Hey Critics - STOP Running Best of the Year Lists in Early December
by Alex Billington
December 13, 2021
It happens year after year, always right at the end of November. Weeks before whatever year we're currently in is over, websites and magazines and newspapers and critics groups start publishing their Best of the Year lists. But, why? Why at the start of December? Is this really necessary? These lists can't rightfully be called "Best of the Year" when the year isn't even over. When there are still more films to be seen. It's more like The Best Films That Publicists Decided to Show Us in the Last 11 Months. What about the next 4 weeks? This year there's at least two BIG releases that haven't been shown yet: Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Matrix Resurrections. Sure, the typical argument is "oh, well these probably won't make the best of the year lists anyway." But why not give them a chance? Why not just wait, you know, until the END of the actual year? Then once you've seen everything, once you take time to catch up with other films you might've missed, go ahead & start publishing the lists. That makes way more sense than what everyone is doing now.
As usual, critics groups and journalists will immediately defend this without ever thinking maybe things can be different and people will still read these "Best Of" lists. The conventional excuse for running Best of the Year lists early is that being first, and publishing in early December, means you get more attention, more traffic, more clicks, more copies (of the magazine/newspaper) sold, because December "is the end of the year" so people want to recap the end of the year then. But I just don't believe that's the case anymore. Not to mention, plenty of people will still read these lists in January anyway. The COVID-19 pandemic has kind of flattened our experience with time anyway, so it doesn't matter that we're no longer in 2021 (or whatever year it is) because everyone knows a year is 12 months and something can happen in December and still be part of that year. E.g. a movie or two can open and still be counted in that year. So… why don't we just give our Best of the Year lists some time to breathe, give ourselves some extra time to think about them? Okay…?
The other excuse that many will give is that it's all part of the awards season. Before the other organizations start to announce their nominations and discuss who will be the front-runners in the awards season, critics and awards pundits need to get their lists out early! And yes, it's true, if you're a professional critic you've seen most of the important films of the year by the end of November anyway. But that means you're just part of the awards season machine, you're just a cog in wheel, following what you're told about which films are important and stepping in line with the publicists and the films they (are paid) to support. Sometimes a few critics break out of the mold, highlight some underrated and unexpected films. But it may also take time to catch up with these. You may only get a screener to watch these films in the middle of December. Or there's some other film that is opening in the middle of December you might only watch this month. It seems totally rational and normal to say, you know, I'll keep watching and just wait to run my Best of the Year in January.
Due to a looming deadline and a lack of screening access/screeners, it's looking like NIGHTMARE ALLEY, LICORICE PIZZA and THE MATRIX will be 2022 movies for me. Grieve appropriately.
— Jeremy Smith (@mrbeaks) December 13, 2021
All of the studios are pressured to show their big awards contenders by the first week of December – or else risk missing out on potential "Best Of" buzz. But this is nonsense. (The whole awards season needs a shake up but that's a story for another day.) So much pressure and stress and "you better watch this now or else!" I just watched a screener of Mamoru Hosoda's anime Belle this past weekend. And it's wonderful! I loved it! I haven't even seen The Matrix Resurrections yet, still waiting for Warner Bros to screen it. I seriously won't even consider making my final Top 10 of 2021 without it. Filmmaker Mike Mills' sublime new film C'mon C'mon initially opened in select theaters in early November, but I only caught up with it recently. It instantly earned a spot on my Top 10 (I edit + add on Letterboxd throughout the year). But who knows what other movies I may yet discover in December that might also be that good? I can't see everything, of course, there's not enough time for that. But there are a few more weeks this year that I have to watch more movies.
The year ain't over yet, folks… It's still 2021! For *checks notes* 19 more days. I just get tired of seeing this happen every year, for no good reason other than shouting out, "First!" Or, "Look, here's our fancy list from our critics that are definitely smarter than you, dear reader, who hasn't even had a chance to watch most of these films yet!" I think it's time we stay STOP. Take a moment to relax, let the films breathe for a bit. Let the year END before we start running all of our "End of the Year" lists. Watch more films that you may have missed. Wait for others that haven't been released yet. Rewatch your favorites again to make sure they hold up. Talk about them, discuss them with friends and colleagues. Read reviews. Read different analysis and editorials about your favorites. Heck, read about the movies you don't like that others love. I've learned over 15 years of running a movie website called FirstShowing, that used to be about running everything first, that sometimes you don't need to be first. It doesn't always matter. Sometimes it's better to just… take your time.