Now that Christmas is over, I have a new seasonal tune stuck in my head. Maybe it wasn't intended as a holiday song, but it's one I often find myself humming around the end of December and start of January: "Nothing Was Delivered," an obscure
It's a song that gives me strength as a recovering list addict. I have so far steered clear of whiskey,
Every year in college, as a ritual, my critical-minded friends and I would trade our annual best-of lists: Ten best movies of the year! Ten worst songs of the year!
While others fretted about Western civilization ending with Y2K, we fretted about whether
I'm better now, of course. (That "Nothing Was Delivered" chorus may have helped; in fact, at the time I stopped making lists, it was my 37th favorite Dylan tune and steadily gaining on "Mr. Tambourine Man" at No. 36.) But just as alcoholics can suffer a relapse during the holidays amid all the wine and merriment, list addicts can find those old temptations nagging them again.
Day after day, left and right, we're bombarded in December with lists from different publications trying to condense the year into five or 10 definitive slots. The New Yorker recently got into the spirit irreverently when it posted a list of "The Hundred Best Lists of All Time," which included Schindler's list (No. 13), the Apollo 11 surface checklist (25) and the National Register of Historic Places (66), with an option to choose Generations of Adam from the Book of
With so many numerals out there, I found myself the other day toying with my own best-movies list of the year. No. 1? Let's say "Lincoln" — as a prestige picture, it looks more in its element there than
If you've seen the movie
But that's assuming that any critical list gets anything right at all, and I'm convinced, after so many enlightening years, that it never does. So, just for old time's sake, here's a list of the Top Three Reasons Why I Despise Best-of Lists:
1. They're entirely subjective. If two runners finish first and second in a race, what does that mean? It means one of them ran faster than the other. But if "Ulysses" edges out "The Great Gatsby" for the best novel of the century, what's the margin of victory? Slightly more plot? More social significance? Or how about the difference between 77 and 78 on a top-100 list? Do we have a mathematical formula, as Rolling Stone no doubt does, to determine whether
2. They create broad categories for wildly dissimilar things. The
The ultimate case in point: In 1999, Entertainment Weekly compiled a cover-story list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Television. No. 1 was
3. They get in the way of pure enjoyment. Over the years, I've spoken to several people who watched
When we give works of art a mathematical reputation to live up to, they're bound to underwhelm. Leaving those digits off can let us appreciate the qualities — candor, experimentation, pure anarchic fun — that caused people to fall in love with them before they got mounted on a pedestal.
Looking back at that list, I think the third item may be most important (and in that case, I'm proud of myself for randomly slotting it third). Art, as John Keats implied, is about truth and beauty, and both of those things can reveal themselves unpredictably. Can we always explain what makes us fixate on a painting? Do songs ever grab us the 70th time more than they did the first? There's no applying a number to those things.
And besides, when we consider — oh, the heck with academic reasoning. The bottom line is, no movie released in 2012 could possibly be more wonderful than "Wreck-It Ralph." And I refuse to honor any top-10 list that puts it in a corner.