It’s long been clear that 2014 is a consensus year, at least as far as the best movies and TV are concerned. How much consensus is there? Fivethirtyeight ran the numbers, and as it turns out: a whole heck of a lot. Comparing Top 10 movies, TV and books lists from 30 national publications, Hayley Munguia found that “Boyhood,” “Transparent” and Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila” were the overwhelming favorites: “Boyhood” appeared on 21 out of 21 lists of 2014’s best films; “Transparent” on 13 out of 16; “Lila” on 8 out of 14. (Munguia doesn’t explain why some publications’ lists are counted and some aren’t: The A.V. Club’s books and TV lists are counted, but not movies; Indiewire’s movies are factored in, but not TV.)
You can’t argue the numbers — well, you can, but let’s not. What about the question she poses: If so many Top 10 lists basically agree, do we need so many of them? (The headline is less equivocal: “There Are Way Too Many Top 10 Lists.”)
These lists of course tell us which books, movies and TV shows the critics liked best. But a closer look also reveals which cultural products critics agreed upon most this year — for books, it was Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila”; for movies, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”; and for TV, Amazon’s “Transparent.”
These titles appeared so frequently on 2014 “best of” lists that it made me wonder about the whole year-end enterprise. If the lists basically agree, do we really need so many of them?
I spoke to Maureen Ryan, The Huffington Post’s TV critic, who told me that, at least as far as television goes, “there’s consensus in the top half [of critics’ top 10 lists], but when you get to numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, that’s when you see people’s personal taste or quirks of what they like.”
You could start by asking who “we” are, or what “need” means: Realistically speaking, we don’t need Top 10 lists at all, but they’re a handy device for drawing attention to art that critics feel is especially worth standing behind. As Ryan points out, there’s often overlap, but it’s not total: According to Munguia, roughly half of the movies and TV lists she looked at — 54 percent for movies, 49 percent for TV — contain at least one title that’s not on anyone else’s list. Ironically, those are the ones that tend to get lost in the din, especially by analyses by Fivethirtyeights: When you reduce a Top 10 to a simple list of titles — which, to be fair, is what the format encourages — you lose the individual arguments for why each movie or TV show or book or album is worth singling out, which may differ widely even when the names are the same.
So, are there too many Top 10 lists? You could say that, just as you could argue that there are too many movies and too much TV. But you can also say that the more there is to sort through, the more “we” “need” critics to sort through it all, and that consensus sends a powerful message of its own.