Favorites Lists

Cross-posted at newcritics.

With the end of the calendar year fast approaching and end of semester grading neatly stacked on my coffee table, I’ve been finding myself thinking about the annual rite of listing favorite texts from the previous year: best movies, favorite TV shows, coolest videos, whatever.  This practice is far from new.  The Golden Globes just named their nominees (you can find them if you’re really curious, or at least more curious than I am), and soon we’ll all be arguing about who got snubbed at the Oscars.  But it’s difficult for me not to feel as if this practice has gained a new energy in the age of blogging, as we see more people participating in naming favorites and publicly declaring and defending popular culture tastes.

I’ll unveil my own–hopefully idiosyncratic–list of favorites in a few weeks, after I’ve had a few days to catch up on movies that I missed, whether due to the somewhat solitary (and often obsessive) practice of completing work on my first book (implying, somewhat hopefully, that there will be more books to follow), or due to the fact that many of the movies I’ve wanted to see haven’t made it to Fayetteville.  Visiting my parents in Atlanta is also an opportunity to catch up on a few movies I haven’t yet seen.  And, in fact, living in Fayetteville, after living in Atlanta and DC for several years, has only served to remind me how subjective these lists can be, how much they are dependent upon the locations of their writers.

With that in mind, I’d like to point to a few of my favorite lists of favorites from 2008 that I’ve enjoyed most, so far, this year.  Drew Morton has a great series of lists posted to Dr. Mabuse, listing favorite films, TV shows, comics, and music.  Some interesting choices, although I haven’t been able to see many of the films he names.  I mention Drew’s list, in part, because he lists The Dark Knight as a favorite film in 2008, a choice that highlights the tension between professional critics and what Jim Emerson identifies as a popular backlash among TDK fans who have been asserting that pro film critics will render thesmelves increasingly “irrelevant” if they don’t recognize the greatness of Christopher Nolan’s film (and, no, I don’t think Drew is part of that backlash).  As Emerson points out, there is something far too insistent about the need among (some) TDK fans to see it acclaimed as the Best Film Ever by film critics, to have their tastes affirmed by the very critics they tarnish as irrelevant (one example of this comes from Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend).  But the battle over TDK, which likely won’t be on my list of media faves, fascinates me because of the degree to which investments in popular culture run deep.  Favorites matter.  We find solidarity with others who share similar tastes.

One of my favorite lists, again so far, is Catherine Grant’s list of favorite film and moving image blogs from 2008 (and not just because I made the cut–skim down to the letter “T”), but because Catherine has provided me with even more film and media reading material to enjoy and learn from. It’s hard to argue with any of her choices–the competition at “C” and “S” is far too fierce to single out just one blog–and Catherine backs up many of her choices with a nice mix of humor and commentary (and we’ll have to work on getting newcritics on the list next year).

Finally, the list that inspired me to write these reflections was Michael Newman’s list at Zigzigger.  What I really enjoy about Michael’s list is his thoughtful explanation of his favorites (his list from last year inspired me to approach listmaking in a new way).  The list becomes a form of media criticism, analyzing for example, Rachel Maddow’s ability to expose the artifice of cable news fakery while still bringing her own insights about political news.  Or the subtle message of The Visitor, a film I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t appreciate when I first saw it, in part because of what Michael describes as its “bizarre” depcition of academia.

In a sense, this post is a partial answer to Michael’s question about why “we feel the need to memorialize a year before it has ended.”  In part, I think it’s about shaping and sharing taste, about saying to others, in the present and future, this is what mattered to me.  It’s about collecting and about conferring a narrative onto the past year (even when our lists are devoid of commentary).  In fact, many of Michael’s favorites, Rachel Maddow and FiveThirtyEight.com, will be on my own list, in part because they helped me to make sense of and, in some cases, enjoy a stressful roller-coaster of a year.

3 Comments »

  1. newcritics - » Favorites Lists Said,

    December 13, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    [...] share some recent reflections I posted on the practice of popular culture list-making over at The Chutry Experiment. With the end of the calendar year fast approaching and end of semester grading neatly stacked on [...]

  2. Joanna Said,

    December 14, 2008 @ 11:40 am

    I’m happy you’ve posted these great links, thanks! The issue of fan solidarity vs/plus the kinds of bonds formed by allegiance to the pronunciations of critics is fascinating to me. There were some very interesting discussions on dance sites (fan and professional) about reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance, and what it was that people throught was “good dance”. Some of it was about turf wars, but there was also some genuine engagement that I don’t know if we’d have been able to see even a few years ago.

  3. Chuck Said,

    December 14, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

    The dance discussion sounds really cool. Sometimes the critic-fan debate can devolve into ressentiment, as you point out, but there are genuine attempts not only to theorize what counts as a “god” movie but also about who counts as a contributor to our ongoing (public) dialogues about film and culture.

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