The Act of Making Top 10 Lists

One writer's near-instantaneous mea culpa for—and revision to—his year-end top ten movies.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

I know I'm going to blow some minds when I say this, but truly, the act of making top ten lists is an imperfect science. I'm not just talking subjectivity. That's a given. This time of year, all the lists and retrospectives and what was important and what were the bests and worsts and most over- and underrated—it's all just our way of making sure that the art that we loved doesn't get forgotten when the calendar flips over to the next year. This is good. This is fun. It does come with its baked-in challenges, though.

Foremost among those challenges is timing. Year-end lists are ideally—and again, I apologize for the bits of mind that I'm blowing clear across the room—made at the end of the year. But they're not, quite. My Top 10 Movies list went up on December 17, which was actually kind of late. New York's David Edelstein's Top 10 published on December 8. We do this for fairly understandable reasons: everybody's on vacation or spending stupid quality time with their stupid families over the last two weeks of the year. We want to publish our lists when there's a chance you all will see them, read them, and argue about them.

So we publish Top 10 lists on December 8. The question of "what about the movies that open in the 23 remaining days of the year?" is answered rather simply, as press screenings are set up and screeners sent to make sure the nation's film critics and pundits don't miss out on the rather large number of movies that open at the end of the year. This is imperfect as well, because the end of the year tends to be a pretty busy time. Holiday parties and Christmas shopping and the temperature just dropped about 15 degrees in three hours so now you're sick. You can't see everything.

Then there's everything from the first eleven months of the year that you may have missed. I have seen roughly 119 films that opened theatrically in the United States in 2013. That's not counting the 20 films I saw at festivals which won't open until 2014. According to Box Office Mojo, 664 films have been released domestically this year. And we've still got 12 days to go.

There's a sense of guilt that accompanies a film writer's Top 10. You know you haven't seen everything. You make your choices. You are but one person. You make your best-faith effort to have seen all the "important" movies. You trust that not having seen The Lone Ranger won't put an indelible black mark on your list. You, let's say, create spreadsheets in Google Docs that lay out all the major releases you missed and attempt to prioritize them in an airtight system, but at the end of the day, you are but one person. So you caveat. I still haven't seen The Wolf of Wall Street. Probably won't until it actually opens theatrically. I am but one person.

So I published my Top 10 list yesterday. It's a good list; I stand by it. You should see whatever movies are on that list that you haven't seen. It's as comprehensive as I could possibly make it. And then, after work, I sat down and watched Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, a bold and ambitious documentary about killers for the brutal Indonesian regime tasked with filming recreations of their murders. As soon as it was finished, I knew I needed to amend my list. This happens, I should say, all the time. Almost every year. I remember the year I saw Jane Campion's Bright Star after I had published my list. I was inconsolable for weeks. I maybe am still not over it.

Ultimately, what happens is, you end up with two lists. One is the list you have memorialized on the internet, for everyone to see, that will stand forever or until the Singularity, whatever comes first. That one's your time capsule. The other list is the one you keep adding to and tinkering, if only in the back of your mind.

That said, I'm totally amending my Top 10 list. It's been less than 24 hours, and I'm claiming it as my right to make one change. ONE. If I see Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways tonight (which I am) and it suddenly becomes my #1 movie of the year, well, that'll be on me. The Act of Killing will end up bumping The Place Beyond the Pines down to an honorable mention which, judging by some of the reactions to the piece, will be a welcome change for some. I'll stand behind that behemoth of an ode to dudes, however. But The Act of Killing earned its spot, even a day late.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.