Among the many things that have always confounded me about film criticism is how largely subjective it is…. How can two intelligent people watch a movie and come away with such completely different reactions? It’s one of the reasons why I have such a difficult time writing reviews: While I find “L’Enfant” and “Children of Men” to be powerful, moving cinematic experiences, and “The Departed” and “Army of Shadows” unsatisfying, the absolute reverse is true for many others. One of the things that the annual Film Critics Poll (formerly at the Village Voice, now at indieWIRE) accomplishes is to arrive at some semblance of consensus. It’s a fascinating trick, mathematically derived and meticulously constructed, to arrive at something as ineffable and indescribable as the “best movie of the year.”
But there is an important purpose to such pretention. In an article accompanying this year’s poll, Dennis Lim writes, “We hope that by calling attention to some of the year’s most overlooked films, our List of Lists generates its own kind of hype. With any luck, an aggregate survey of this scale and scope, drawn from this particular electorate, serves as a meaningful counterpoint to the numbing groupthink of the critics’ awards.”
There is also the real film-industrial factor, pointed out in my own article about the year’s best films without distribution, that such lists could actually help worthy films get seen by a wider audience.
There is also the simple fun of such a vast poll, and reading the critics’ sound off about the best, the worst, and most unsung films of the year. Sure, there’s a bit of the insular wankfest in hearing critics attack and praise the year in cinema. But it’s also about — in this particular case — looking at the culture and art of movies. And that’s something that most year-end awards seem to forget.