are great, too, in particular Kyle Chandler as a deputy sheriff and Joe's widowed dad. Always great in TV's Friday Night Lights, Chandler has been waiting for a breakout role like this. Super 8 should do for him what Jaws did for Roy Scheider.
Baby boomers will have a blast with this film, as the setting is mid-America in 1979. When Abrams drops in references to The Match Game, Walter Cronkite, The Knack ("My Sharona") and the Walkman, it's like swimming in your memory's backyard pool.
Ultimately, Super 8 does what great movies do best: It entertains your socks off. The special effects are excellent, the humor is milk-out-of-your-nose funny and the characters' relationships guarantee a lump in the throat. If you only see one movie this summer, make it Super 8. If you see two, see Super 8 twice.