A dozen years ago or so, around the turn of the century/millennium, I was appalled to read a column by someone I’ll leave anonymous. She was asked who she thought was the best artist of the twentieth century. This columnist was not a specialist in the arts and in fact had no business, as far as I could tell, prognosticating about art in any way let alone passing judgment on who epitomizes the “best,” however one might construe that subjective concept.
And that is the most salient point, it seems to me: how do you define “art” before you decide who represents the best of it? She didn’t try. Her choice of Norman Rockwell (I’m not making this up) was bad enough in any case – even if we grant a definition of art that is limited to painting (which I definitely do not.) I won’t go into the pros and cons of her choice, except to say that it is not only a populist one but a blatantly culturally biased one. If it must be a painter I’d have to go with Picasso, but that’s not how I’d approach the question.
In order to get a handle on who might be the “best artist” of the twentieth century I believe we must decide what art form best represents that century. I didn’t at the time and still don’t think the answer is painting. In my opinion, it was the new medium of film. Since I’m not a film critic or historian I have never presumed an opinion about which of many great filmmakers best represents the art form. But I definitely am of the opinion that if one is to decide the best artist of the twentieth century that a filmmaker should be at the head of the class.
I do love the movies, though. All of this is to introduce my thoughts on films I saw in 2012. Again, I don’t presume to pronounce them “best” in an objective way. Some among my favorites, listed below, appeared on some actual film critics’ lists of the best of the year. Some did not. Some that I didn’t like also appeared on a few of those lists, including my choices for “most disappointing” and “stupidest.”
My list must be qualified by admitting that I have yet to see some of the films that are on many “best of 2012” lists. Several are in my Netflix queue. But that, I think, is the value of these rituals, isn’t it? To provide suggestions, encourage audiences for what might otherwise go unnoticed.
For instance, it won’t surprise anyone who has seen them (or read any of the “best of” lists out there) that Lincoln or Argo are among my own favorites. But they aren’t at the top. That spot is held in a tie by Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
However, rounding out my six favorite films of the year are two far less well known.
The Intouchables is a powerful and moving story about a paraplegic millionaire who hires a down and out ex-convict as a personal caretaker.
Robot and Frank is a heartwarming futuristic story with some surprising twists and quirks about a man whose family gives him a caretaking robot in lieu of placing him in a nursing home.
The biggest disappointment I mentioned? The Hobbit. I almost didn’t go to see it in fact, because I suspected as much. I love all three parts of The Lord of the Rings, but, of course, Tolkien wrote it in three volumes. Not so The Hobbit, a much lighter tale. I won’t waste money on the next two installments, which seem like the most egregious example of milking the franchise since the third trilogy of Star Wars came out. Perhaps worse.
The stupidest of the year: The Avengers wins hands down. (Of course this is still only considering movies I actually went to see.)
I don’t mind a good cartoon movie, either. My list of guilty pleasures, if that’s what they must seem, includes the latest iteration of Spiderman. I enjoyed all three of Tobey Maguire’s impersonations of my favorite cartoon character – to varying degrees. But Andrew Garfield simply was more suited to the role. It was worth the remake, I thought.
I also liked Skyfall. Bond movies have been all over the board in terms of quality and excess. So, this wasn’t a given by any means. After the success of Casino Royale, the last one with Daniel Craig (the name of which I’ve blocked from my memory) was awful. Skyfall is better than most Bond films and if it’s milking a franchise, at least it’s doing it well.
Although I waited until it came to the budget cinema, I was pleasantly surprised by The Hunger Games. I hope it’s not a prescient look at our future. My wife observed, astutely I think, that it was a combination of a futuristic version of what the Romans did in the colosseum and any number of “reality TV” shows taken to their logical extreme.
Was Magic Mike a guilty pleasure or something better? Raunchy but fun, I’m going to leave it in the guilty pleasure category.
Finally, my choice for favorite documentary of 2012: Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry. (If there were comparably good ones, as there must have been, I missed them.)
So, a few suggestions to add to your Netflix lists. Or not.
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