If you are a fan of ranking things then right now is the absolute best time to be on the internet. Whether it be viral videos or sports moments or movies, the end of the year always makes for a great time to give a Top *insert whatever number here* List ranking your favorite whatever. Though other sects of pop culture employ the Top 10 list (heck, Watchmojo has made an entire career out of ranking random things), there is something specific about ranking movies that makes it an almost mandatory exercise connected to film criticism.
Why is it that we in the movie blogosphere absolutely love ranking movies? Heck, why stop at ranking entire movies when you can rank Quentin Tarantino characters or all of the original James Bond songs? There is something about enjoying movies that automatically leads to arbitrary listing off why this thing is better than another. As a kid my brother and I would argue who would win in a fight if the armies from Lord of the Rings and Braveheart fought. Though that is a goofy conversation between two adolescent boys, that is exactly what we do on Twitter every January when we rank Movie X over Movie Y. Now let me be clear, I am not complaining.
I love Top 10 lists.
Whether it be the standard blog post or a professionally edited video or someone simply listing their picks in a Facebook post, I can’t get enough of Top 10 lists. I try and keep it limited to end-of-the-year movie rankings as I spent way too much time on Zergnet (not gonna link them here) to enjoy any other countdowns that happen in film world. Why the love though? Why do these post drive so much traffic? Why can’t we just say “here are some of my favorite films of the year,” instead of THE TEN?
I don’t know why we settled on ten, but we do have some hints as to why movie culture loves ranking movies and declaring a winner. First off, as people with a general interests in the art, we (like most people) crave validation. Film taste is as subjective as it gets, so it feels great when a critic you respect likes a movie you like. “See, my enjoyment of this film is now legit, so-and-so validated my love by naming it their #3 of the year.”
This is where a large portion of hate springs up on the internet. If we are looking to critics and bloggers to give legitimacy to our personal choices, then in the same breath many turn on writers and list-makers when they don’t include what they think is the best. This is the basic mode of most of the internet. Whatever the field may be (film criticism, cooking videos, technology reviews), you just declare yourself an expert and start naming the best things in that field. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad in your audience and you live another day to post more content. It’s a crazy roller coaster for many, writers and readers alike, and it’s not sustainable. Let me suggest a better way to read Top 10 list while elaborating on why I love them so much.
Now of course, there will always be a bit of validation in reading/watching Top 10 lists. The healthy version of this is when you have a favorite movie and you are “rooting” for it. It is great to see a gem of a film be recognized by your peers. We should celebrate when the film community can bring more attention to unknown films; every Top 10 list that named Whiplash or Nightcrawler did a great service to readers and hopefully these films grow in their audience.
Besides rooting for movies I like, I love reading Top 10 lists because I get to learn about the writer, and learning other people’s experience is probably the best thing the internet can accomplish. For example, my wife Bethanne told me her Top 10 films of the year (I’m trying to get her to write up an article for the site, fingers crossed). Though I’ve seen a lot of Captain America: Civil War inclusions on various lists, Bethanne opted for Doctor Strange in her personal Top 10. Right then and there, you can learn something about Bethanne’s taste in film. Not only does she enjoy blockbusters enough to include one on her list, but know you know she likes her blockbusters to be a little weirder than most.
A lot of Top 10 lists fall into a pretty standard pattern (Anne Thompson gives some humorous instructions on how to build the perfect Top 10 here). Most will include 1 or 2 blockbusters, the Oscar favorites, maybe a choice out of left field that is specific just to you, at the end of the day these lists end up just reordering the same 25-30 movies. It can be easy to get cynical after a while when it comes to seeing these lists tweeted out and shared, but let me encourage you there is always something new to learn when it comes to a new Top 10 list.
Whether it be an individual or an organization, every time you open a Top 10 list in a new tab you have the opportunity to learn a little more about that writer. Yes, they may have that Oscar frontrunner on their list, but what do they have ranked above it? What do those personal choices tell you about this person’s taste in film? The best is when you see the same old movies ranked and then a left-field choice smacks you in the face. Agree? Disagree? Enraged? Sometimes it is fun to step back and appreciate the fact that we live in a world where we can have enjoyment from ranking movies with other people.
Now that I’ve spent an entire post persuading you of the worth of Top 10 lists…let me tell you about some upcoming Top 10 lists that will be on the site!!! First, be sure to vote for your favorite movies of the year here. We will be tallying up the results and publishing them next week. This will be a fun project as it gives some insight into the readership, and I’ll also be getting some help from various film writers from the blogosphere. Secondly, (drum role please) I’ll be publishing my personal Top 10 sometime mid-January. Why so long? You probably know the answer, I have to play the limited-December-release-in-January game to play 2016 catch up. Once I’ve seen Hidden Figures, Patriot’s Day and Silence I will feel comfortable making my Top 10 list. Thanks for reading everybody, looking forward to another year talking movies with everybody!
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