Picturing the political
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It was not the only genre film to reflect the times with insight as keen as the resolutely realist prestige pictures. The best examples of genre cinema wield metaphor with discomfiting acuity, matching or even outdoing realism as an artistic approach to get at greater truths. Andrew Dominik's cynical, almost elegiac, gangster film Killing Them Softly uses the seedy Boston underworld as a parallel for American capitalism, anchoring his observations in hard-edged yet soulful performances by Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini. Christopher Nolan takes capitalism and class warfare to the grandest arena possible with The Dark Knight Rises, which makes it here for its mythic and emotional resonance. Even as the film fails on the narrative front and falters with a fuzzy approach to politically-charged subjects, it continues to impress with sheer operatic heft and a mercurial take on heroism and villainy. Those who read it as a straightforward indictment of the Occupy movement weren't watching carefully enough. Even genre pictures not directly about these topics failed to escape the impending realities of financial and environmental apocalypse, spectres that stalk Rian Johnson's time-travel thriller Looper — a movie that indicates the survival of intelligent, inventive, emotionally honest adult entertainment within the studio system. Another supremely efficient bit of myth-making for grownups, Ben Affleck's exfiltration thriller/ showbiz satire, Argo, was about as topical as can be, particularly in light of the Benghazi attack.
Smaller dramas also had the shadow of post-recession America hanging over them. William Friedkin's Killer Joe, a gloriously nihilistic slice of Southern Gothic about a pathologically selfish family and the hitman/policeman invited into their midst, is born of economic misery and a culture of narcissism and temporary gratification (topics that inform the best American documentary I saw this year: The Queen of Versailles). Benh Zeitlin's directorial debut Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surreal coming-of-age story that carries the weight of post-Katrina Louisiana on its shoulders. Other intimate pictures like Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Steven Soderbergh's male stripper opus Magic Mike paint varying pictures of what it takes to connect with others and get ahead in the brave new 2010s.
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