Year-End Lists

A hand-curated, browsable index of notable year-end lists. Follow the link for each list to see essential commentary from its author, at the source.

Who runs this?

I’m Rob Davis. I’ve been a cinephile, writer, sometime film critic, and general lurker on film Twitter for years. Here’s a bio.

Why do you collect year-end lists like this?

In recent years I haven't had as much time to see movies, read books, or find new music as I used to. My interest hasn't waned, but having kids will force you to prioritize.

One way to half-way keep up with the broader culture is to watch what people are excited about or advocating for at the end of the year. So I started collecting lists, and I started throwing them into a WordPress blog thinking that somebody else might like to follow along. That was fine and fun for a few years, but what I really wanted was to browse those lists more easily.

Who else liked that odd movie that struck me? And what else did they like?

No blogging engine is going to connect those dots. But, hey, I’m a programmer. I can make that happen. It’s always hard to squish the human world into a structured database, but I only wanted to apply enough structure to allow for more browsability and cross-referencing.

So in 2018 I ditched the blogging platform and wrote the site you see today, imported the unstructured lists from the WordPress blog, and ended up with something far more interesting. The search feature is a work in progress — sorry, it's weak — but what’s nice is that nearly everything you see on Year-End Lists is a link. It’s a groovy technology called hypertext.

Go on. Try it. Connect those dots.

(There’s still some missing structure, to link related works, such as Lemonade the movie and Lemonade the album, or to link “Episode 8” to Twin Peaks as a whole, or to link musical collaborations with their individual contributors. And there are holes to fill, missing lists. Patience. My time is limited.)

Aren't lists bad?

For much wisdom and fire on that subject, I refer you to Elena Gorfinkel's excellent essay — published a while back by the also excellent journal Another Gaze — called "Against Lists." Despite what you might think given this site's energies, I find that what she says rings true.

Ceaselessly writing, reading and consuming this polluted ocean of lists, we enter into the rotten mercantilism of the cinephilic soul. Perhaps more pernicious practices aggrieve film culture, but even so, lists are as banal and telling a symptom as any of this spoiled, melting world.

On a fun and probing episode of the Still Processing podcast from April 14, 2022, Wesley Morris talks with professor Daphne A. Brooks about the questionable canonization that seems to fall out of list-making. In their brisk 37-minute conversation, they contrast best-of lists that are made by gatekeepers and censors with the idea of respectful stewardship, the collective care of objects we value.

Lists are often reductive, obligatory, exclusionary, blinding. They reinforce the status quo. They work by boiling away subtlety, stripping away essence.

And yet...

I’ve found such good books and music and films by browsing them that I can't deny the value of good-faith curation. Maybe the key is to look for lists not to find one that’s correct (i.e. that matches and confirms my taste and puts me in the right circle, and others outside of it) but to find one that carries me somewhere new.

Here's hoping this site helps you do that.

If I submit a list, will you add it?

That depends. Is it notable?

I kid, but the description in the site’s header is covering for my uncertainty about how to answer. This is not an exhaustive list of lists. That's too daunting. It’s a curated collection built, at least initially, from the whims of the maintainer, and those whims aren’t very clear at all, even to said maintainer. These are lists that caught my eye, for whatever reason. Maybe a list was made by someone I’ve been following for years. Maybe it’s a list that's intriguing because it reaches beyond the corner of the world that I know. Maybe it’s a list made by someone I’m unfamiliar with but who many people find insightful, for good reason. Maybe it’s someone I’m unfamiliar with but who has an obviously keen view of art as a force in the world.

One thing’s for sure: if you want your list to appear here, you must post it publicly somewhere else. Then help me find it if I haven't already by using the "Suggest" link at the bottom of the page. This site is not a repository. It’s a signpost. Or a map.

If I make a list, what rules should I follow about release dates?

No rules. Make your list.

Some people make a movie list based on Oscar eligibility, some people use New York release dates, and some people consider anything they happened to see that year. Some exclude self-released mixtapes from their "best albums" lists, but some specialize in them. Regional publications often want their reviewers to submit lists of stuff that was available nearby, some reviewers limit their lists to US releases, and still others consider the whole entire world to be their — I don’t know — oyster.

Fine with me.

Here's what I notice: when I click on the Paul Schrader film First Reformed, I see that lots of people like and respect that film. That thing’s been listed, by people whose taste I appreciate. It really doesn’t matter that some of them consider it a 2017 film (because that’s when they first saw it) and others consider it a 2018 film (because that’s when it received a wider release in the US).

Fret not. List.

But what about people who stick "the Kavanagh hearing" into a movie list?

Yeah, it’s hard to make that browsable. But that’s what we love about the J Hobermans of the world, and the Nicole Brenezses: that they cannot be pluralized.

