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Written by: Sam Fragoso on December 11, 2012

December 11, 2012 | 10 comments | Featured

The Question:

Are these year-end lists of the best movies, methodically ranking them in some incongruous, silly order, degrading to the actual pieces of film themselves?

Crafting those year-end best and worst movies lists has turned into an annual tradition for film critics. But what exactly are they for?

Do we obsess and mull over them for our own pleasure, or do we make them out of sheer adulation for the movies deserving of recognition? Perhaps a bit of both.

It’s not too bold to claim we’re a ranking crazed society, where articulation and analysis has been substituted for stars, letter grades, tomatoes, and thumbs. Even in my own experiences with grading I struggle to create and define the dichotomy between a film that receives a C- and a C.

This ongoing inner battle is inside all of us who decide to construct and take part in the year-end ranking. And it’s not just in the realm of film that categorizing occurs. Read the papers, listen to the radio, and turn on the television — lists of the best books, songs, albums, and athletes will soon appear.

Despite my skepticism about the motives behind these lists (a battle between self-promotion and promotion of cinema) I’ll be participating starting this weekend with IndieWire’s yearly poll. At the end of the day, it’s fun to occasionally indulge. Just remember, while every sort of list is asinine, be sure your making making them for the right reasons. Good films deserve to be highlighted among the sea mediocrity year after year. And despite that fact that no number could ever adequately represent a piece of transcendent art, it does allow certain films to have their day in the sun.

Before everyone begins to rail on one another for not getting swept up in the same films they did, attempt to embrace the diversity over the next few weeks. Uniformity doesn’t progressive the medium, insightful discourse does.

On an o-so serious final note, I better not see any Hitchcock, Killing Them Softly, The Sessions, or any other film I didn’t like on your list.



There are 10 comments for this post.

  1. James Blake Ewing on December 11, 2012 8:59 pm

    I don’t see it as degrading to them, but I think there are trends in the list that often reveal that people tend to watch a lot of the easy, low-hanging fruit. The lists will be dominated by Hollywood titles with a few crowd-pleasing, highly-marketed foreign films tossed in for good measure. I’m not necessarily saying those films are bad, but it shows that people aren’t really as diverse or eclectic as the actual output of great films in a year is.

    I don’t think that’s a problem of rank lists, I think that’s a problem of viewer habits and availability. People looking for the year’s best, who want to make a list that actually feels expansive should be looking for films that maybe didn’t get a theatrical run or a very limited one, on home or instant video at year’s end. Not everyone wants to do that, but if you’re one of those people who watches over 100 new releases in a year, I think you owe it to yourself to watch at least a handful of foreign titles at the end of the year.

    Also, I think with the ubiquity of the Internet, we need to get past the conventional cycle of a film as theatrical-> home video -> physical rental -> instant viewing. If you want to get some coverage for your smaller film, especially if it comes out at year’s end, maybe you should thrown it up for video rental or netflix instant even if it’s still running some limited theater runs. There are a handful of foreign films I would put down 3-5 buck right now if I could rent them online and view them. Instead, I’ll probably be waiting till the tale end of 2013 for a home video rental, at earliest.

  2. Squasher88 on December 11, 2012 10:15 pm

    If you do them truthfully, year’s best lists aren’t degrading at all. It’s a nice way to highlight what you liked that year. I look at them as these great time capsules. When I look back at my lists, they tell me ssooo much about my maturity, cinematic tastes, personal interests and mental outlook at those points in time.

    These lists may also prompt someone to seek out a film that they may love. Who knows, someone might watch a movie because you picked it as #1 and it ends up becoming their favourite movie of all-time!

    Having said all of this, I’m still unsure about the idea of all these “worst of the year” lists. Now that’s degrading.

  3. Will on December 11, 2012 11:05 pm

    I don’t think that the lists are degrading to the films, it’s a representation of a person’s taste, but I kind of hate making definitive lists with any sort of rankings unless I know that I’ve explored everything that might be considered. This is why whenever I do a year-end list, I don’t rank the films. I just list them under the headings: Favorite, Honorable Mentions, & Worst. And then I do a section of “I Still Need to See These” and I update it every couple of months. Perhaps not the best for traffic and garnering comments, but it’s something that I feel OK with putting out there.

    I think it would be better if more lists were titled something like: The Best Ten 2012 Movies I Saw So Far, but I understand why they aren’t.

    I also second what James said about the sad state of foreign film availability in the US. The future is now, and at some point the distribution companies will realize that the Internet is their friend. And maybe one day Asian-language movies will get US releases without being edited!!! So frustrating.

  4. Nostra on December 12, 2012 1:54 am

    I see them as a nice way to discover movies I hadn’t heard before when reading the lists others have made. Plus I think it is fun to do.

    I’m already warning you that my list probably will include Killing Them Softly ;)

  5. Nikhat on December 12, 2012 3:23 am

    This is why I don’t make “best of” lists, but rather my “favourites” lists because they are personal and I’m not exactly judging the films so much as saying which films of the year I loved the most. I generally can’t get my head around “best of “lists eitherways.

  6. Alex Thomas on December 12, 2012 4:41 am

    I love ranking and comparing things, I think it just gives others a good view of the films that highlight your taste, as well as giving you something to look back on in future years (great for rewatches!)

  7. Nick on December 12, 2012 7:47 am

    I do think we make these lists for both reasons you mentioned – our own pleasure and sheer adulation for the movies themselves. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with either one. The troubling aspect of these lists is when a critic composes it as a means to validate his/her taste, to say THESE are the 10 “best” films of the year.

    I’m with Nikhat, a year-end list should be totally personal, completely subjective, 10 movies that the listmaker loved and wants to passionately shout about. Shout away, I say! This goes back to that widespread debate from last week – year-end lists is a way to tell everyone what we love about the movies.

  8. Andy Buckle on December 12, 2012 3:57 pm

    You didn’t like KILLING THEM SOFTLY? That doesn’t surprise me. Few in the U.S did. its in my Top 20.

    I enjoy making lists – and I enjoy so many films that I find it really difficult to cut it to say, 10. I like shouting out to a heap (like 30) and credit them as the essential viewing of the entire year. They are the films I admire and think are excellent pieces of work, and films I personally find enjoyable too.

    My appreciation for films go up and down, so I keep track of how I feel about each throughout the year with a running list. There are so many opportunities to chat about these films, and the ones that have provoked passionate discussion (often having to defend my appreciation, or promote it) are the ones that stick with me and usually appear pretty high on my EOY list. Some, like TDKR, which I made a complete turn around on after watching it at home, fade from memory. Others, like Killing Them Softly, a bold, audacious and unique work, linger around.

  9. bubbawheat on December 12, 2012 4:08 pm

    I’d say that worst of lists may be a bit degrading to the movies but general best of lists just exist to highlight the movies that we liked the most. I just finished writing my year end list, though it’s mostly of movies I watched this year rather than movies that came out this year.

  10. Squasher88 on December 12, 2012 8:20 pm

    Just thought I would respond to that first comment by James. In think there are flaws in his statement, as I know from personal experience. My year’s best lists don’t feature that many foreign films, but that doesn’t mean I don’t watch a lot of them. I think I watch a commendable amount of foreign films, it just happened that many of my favourites turned out to be American/British films. Even considering that, out of the 12 “Best of the Year” lists (for the year 2000-now) that I’ve done….4 of my #1s have been foreign language films.

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