Even a movie as specific in its scare-mongering as "Contagion" moves away from the headlines and turns apocalyptic (and, in my view, borderline exploitative, using our germ-warfare fears as grist for high-toned sci-fi pulp).
Movies like "The Adjustment Bureau," "In Time," and especially "Source Code" were perhaps the most indicative and touching examples of our desire to make sense of post-9/11 dread. None of these fantasias were any great shakes as movies but, in varying ways, they were all about our need to rewind reality – to literally stop the clock – and make it all turn out right this time. ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" dealt with 9/11 trauma head-on, with decidedly mixed results.)
By comparison, films dealing with actual historical personages often seemed mundane, or, as in the case of "The Ides of March," which dealt with thinly disguised actual personages, naive. (Who knew politics could be a dirty business?) Despite advance word, "J. Edgar" didn't delve deeply into the FBI director's nefariousness or hidden sex life, leaving us in limbo. The Margaret Thatcher biopic "The Iron Lady" (which opens Dec. 30) has pitch-perfect Meryl Streep mummified by her makeup and the film's political toothlessness. At least "The Help," which was unfairly rapped for portraying the civil rights struggle through the eyes of a white Southern woman, knew enough to leaven its social consciousness with sass.