The month of December is high season for listers and those who love lists. Because December is the time that arts critics in every newspaper, magazine, website, blog, TV or radio station look back over the past year and make lists (usually Top Ten lists, but not always) of the best accomplishments from the past 12 months. I’ve been collecting these lists – specifically for films, music and books – since 2002, and collating them to find out which items are on the most lists, and then making my own meta-lists. Why do I do this? One (somewhat inexplicable) reason is that I enjoy the process. But a better reason is that I believe it exposes me to the best of these three arts. Each list becomes a set of recommendations that I trust and that pushes me beyond my comfort zone. I know that some folks don’t trust critics and reviewers to guide their choices of what to see, what to read and what to listen to, but to me the critics’ lists are the best option available, given that you can’t read/watch/listen to everything and must make choices.
What are the other options for choosing what movies to see, books to read, music to listen to: (1) recommendations of friends and family; (2) following one particular expert, critic or reviewer; (3) critics’ reviews in newspapers, magazines and websites, or on radio or TV; (4) recommendations of people who sell movies or CDs or books, like Amazon; (5) trailers or other types of ads; (6) crowd-sourced websites like Goodreads or reviews on Amazon or other sites by ‘regular people’; or (7) meta-data sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes that collect critics’ reviews and assign ratings. I have tried most of these methods myself, and I find that – except for (7), which is very similar to what I do – they all leave me disappointed. I end up feeling like I have either adopted someone else’s tastes; sold out to The Man; ended up in a solipsistic spiral of stuff I know already, or that I’m just being exposed to the winners of various popularity contests judged by people completely unlike me who can’t spell and seem to base their opinions on completely irrational criteria. So instead I rely on the critics and reviewers – people who analyze works of art for a living and may know more than I do about their subject. While I may not agree with the tastes and judgment of each one, there is a pretty good chance that if several of them (or 10, 20 or 30 of them!) agree that a book is worth reading, a film is worth seeing, or an album is worth listening to, they are right. Plus, when you pool the lists of many critics, you get a much wider variety than under most of the other available methods. Taking this approach has led me to find masterpieces of artistic expression – from low to highbrow – that I would never have found had I just listened to what my friends’ recommended. And while the critics’ top ten isn’t always my top ten, I have never regretted a choice I’ve made based on these lists. (Even in the rare case that I don’t ‘like’ a highly rated book, recording or movie, I can appreciate the artistic qualities that led to its high rating and thus I benefit from it. I just won’t be watching/reading/listening to it again any time soon.)
Here are the 2013 lists and Happy New Year: