As a critic, I hate to admit this: top ten lists get on my nerves.
Sometimes I like them. There are a (very) few movie critics with whom I nearly always agree, and whose lists provide me with some way to make sure I didn't miss anything vital this year. Book lists are handy for finding new books to read.
But I question the purpose of the flurry of top ten lists in December. (This year, we have not just top ten of the year, but top ten of the decade, which may be contributing to my general antsiness.) Why do we do this every year? Why are we so obsessed with reading them, critiquing them, and acting completely outraged when someone else didn't like ten things as much as we did?
Music lists are the worst. People's musical tastes range so widely, and so many albums come out each year that it's pretty much impossible to stay on top of the field. Top fifty lists might do a decent job at enumerating the most important or artistically excellent albums of the year. But top ten lists are so obviously subjective, and also so obviously inflammatory. Everyone has an opinion. There's an amazing amount of name-calling, which comes close to the kind of bile that usually accompanies Presidential elections and "tea parties."
Why all the hate? After all, the fact that you didn't like There Will Be Blood as much as I did has very little to do with your worth as a person—or mine, for that matter. Pitchfork's top albums list is not going to kill anyone. It probably won't even make a huge dent in a particular artist's career, especially if the album's already been out for many months.
I think it probably has something to do with "identifying the tribe," something we postmoderns are obsessed with. We identify ourselves by what we wear, watch, listen to, read, and eat. (Just look at Facebook.) It is, at times, a fairly accurate indicator: if you hate The Wire, Iron & Wine, WALL-E, The Corrections, Stranger Than Fiction, and, above all, Arrested Development, we may just not be the kind of people who will get on too well.
Or, on the other hand, maybe we will. I have at times written people off because of one of their "favorite things," only to find out that we may not be from the same tribe, but we sure share some common ancestry. (Although if you don't see the point of reading books, we may really have a problem.)
Top ten lists also give us a chance to act as if our taste is the best, and everyone else's is crap, and then get personally offended if someone disagrees with us. Is it worth it?
This year, I'm boycotting top ten lists. (Well, I can't entirely. I was part of the voting on Paste's top films and top television shows of the decade which, I think, are fairly nice lists.) I'm tired of us arguing over stuff that is really kind of pointless. Some cultural artifacts are more skillfully made or culturally important than others, but in the end, if I like a movie and you don't . . . we can still be friends.