Stephen McGarvey, Senior Director, Editorial & Brand Development

A good film doesn’t always have to be profoundly moving to be a good film. As far as well-crafted thrillers are concerned, no film was more excitingly ominous than director Steven Soderbergh’s underappreciated Contagion. Eschewing the spectacular special effects and elaborate stunt sequences typical of disaster movies, Contagion tells the story of a worldwide pandemic relying almost solely on a fantastic script and incredible acting talent. Soderbergh deftly makes the commonplace activities of daily life threatening in the extreme, as experts and outsiders deal with a new disease seemingly taking hold of the world. It’s easy to imagine yourself as one of these well-drawn characters watching the fundamental assumptions about society fall apart. Weaving together the events of several different plotlines and story arcs, Contagion shines as a story of ordinary people dealing with crisis and panic.

A SeparationA Separation
John Sizemore, Contributing Writer

How does a marriage dissolve after fourteen years? Hollywood gives answers that seem more familiar (one supposes) to Hollywood writers than they do to most of the millions of Americans who divorce each year: adultery, midlife crisis, and simple boredom. Simin and Nader, the couple at the center of A Separation, have none of these problems. Simin doubts that her husband still loves her, and Nader resents having to prove his love to Simin. But these tiny, malignant cells, nourished by pride, manipulation, and small deceits, divide and grow, eating away at the couple’s marriage until there seems no way to save it. A crisis follows, which must either save their relationship or destroy it utterly. A Separation is the best film of 2011 because it is the only film of 2011 to gracefully tell a simple, but important, story. Every character is memorable, sympathetic, and believable. Here and there, the narrative defies the audience to choose a side, tricking us into thinking that one character or another is truly the villain. Just when we’re tempted to believe that it’s all sorted out, though, the story widens to show us that our villain was acting reasonably, even charitably, under the circumstances. The result is a challenging, emotionally wrenching experience that one cannot watch passively.

Faith on Film in 2011
Shawn McEvoy, Managing Editor

At the beginning of 2011, we began to see articles coming across the newswire from film festivals mentioning how faith was going to be a trending topic in movies this year. And indeed, two of the films in our Top 10—Of Gods and Men and TheTree of Life—are very much about belief, the first in a much more concrete way, the second via the more abstract. Furthermore, in The Help one will find scenes of biblical preaching and church community, and in Hugo there are several meaningful quotes about our purpose in this world that will ring true to a Christian ear. But the faith-in-film train made several other stops along the way this past year, and we would be remiss not to make some mention of them.