I’m not really comfortable with my list appearing in this index, and yet you’ve absorbed it. What gives?

I’m sorry about that. Let me know using the “Suggest, Correct” link at the bottom of the page, and I’ll gladly remove it or, if you prefer, fix what bugs you.

This is not a Frequently Asked Question, but I sometimes worry that it is an Occasionally Thought Question. This wasn’t such tricky business when I was compiling lists mostly for myself. Now that more people are visiting this site and click click clicking, it’s possible that adding a list to this index could bring unwanted attention, or somehow elevate a humble chat among friends into a highfalutin Declaration of Artistic Merit, when all you wanted was to speak about some faves in short sequence.

Some cases are easy: if you only post a list to a private forum, as a member exclusive on your Patreon, or as a message to your friends on Facebook, it will not be sucked into this site, even if I’m in that group or among those friends. If it’s in a magazine or other publication, that seems fair to link to, but tweets and world-readable Facebook posts lie in a weird middle ground, both public and private, technically open yet strangely intimate.

As the industry that used to support well-written criticism has fractured, and as writing staffs have shrunk, many writers I’ve been following for ages suddenly have no real outlet for an end-of-the-year summation, except social media. Or even if they do, there's no good way to find lists from prior years, because media companies are cavalier with their archives. Some writers post lists to Twitter, and I’m glad to see them, maybe link to them. But other people post lists in that context without expecting the broader exposure that an outside link might bring, and I try to respect that. Please let me know when I have not.

My list is incorrect, it has an error, you connected it to the wrong artist, or I’ve reconsidered and want to change something.

Drop me a line. Let’s fix it. See "Suggest, Correct" at the bottom of the page.

Could you add the year’s best songs? Or video games?

I included song lists for a while, but they were kind of a pain to maintain. Video games I know nothing about. If enough people were into these categories, I could reconsider them, but as it stands, nah.

Why no tallies?

Look, some people like to tabulate data, and that’s fine. Go nuts. But for the purposes of discovering new stuff, I find the Metacritics and Rotten Tomatoes of the world to be nearly useless. I’d rather hike among the trees and follow twisty paths than get a satellite’s view of the forest. If I had my own Metacritic that was just made up of people whose taste I’m drawn to, well that might be cool. You can get a form of that from Letterboxd, but just for movies. Year-End Lists is a proxy for that kind of thing. If you find a list you like, tap some of its most idiosyncratic entries to find other lists with a built-in affinity for the first.

I’m not very curious about the most loved movie or album in all the world, the mean of the universe. I’m interested in discovery. Like Edward Tufte reading a good chart, I still get a sense of the overall, I still get a sense of the most-mentioned albums and most-listed movies, just by browsing around — eyeballs and brains can do that — but I also pick up lots of weird outliers that might be lost if I just crunched the numbers to determine what's Tops for the Year.

Besides, as soon as you start trying to summarize lists using an aggregate statistic, you realize how different the lists are in conception, and you start thinking about normalizing the data. What are the rules for what’s eligible this year? Well, this site doesn’t impose eligibility rules, couldn’t possibly get anyone to follow them, and avoids falling into a dubious statistical mishmash. A smudge.

But you link to group lists and large polls! Are you calling Pazz & Jop a smudge? You think Sight & Sound is a bunch of hacks?

That’s different. An organization of hand-selected taste-makers has its own personality, even if they combine their individual lists into one. And among the large surveys, the better ones post the long tail of vote totals, and often that’s where the interesting stuff is. A smaller group — like a magazine staff — will often go through a process of hashing out what belongs on the group’s year-end list, and the results of that process have value because they were fired in that furnace.

Are you doing this to get traffic, run ads, get clicks, and make money?

What ads?

Earlier versions of this site — when it was basically a WordPress blog — briefly had a banner ad at the top of every page. The new site has no ads.

I used to have a link under each list that allowed people to “share this list” on a variety of social media platforms. Some people found those links convenient for sending a page to their friends — those links were used — but after a while I found those links to be too creepy. Services that provide such widgets do a lot of tracking. It’s their business model. The widget's mere presence on the page, whether you interact with it or not, leaves cookie crumbs on your computer so that companies can gather statistics and watch what you do, here and elsewhere. And those widgets often make use of tools provided by Facebook, et al., that introduce their own tracking, their own cookies, and direct your browser to connect to their servers, which means they track your approximate location, too.

Forget it.

I do use a rudimentary analytics package so I can see how many visitors I have and what’s being viewed. Aside from that, I lean toward minimalism.

But hear me on this: if you, like me, have a get-rich scheme that involves browsable year-end lists of poetry and the like, please keep it on the down low. These takes are gold, I tell ya.