Posted on Thursday, December 25th, 2008 by David Chen
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a webmaster for a fellow movie website who was voicing his distaste for lists that featured “Top 2008” movies drastically different from what other critics picked. To him, these types of lists smacked of opportunism and a crass desire to be different for the sake of being different. At the time, I agreed with him. In fact, when I heard Filmspotting give their top 10 movies of 2008 (This is a great episode of an always-great podcast and I highly recommend you give it a download. Full disclosure: I make an appearance in voicemail form to defend Slumdog Millionaire), I was struck by how Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune derogatorily explained that 2008 was overall a lackluster year for movies, then proceeded to list 10 movies that most of the moviegoing public hasn’t had a chance to see yet (i.e. some were films he saw in 2007 at festivals like Cannes). On a visceral level, such lists are frustrating because they perpetuate the idea that the critic knows better than the lay filmgoer (if there is such a thing). The choices sound pretentious because they imply access to a whole slate of films that the are inaccessible to the general public. But upon further consideration, I think it’s safe to say that while there are some critics who create these lists purely out of a spirit of contrarianism, more often than not, we’re just demonstrating our idiosyncrasies as film critics/reviewers.
This Monday night, the /Film podcast is going run through our favorite movies of 2008. It’s a fun tradition, and one that actually got us started talking about movies together in the first place. But this year, the tenor of conversation surrounding critics’ lists seems to me more poisonous than in years past. Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room, of course: Most web readers are essentially evaluating lists based on two criteria: 1) Does it have The Dark Knight on it? and 2) how high is The Dark Knight on the list? If the answer to both these questions is favorable, lavish praise will follow. The absence of Nolan’s film on lists will invite obscene insults of the strongest caliber.
But this led me to wonder: Why exactly do people read these lists anyway?