Armond White looks back at the best movies that surpass and defy the year’s worst

We’ve reached the point where movies are less popular than other forms of pop culture yet remain compelling—as much for what they recall about the humanities as the inhumanity they routinely deliver. Thus 2011′s year-end mania for the specious cultural tributes of The Artist and Hugo, even though both films, while apparently reverential, were actually false to how cinema is made and enjoyed. Thus, the critics’ disrespect for Spielberg’s two ingenious state-of-the-art assessments (to be examined in the next issue of CityArts). Thus, this year’s better-than list, which again finds superior alternatives that defy falsely hyped movies. Art vs. Trash.

Incendies>A Dangerous Method

Denis Villeneuve’s blood-rich inquiry into the epic complexities of man’s inhumanity-to-man defies the nihilistic excuses favored by David Cronenberg’s Freudian one-gunmanship and ethnic spite. Catharsis vs. Egotism.

The Adventures of Tintin>The Artist

Spielberg restores the essence of cinema (from the Greek “kinesis,” meaning movement), defying Hazanavicius’ too-cute silent movie hoax. Joy vs. Inanity.

War Horse>Hugo

Spielberg revives genre esthetics as spiritual expression, defying Scorsese’s fatuous history lecture. Feeling vs. Sentimentality.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes> The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rupert Wyatt reboots the original series as a fresh, wild vision of modern frustration, defying Fincher’s apathetic wallow in pathology and brutality. Emotion vs. Style.

Attack the Block> A Separation

Joe Cornish’s clever, good-humored exploration of sci-fi social conflict defies Asghar Farhadi’s obvious Iranian didacticism. Action vs. Talk.

Paul> Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost grasp the depth of American pop culture while Apichatpong Weerasethakul peddles Asian obscurantism. Joyous vs. Spurious.

3 Backyards>Melancholia

Eric Mendelsohn parses the limits of communal empathy, exposing Lars Von Trier’s insincere apocalypse chic. Authenticity vs. Artificiality.

Film Socialisme>The Tree of Life

Godard pinpoints outmoded media and politics, defying Terrence Malick’s arty navel-gazing. Relevance vs. Irrelevance.

Colombiana>The Help

Olivier Megaton and Zoe Saldana find new racial, sexual and genre archetypes to discover the meaning of love, defying the stereotyping of black women’s civil rights struggle. Progress vs. Relapse.

Winnie the Pooh>Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Disney turns children’s literature into cinematic grace defying Stephen Daldry’s attempt to turn 9/11 tragedy into a fairy tale. Beauty vs. Shamelessness.

The Iron Lady>J. Edgar, My Week with Marilyn

Phyllida Lloyd and Meryl Streep wittily reinvent the biopic in a Shakespearean (British) tradition, defying the exploitation of Hoover and Monroe. Insight vs. Triteness.

Jack and Jill>The Descendants

Adam Sandler’s affectionate, very broad ethnic satire defies Alexander Payne’s smug denial of America’s ethnic history. Humility vs. Sanctimony

What’s Your Number?, Kaboom>Bridesmaids

Gregg Araki and Anna Faris flaunt revelatory, nonjudgmental sexual choices while Kristin Wiig imitates frat boy vulgarity. Freedom vs. Conformity.

Rejoice and Shout>Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Don McGlynn’s gospel music history traces beginnings of art in faith while Werner Herzog’s loss of faith prompts his history of art. Heaven vs. Purgatory

Your Highness, The Sitter>Midnight in Paris

David Gordon Green indulges his love of fiction and adolescence while college dropout Woody Allen name drops and disrespects his literary betters. Humor vs. Hoax

Prom, Polytechnique> We Need to Talk About Kevin

Villeneuve and Joe Nussbaum’s complementary tales of school trauma defied Lynn Ramsey and Tilda Swinton’s nihilistic chic version of Columbine psychosis. Visionaries vs. Pseuds.

Real Steel>Moneyball

Shawn Levy explores fatherhood and masculinity in professional competition while Bennett Miller and Brad Pitt take the fun out of baseball. Entertainment vs. Sophistry.

Follow Armond White on Twitter @3xChair