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The Best Films of 2011

January 13th, 2012

Runners Up

Super 8

While picking up the award for the “Most Hilarious Teenage Ensemble” and “Best Call-back to ET,” Super 8 was easily the most satisfying summer blockbuster. While some of the plot points are a little far-fetched, the film is full of mystique and nostalgic charm.

The Adventures of Tintin

Straight-up, Tintin lacks character development, but the animated feature is as much fun as a rollercoaster. A Spielbergian trip from exotic locale to exotic locale, it’s James Bond and Indiana Jones wrapped up into one joyous visual spectacle.

 

Top 5

#5 Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s thriller about a global pandemic didn’t cause much of a stir when it was released in September, but the star-studded film (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, and on and on) is a chillingly convincing prophecy. Soderbergh’s subtle direction avoids all melodrama, unfolding this story like a cautionary tale.

#4 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Adapted from John Le Carre’s Cold War era spy novel and coolly directed by Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor finds an equally cool Gary Oldman in its spotlight. An intricate puzzle of a film, every frame is full of detail and demands attention.

#3 The Artist

The Artist is the most unlikely of modern films: a black and white silent endeavor. If that sounds like a chore, take heart—the film is pure delight and is the easiest thing you’ll watch this year (even easier than Tintin). Full of song, dance, melodrama, and laughter, the film tones your senses to fall in tune with its expressive leads.

#2 Beginners

“Sex, life, feeling, nature, magic”—the trailer says it all. A quiet, unassuming film full of emotion and fully realized characters. Christopher Plummer is magnificent, and Ewan McGreggor matches his enigmatic performance with charming candor. Beautifully shot, beautifully directed, Mike Mills is a young master of cinema.

#1 Tree of Life

While detractors have called it too long, too winding, and too self-important, no one can argue with the beauty of this film. Tree of Life is a stunning work of art that breaks all modern conventions to deliver a meditation on the meaning of life—the fragile balance between the way of nature and the way of grace. The most beautiful thing you will see in years.

Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Detained by Authorities

April 5th, 2011

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

China’s best-known artist — the outspoken Ai Weiwei — was detained by Chinese police on Sunday after trying to board a plane to Hong Kong. He has been missing since. His assistants have been detained and questioned, his wife interrogated, his studio and home raided.

Ai Weiwei is no stranger to harassment by the Chinese authorities. In January of this year he filmed the seemingly senseless government demolition of his Shanghai studio, calling the event his greatest work of art. Over the years Ai Weiwei has become somewhat of an artist activist in China; through his blog and international media coverage he became an outspoken critic of the Chinese government on issues such as freedom of speech, arbitrary imprisonment of human rights activists, the cover-up surrounding the Sichuan earthquake disaster of May 2008, and the darker side of the Bejing 2008 Olympics. His opinions had already attracted unwanted attention: last year he was placed under house arrest, and complained of being beaten by police twice in Sichuan.

In the wake of protests and reform across the Arab world, Chinese authorities have recently issued one of the toughest crack-downs on Chinese human rights activists and prominent Chinese dissidents in years. At least 23 people have been detained for such offenses as “subversion” or “creating a disturbance.” Human rights activists state that Ai Weiwei is the highest-profile victim of the recent crackdown.

The seminal Chinese artist is best-known for his collaboration on the famous Bejing Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium (an event he later famously shunned in light of his conviction that the Olympic games weren’t good for China), and for the remarkable “Sunflower Seeds” exhibit at the London Tate Modern last October. The artist filled the turbine hall of the Tate Modern with 1 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds.

Sources: The Guardian, CBC, PBS

- Veronica