By Jonathan Rosenbaum
I’ve been getting increasingly suspicious of ten-best lists–maybe because the studios have been treating them as increasingly important. I’ve always regarded such list making as a critical activity, a form of stocktaking that benefits critics and audiences alike. But it’s becoming obvious that studios value the lists only as a part of their ad campaigns, and they seem to arrange their multiple end-of-the-year screenings and mail out their numerous “screener” videos for the press accordingly. Why else are so many reviewers implausibly claiming that most of the best movies of 2000 came out during the last two weeks of the year or haven’t even surfaced yet? Are they suffering from amnesia? Or are they simply going for the bait?
The studios define the year according to when movies open in New York and Los Angeles, where they’re often first screened in November and December so that they qualify for that year’s Oscars. As a consequence, critics in what the studios see as the hinterlands, including Chicago, are being encouraged to put movies on their ten-best lists that their readers can’t see for some time.
If studios cared about the services performed by criticism–which range from providing background information and an overall context for new releases to launching discussions about their subjects and explaining why these movies matter–they’d try to let critics see films shortly before they have to review them.… Read more »