Armond White takes stock of the past movie year in annual list
In 2012, politics became personal fantasy. Movies weren’t just entertainment but were used to justify escapist (possibly even anti-social) points of view. Critics misread films to suit their politics, but they could do so only because filmmakers were similarly biased. The year’s movies glorified power, just in time for our presidential election (as when Spielberg’s Abe Lincoln replaced honesty with political chicanery). That heartbreaking reconfiguration of history parallels our distorted contemporary art and politics, which indeed was the subject of the year’s most masterly film, Andre Techine’s Unforgivable. Thus the 2012 Better-Than List salutes the movies that preserved aesthetic complexity, humane values and honesty. The best films weren’t necessarily apolitical, but their artistry transcended transitory politics. If you don’t know these movies it’s only because our slanted media constabulary favors crap.
Unforgivable > Zero Dark Thirty
Andre Techine tested political correctness against the difficulty of family/social life. It was the most sophisticated and morally challenging film of the year. Its essential politics exposed Kathryn Bigelow’s non-committal and unexceptional genre movie, a “mission accomplished” delusion. Techine showed how “family” and forgiveness are unfinished missions.
The Deep Blue Sea > The Loneliest Planet
Terence Davies’ gay sensitivity to sex roles (and memorable performances by Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale) bested Julia Loktev’s juvenile view of female infidelity and male weakness.
Sacrifice > The Master
Chen Kaige finds the roots of culture in patriarchal responsibility; P.T. Anderson loses culture’s meaning in anti-religious hysteria and high-art folly. Chen also featured superior acting by competing father figures You Ge and Xuegi Wang.
Holy Motors > Cosmopolis
Leos Carax’s dreamy limousine kineticism shamed Cronenberg’s oft-entrancing limousine stage drama. Carax parked and bloomed. Cronenberg parked then harangued.
Les Miserables > Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Tom Hopper and cast preserved the power of pop opera, while Nuri Bilge Ceylan cynically, tediously observed man’s inhumanity to audiences.
Dark Horse > The Turin Horse
Todd Solondz’s modern soap opera steadily, comically bored into our self-deceptions, while Bela Tarr’s highbrow jape steadily bored us.
The Lady > Lincoln
Luc Besson’s bio-pic examined Aung San Suu Kyi’s marital and political commitment, while Spielberg’s unholy marriage to Tony Kushner pushed the cult of personality. Aphorisms vs. Propaganda.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Taken 2 > Zero Dark Thirty
Neveldine-Taylor and Olivier Megaton revealed the post-9/11 zeitgeist in genre tropes, while Bigelow reduced the zeitgeist to an enigmatic comic strip, a “mission accomplished” delusion.
A Thousand Words > Argo
Brian Robbins and Eddie Murphy dared the most personal Hollywood critique since Clifford Odets’ The Big Knife; Ben Affleck trivialized Hollywood accountability.
Damsels in Distress > Compliance
Whit Stillman showed affection for female independence, while a po-faced indie’s misogyny masqueraded as class critique in the year’s worst film.
Moonrise Kingdom > Beasts of the Southern Wild
Wes Anderson’s fable of childhood innocence lifted the curse of racist liberal condescension preferred by Benh Zeitlin’s obnoxious, way-late Hurricane Katrina fantasy.
The Skinny > Django Unchained
Patrik Ian-Polk’s gay comedy expanded and enhanced black American life, while Quentin Tarantino treated blacks, whites and the history of slavery to comic violence.
Americano > Amour
Mathieu Demy sourced his family heritage (our cinema heritage), while Michael Haneke celebrated the end of life (and cinema). Joy vs. pessimism.
Detention > The Life of Pi
Joseph Kahn dared trace modern moral confusion to its pop culture source, while Ang Lee offered banal 3D philosophizing.
Chronicle > 21 Jump Street
Josh Trank’s existential teen flick achieved beauty, deeper than the adolescent nonsense of a TV-franchise movie that was the year’s second-worst film.
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