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How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps

How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps

So far we have top tens from Vulture, TIME, Vanity Fair, Sight & Sound, Artforum, Cahiers du Cinema and many more, rounded up here. Ours will drop on Friday, and in this week’s episode of Screen Talk.

Most film critics who make a ten best list use the following simple rules:

1. Include a selection of brainy consensus critical faves of the sort that are likely to be Oscar contenders.

2. Add a few popular hits as well to show that you click with the mainstream.

3. Add at least one wild blue yonder arcane title, either foreign or up-and-coming indie, that will leave readers scratching their heads, impressed with your erudition. This proves that you saw way more movies than they did.

4. Explain yourself in readable short blurbs (that many traffic-chasing editors will stick into a click-by-click photo gallery), but please have the courtesy to list the films somewhere on a single page.

5. If you want to write about the honorable mentions that almost made your list, fine, but the list itself should be pure (alphabetical is less macho than numbering your preferences). You should never have a tie, or do the chicken move of listing more than one title as number 10.

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All of this can essentially be boiled down to one point: ignore popular opinion and follow your own.

John Gholson

There’s an prickly tone to this piece, and one that fuels an incorrect and dismissive argument that critical evaluation is all politics and agenda. I’m not sure why a film critic would want to add another log to that fire. The End of Year lists always spotlight deserved films, "arcane" or not – films that are part of the conversation or films that need to be part of the conversation. I can’t see everything so I trust the lists (from the authors I trust) to not only influence my viewing decisions but give me a deeper insight into how the author looks at film. But jokes is jokes, I guess.


@Brian Maybe that’s the point? Some critics may want to shed light on really great films that people haven’t heard of and may have overlooked over the year.


Some ten-best lists posted here stick entirely to #3, listing only films that most people reading the list have never heard of and will never see.

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