I recently had the displeasure of leafing through Entertainment Weekly's list of the "New Classics." It reminded me instantly of why I don't watch or read anything entertainment-related from the month of November to February. (A teaser: in the TV section, The Real World, Miami Vice and Arsenio Hall are all mentioned, and rated highly in some cases.) No two people will ever entirely agree on lists, but all too often, lists are simply a means to get on Digg, or in the case of a printed edition like EW, to get some mindless content on the page in absence of actual commentary or criticism.
I now present to you the Five Reasons Why Entertainment Lists Suck:
- They usually reflect whatever people are likely to remember from the last 5 months. Case in point: E! Channel's endless round ups often are a clearing house for films which have been released in the last calendar year. As much as "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle" might be deemed by them as a top ten funniest film of all time, most of us beg to differ. Perhaps the writers in question don't have much of an attention span, or perhaps they are just lazy (or perhaps both, Adderall's a bitch.) It simply does not live up to "definitive."
- There are no surprises, or controversial choices. AFI is the worst perpetrator of this. "Citizen Kane: best film of all time." O RLY? Whilst it was a significant departure at the time from traditional stories, and it was an huge leap technologically, there are several films that are every bit as good, if not better. (Though I might not agree completely, STORY Author Robert McKee argues quite effectively that Casablanca was the best film ever made.) You also know that someone at EW was phoning it in when number three in their New Classics list was Titanic. Mmmmm Treacle. It's excellent on buttered toast, but absolute shite on a film screen.
- Often based on buzz or box office receipts. Some of the best films of all time did not make bank. Some films' box office receipts have not been corrected for inflation, and thus languish at the bottom of the pile. No one is really that interested in the highest grossing films of all time, in the context of reading an article about it, or watching a one hour, glossy special on the television. We care about why an author has chosen these particular films. Why did they choose "Saving Private Ryan" over the infinitely better "The Longest Day?" If the answer is solely in the cash register, the whole exercise is lost.
- Lack of Insight. Whilst AFI lists supposedly have established "criteria" for judging the films in their lists, they, along with E! and EW don't give much sound reasoning to their choices. This dovetails to the problem with controversial choices. The Breakfast Club made EW's New Classics list. This is a common film which is bandied about as "Best of the Eighties." I would argue fiercely that Sixteen Candles is the best Molly Ringwald movie of all time, because it is a great send up of everything it means to be a teen, whereas the Breakfast Club is a bit of a dirge which slows to a near halt in the second act. I would argue the best teen movie of the Eighties is Fast Times at Ridgemont High, because of its deft weaving of actual issues into the fun and insanity of what it means to come of age. This is the type of insight lacking in most entertainment lists.
- Kissing Up. In every list published, or presented on television, there is a high percentage of kissing up to certain people who these parties need to interview to shift their product. There is another insidious method of including certain entries to look "with it" or "well read." (Entries which will always appear which fall under this category include Schindler's List (a fine movie, but gets used for political reasons) Anything by Woody Allen (I love his films, but he's the indicator that the person mentioning him can be taken seriously) and anything which is a BBC Co-Production, or period piece. (For which, I will use my all time favourite jackass quote, from one Mr. Johnny Depp, when asked if he was romantic. He replied "Am I a romantic? I've seen Wuthering Heights 10 times. I'm a romantic." Asshattery at its finest, folks.)
Not all lists suck, but lists shouldn't exist on their own without some proper work, examination, and criticism thrown in for good measure. (C'mon, kids, you can use that expensive English degree!) It is not enough to assemble a bunch of shit you scribbled on to a napkin that time when you smoked the good weed, and publish it. You are in a privileged position to add some colour to your articles, and turn the average boob on to some truly excellent entertainment. Come on guys, step it up.