The strange new phenomenon of year’s best-list outrage
Ah, December. A time for holiday tradition, like Eggnog. Or Christmas trees. Or, in what’s become an end-of-the-year run for film publications’ pageviews, annual Top 10 lists.
Personally, I love Top 10 lists. I watch a lot of movies, but there’s no way to see everything that comes out in a year. I look to critics’ and friends’ lists to see what they liked and to expand my horizons. These lists are supposed to be joyful; at their most basic, they’re expressions of appreciation — “Here, this is what I liked this year. Maybe you will too.” I’m excited when I encounter a list that’s vastly different from mine.
For example, take New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s Top 10 List. I haven’t even heard of half of the movies on his list, let alone seen them. Neptune Frost? Mr. Bachmann and His Class? I would never have known to seek those out if I hadn’t seen his list. But I probably wouldn’t have seen this particular list without seeing all the online roasting that went along with it.
Oh, you thought there would be civil discussion online about something as innocuous as movie lists? Think again. Scott’s list drew ire for being both too out of touch with the common moviegoer and too mainstream. How dare he rank Nope as the Best Film of 2022?
It didn’t help that Scott’s best-of list came out right on the heels of the results of Sight and Sound’s once-in-a-decade poll of the greatest movies ever made. The British publication sends ballots to prominent filmmakers and writers for their top 10 best movies of all time. Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles took the top spot this year. Again, a movie I had never even heard of before this year. Is it good? Maybe, I haven’t seen it. But I can’t wait to find out.
These lists seem to elicit two different responses in people. The first is like me: a kid in a candy shop, wondering how I could possibly see all these cool and interesting movies in one lifetime. The second is more like a kid in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: These movies exist for me and me only, and these lists are supposed to validate my tastes above all else. Which is how you get responses like these on Twitter that value one particular movie and nothing else (for a movie that is about showing kindness to everyone, no less):
This film’s fanbase is beginning to rival the Marvel cult pic.twitter.com/GxFEoQjkIH
— Guy Lodge (@GuyLodge) December 8, 2022
It seems I’m in the minority this year with my perspective on these lists. Nearly every day since the Sight and Sound poll was released, the internet has been arguing about which movies deserve to be on that list, or why certain directors had trash ballots because of their picks. X director Ti West? Too normie. Martin Scorsese? Too elitist.
Who cares? Art is subjective. If you don’t like someone else’s list, you can make your own. Nobody’s stopping you. As long as you can explain why you liked something on your Top 10 list, go nuts.
The root of this problem is just ignorance and incuriosity, but the symptoms are very 2022. Twitter has become even more of an unhinged place to spend your time lately, to be sure, and that site has always prioritized tribalism over thoughtful nuance. The recent uproar over these lists is just more proof of how tribal we’ve become.
But, as always, streaming and the lack of theatrical options may play a role. Fewer arthouse theaters mean less opportunities for smaller movies to break through to the mainstream. You have to actively seek out a lot of lesser-known entertainment these days, or you have to know where to turn to for recommendations. Critics used to fill that role, but the days of Siskel & Ebert are long gone.
These days, everyone’s a critic. But hardly anyone’s curious anymore.
Anyway, here’s my Top 10 of 2022: