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Thread: ARMAND WHITE'S latest "Better Than" list

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    ARMAND WHITE'S latest "Better Than" list

    ARMAND WHITE'S latest "Better Than" list

    Find it in National Review HERE.

    National Review
    FILM & TV
    The 15th Annual Better-Than List
    January 3, 2020 6:30 AM

    Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete (Summit Entertainment)
    Good movies vs. Netflix cynicism
    This year the Better-Than List is more necessary than ever, given film criticism’s decline alongside corporate media’s ethical failure. Good movies received bad notices, little attention, and scarce distribution and exhibition. Visually effective storytelling, emotional exploration, and political scrutiny have been so obstructed by Marvel–Star Wars inanity and TV distraction (through the novelty of streaming services) that critics have lost sight of cinema aesthetics. Good movies still get made but languish for worthy audiences. Critical thinking has been lost to fake mythology. Here’s proof:

    Dragged across Concrete > The Irishman
    Craig Zahler made the best movie of the year by examining the contemporary American nightmare with both horror and compassion. Lawmen Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, and lawless Tory Kittles test private conviction and social desire — unlike Scorsese’s mob-fetishizing, morality manqué tale. Personal filmmaking vs. decadent commercialism.

    Sorry Angel > Portrait of a Lady on Fire
    Christophe Honoré’s AIDS-era morality tale confronted still-current ironies of desire minus the special pleading that fouled up Céline Sciamma’s misguided lesbian/abortion historical romance. Sorry Angel’s range of masculine behaviors bested simplistic feminist standard-bearing, Plus, Honoré transcended sexual politics through the single most powerful — leveling — movie-lover’s image this decade.

    Pain and Glory > Uncut Gems
    Pedro Almodóvar’s gorgeous emotional autobiography showed wisdom while the Safdie Brothers’ ethnic carnival was callow. Antonio Banderas’s expressive regret and grace-filled recollections went deeper than Adam Sandler’s deliberately ugly, unfunny self-reproach.

    Domino > Knives Out
    Brian De Palma reexamines his Millennial politics — depicting the War on Terror in a swift, effective genre exercise. Rian Johnson’s crass, pseudopolitical whodunit can’t tell where citizenship or humanity begins.

    Richard Jewell > The Irishman
    Clint Eastwood’s account of an actual American tragedy (initiated by irresponsible media and rogue government) shames Scorsese’s distorted labor-union history. Respect for life vs. the love of crime. Simple fluency vs. baroque dishonesty.

    The Image Book >Netflix
    Jean-Luc Godard recalls the political complexity of our cinematic heritage. Images of beauty and doom reflect on the artistic expression of mortality — an increasingly forgotten goal. Godard shows us everything missing from the inundation of Netflix’s reckless film-production excess. Through a climactic scene from Max Ophuls’s Le Plaisir, Godard challenged Netflix (Scorsese’s and Obama’s boss) as the enemy of cinema.

    Sauvage/Wild > Marriage Story
    Camille Vidal-Naquet’s extraordinarily intimate debut is more candid than Noah Baumbach’s latest act of pampered social-climbing. The tough story of a social outcast (Félix Maritaud) looking for love (without conventional definition) contrasts with the flimsy narcissism that our media elite share and defend. Homo sensitivity vs. Hetero superficiality.

    Tattoo of Revenge > Little Women
    Julián Hernandez’s film noir turns male–female empathy into a constantly inventive spectacle while Greta Gerwig’s literary adaptation sentimentalizes bourgeois privilege as a woman’s right.

    John Wick 3: Parabellum > Joker
    Chad Stahelski’s slapstick violence wittily satirizes Millennial desperation (imagine if John Woo had Fred Astaire’s aplomb). But Todd Phillips’s Batman spin-off, featuring Joaquin Phoenix’s bonkers Heath Ledger re-do, is a grim, sarcastic appeal to nihilism (imagine a Scorsese sellout with no craft).

    Shadow > The Souvenir
    Zhang Yimou combines Chinese lore and pure cinematic dazzle, in a royal court’s battle of wills imbued with Shakespearean richness. Joanna Hogg’s vapid film-school heroine (Honor Swinton Byrne) epitomizes a generation’s cultural ignorance and foolish pride.

    I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians > Parasite
    Radu Jude provides an ingenious perspective on Romania’s cultural and political legacy while Bong Joon-ho flirts with creeping fascism. Anti-Communist wisdom vs. cancel-culture terrorism. An Adam Schiff alarm vs. an Adam Schiff sitcom.

    Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood > The Irishman
    Quentin Tarantino recalls the Manson Sixties but with social perspective, while Scorsese brings back that ’90s malady: denial. It’s QT’s best-ever film — vividly acted and emotionally satisfying — a bulwark against film culture’s moral decay.

    By the Grace of God >The Two Popes
    François Ozon addresses the Catholic Church sex scandal without the defamation seen in Fernando Meirelles’s progressive calling-card movie. Ozon revives the astute reverence of Hollywood’s I’d Climb the Highest Mountain and A Man Called Peter. Meirelles is just smug.

    Brian Banks and The Best of Enemies > Us, Clemency, and Queen & Slim
    In this year’s race-movie genre, Tom Shadyac and Robin Bissell empathize with real-life civil-rights struggles. Their decent films rise above the insulting exploitation of Jordan Peele, Chinonye Chukwu, and Lena Waithe’s superstitious thrillers.

    Peterloo > 1917
    Before Mike Leigh succumbs to Marxist sentiment and secular skepticism, he gives us fine moments of common-people sacrifice and brilliant instances of British political rhetoric putting opposing sides of history at cross-purposes. Leigh senses contemporary national crisis, but Sam Mendes ignores it with a mawkish, tedious WWI pictorial stunt.
    CK Comment:
    I've followed these annual lists for all 15 years, from when White was in "alternative weekly" distributed free on the streets of Manhattan, NYPress.* They sometimes seemed crazy, as crazy as any of his other provocative writing. This year I find much to agree with. For instance, his persistent downgrading of Scorsese's overrated THE IRISHMAN.He supports humanistic values in favoring PAIN AND GLORY over UNCUT GEMS, however much the latter may be a triumph for Sandler and the Safdie brothers. I haven't seen PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE yet, but I'm doubtful that it will matter to me as much as SORRY ANGEL. Don't think I could possibly rate SAVAGE/WILD over my favorite film of the year, MARRIAGE STORY or TATTOO OF REVENGE (which I havne't seen) over LITTLE WOMEN, but I think Armand's jumping of categories helps push us to cast a fresh eye on contemporary cinema. I think JOKER is being woefully overrated, due no doubt to the looming power of comic book movies. PARASITE is another one I consider seriously overrated. BY THE GRACE OF GOD is way, way better and more important than THE TWO POPES by any measure. I don't think PETERLOO outrankd 1917; but time will tell. Armand White has his biases. I've said this in these pages before but as a reminder: He's black, gay, Christian, and conservative. But all the better to present a fresh point of view to straight white male liberals. And at bottom, he's just basically sui generis, unique. His informed passion has a certain pro-French bias that I like. He may seem willfully eccentric, but he is always fiercely intelligent. There should be more as smart and caring as he is. He reminds me of the days when Pauline Keel's voice was being heard.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2020 at 11:57 PM.


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