Why this is my final top 20 of the year list
It's been a great year, so why would I say goodbye to this?
It’s January 6th, 2023, and here’s where we are…
I have made a lot of lists in my lifetime. It’s one of the things people expect from you when you’re a film critic.
To be fair, it’s one of the things film nerds do anyway. Well before I was published anywhere, I always made lists of movies, not just top-ten lists. I filled notebooks with lists of movies I’d seen, movies I wanted to see, and movies grouped by director or actor or genre. Lists are baked into the DNA of cinemania and for a long time now, I’ve made my end-of-the-year lists into large-scale public events.
For a good chunk of that time, I would do a top ten or a top twenty, I’d write about some runners-up, and then I’d make sure to also do a list of “The 20 Hours I Want Back,” or my ten worst. I’ve already written about my gradual realization that I hated my annual worst-of list, more than any of the filmmakers who ever landed on it possibly could. It was snarky and shitty and reductive and the opposite of what I want to do when I write about film. It was just a chance for me to stick my tongue out at some filmmakers who made work I didn’t like. Oooooh… what a big brave hero I was. To be clear, “worst of” lists are useless. They are the absolute asshole of film criticism, and so is anyone who considers them more fun than “best of” lists. They are hollow exercises that celebrate nothing, just like the miserable Razzie Awards. I do not read them. I do not think anyone should write them. I left those behind a long time ago.
Likewise, I think I’m done personally being involved in voting for awards at the end of the year. I had my reasons for wanting to join the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and I have my reasons for wanting to leave the group. I don’t begrudge anyone who gets value out of the way things currently work. Personally, I think it would be valuable and important to have some sort of professional group for critics in this city that actually supported the critical community in a tangible way. I have come to realize that critics are solitary creatures, though, and never more so than when they have a problem. It does not feel like any of us have any power against any punitive measures doled out unfairly by studios or publicists, and if we were only smart enough to leverage our collective power to freeze something out by giving it no coverage, we would very quickly find ourselves in a stronger position. I’d want to be part of an organization like that. I don’t really see the point in just existing so we can give out one more list of awards at the end of each year, part of a cascade of similar lists that no one remembers two weeks after they’re announced, all of them part of a build-up or a countdown to the big awards show, which also no one remembers two weeks after they’re announced.
None of this is to say I’m “too good” for any of these things or that I’m somehow better or smarter than anyone else. I’m just talking about my own personal feelings. I’m not sure it’s worth the stress of the year-end crush just to contribute to an awards cycle I’m not sure I believe has actual value. If I thought people read these lists and used them as a way to explore things they might not have heard about, I’d feel better about it, but these days, there’s almost an open antagonism between audiences and critics, especially when year-end lists are announced. People treat them as proof that critics don’t like the same movies they do instead of understanding they are simply proof that critics see more movies than they do. When I sit down to think about what to write at the end of a film year, I rarely have anything organized ahead of time. I’m usually watching movies right up to the last minute, and everything can shift on a dime depending on how I react to things. Even that overload of movies at the end of the year has started to wear on me. I would rather watch things at a normal human pace and just enjoy them for what they are instead of doing this ridiculous comparison game.
This year, as things have changed for me in terms of this new project, I have felt a reset happening inside of me as well. I feel myself slipping back into a very different way of watching and processing movies, one where I am far less concerned with anything other than how a movie made me feel. I don’t care about awards or influencing anyone or trying to satisfy the politics that go into list-making when you’re publishing on a big giant public platform. I don’t feel like beating anyone up for making something that doesn’t work for me… I just don’t see the point. I like the things I like for the reasons I like, and none of the rest of it matters. This is how I watched movies for most of my life and I am finding that the analytical side of my brain has more and more trouble engaging because the other side is in such active overdrive. Movies are a drug for me, something I can use to alter my mood or my consciousness, and part of the reason I’ve spent over 45 years of my life absolutely devouring movies is so I’d have the knowledge to program the right film at the right moment for myself. As a critic, all that went out the window, and everything just became an endless IV opened up as wide as possible, all on everyone else’s schedule.
I’m happy to close out this year of Formerly Dangerous by sharing with you the 20 films that landed the hardest on me. These are the movies that meant the most to me personally. I have not seen everything that came out. I didn’t even try. You won’t see a lot of those titles that are actually a next-year release but that people saw at festivals so they feel like they have to give it an award this year. I hate that shit. It always drove me crazy. I’m sure your lists are different than mine depending on what you have or haven’t seen. There’s some big mainstream stuff on the list. You’ve probably had access to most of the things on the list. I don’t think my tastes are especially esoteric in 2022. There were many years when I was at AICN or HitFix when I would routinely see 350 to 400 new films each year. I saw about 160 this year, and I liked well over half of them. I just plain didn’t see a lot of things, and I picked things based more on what I expected to like than on any pressure to see every single thing. I expect the same will be true to an even greater degree in 2023.
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