Four Reasons Not to Trust Ten-Best Lists

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One of the most cherished fantasies in the world of movies is that around this time every year we critics are all dying to think about the best films of the past 12 months--as if listmaking represented some particular populist need for consensus rather than the industry's desire to resell goods that have already been sold to us again and again (or, in this neck of the woods, to presell goods that haven't arrived yet).

I'll admit that one list engenders another, and that once the game starts in earnest, every critic wants to be part of the discussion. But consider some of the drawbacks: 

(1) Piles of movies getting released at the end of this year in such a manner that critics (and some audience members) don't even have time to take them in, much less think about them. (Maybe that's exactly what the studios want--snap judgment is another practice that serves the industry more than the audience.) 

(2) Contortions by critics outside New York and Los Angeles who don't want to come across as rubes and so vote for movies that most of their readers can't see yet.

(3) An inevitable tendency to highlight recent films, privileging theatrical showings over DVDs.

(4) Overkill and exhaustion for reviewers and readers alike.

It's hard to parse the polls at this point--to figure out what's being dictated to us, what we've been trained to expect, and what we actually desire independently.

Your thoughts?

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