Google "best movies of 2011 so far" (without the quotation marks) and you'll get approximately 19-and-a-half million results, which is just about what this whole obsessive-compulsive list-making thing feels like to me. "Ten-best" (and "ten-worst") mania used to be an annual phenomenon among movie fans and critics; now it happens every few months. Perhaps it's a symptom of what Simon Reynolds calls "Retromania," reflecting the brevity of pop-culture nostalgia cycles (is the first decade of the 21st century now officially "retro"? Oooh, remember those cool circle touchpads on old-skool iPods?) and the "museumification" and "curation " of virtually everything that can be collected, commodified, categorized, chronologized, hierarchically ranked or otherwise pigeonholed. (I sometimes enjoy lists, too, but while I occasionally make artisanal ones -- even bespoke ones -- I do not curate them.)
Seems I've been running across those headlines since May, at least: "Best Movies of 2011 (So Far)," and "Worst Movies of 2011 (So Far)." Here's a sampling of critics and outlets that have published such lists: Metacritic, Moviefone, Roger Ebert (best and worst), IndieWIRE's The Playlist, JoBlo.com, somebody at the Huffington Post, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at "Ebert Presents: At the Movies (both best and worst), Dennis Cozallio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Paste magazine, Awards Daily (the name of which says exactly where I fear we're headed), CinemaBlend.com, Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies and FilmFan, Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, RopeofSilicon.com, IFC.com, beliefnet's Movie Mom, Fandango... STOP already!
What have I done? Lord help me, I've made a list. But it's not a numbered or bullet-pointed or sequentially navigable multi-page one, at least.
You realize where this is all leading, don't you? People marrying dogs. Fever in the funkhouse. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria. Quarterly best and worst lists, followed by monthly, weekly, daily, hourly updates.
This trend, I admit, slipped right by me, but apparently it's been on the rise for a few years, and I feel some ambivalence about it, as I do about almost everything. Since so many of the year-end accolades tend to go to the "serious pictures" that are released between Labor Day and New Year's Eve, I guess it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves of the good things that came out in the first half of the year. But is summertime list-making really the most effective way of accomplishing this? Couldn't we just make our own private lists to keep on hand when we have to do those critics polls and awards and "best of the year" wraps in December?
I know, it's a silly thing to fret about. People love lists on the Internet. Web site editors love list features that can be presented as "galleries," so you have to click through to every item, which drives up hit counts. Just put me on the List Opt-Out List, please. For now. So far.
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