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How to Make a Ten Best List

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 9, 2011 at 7:23PM

'Tis the season when ten best lists start rolling in. I smile when I get my first Christmas card, always from John Waters (Highland, Maryland), whose Ten Best is in Art Forum, natch, and below. Kris Tapley and I delivered ours in this week's Oscar Talk podcast; I'll publish mine and the TOH crew's lists on Monday. Herewith are some early lists, below; Sight & Sound had 101 critics weigh in, and Mubi is collecting lists as well, including the Cahiers du Cinema.
4
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life

'Tis the season when ten best lists start rolling in. I smile when I get my first Christmas card, always from John Waters (Highland, Maryland), whose Ten Best is in Art Forum, natch, and below. Kris Tapley and I delivered ours in this week's Oscar Talk podcast; I'll publish mine and the TOH crew's lists on Monday. Herewith are some early lists, below; Sight & Sound had 101 critics weigh in, and Mubi is collecting lists as well, including the Cahiers du Cinema.

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 Rolling Stone's Peter Travers (below): he listed three commercial titles as number 10.

The Skin I Live In
The Skin I Live In

Time's Richard Corliss:

1. "The Artist"
2. "Hugo"
3. "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame"
4. "The Tree of Life"
5. "War Horse"
6. "Super 8"
7. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
8. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
9. "Rango"
10. "Fast Five"

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers:

1. "Drive"
2. "The Artist"
3. "The Descendants"
4. "Moneyball"
5. "Midnight in Paris"
6. "Hugo"
7. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
8. "Margin Call"
9. "The Tree of Life"
10. "War Horse," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part Two," "The Help"

IMDb CEO Col Needham:
1. "The Descendants"
2. "Shame"
3. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
4. "The Artist"
5. "Melancholia"
6. "Crazy, Stupid, Love"
7. "Like Crazy"
8. "Super 8 "
9. "The Ides of March"
10. "A Separation"

IMDb Managing Editor Keith Simanton
1. "Tree of Life"
2. "Melancholia"
3.  "The Descendants"
4. "Drive"
5. "The Artist"
6. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
7. "Pariah"
8. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
9. "Shame"
10. "Attack the Block"

The Cahiers du Cinema (in alphabetical order, off the cover):
    •    "A Burning Hot Summer" (Philippe Garrel)
    •    "Essential Killing" (Jerzy Skolimowski)
    •    "House of Tolerance" (Bertrand Bonello)
    •    "Meek's Cutoff" (Kelly Reichardt)
    •    "Melancholia" (Lars von Trier)
    •    "Outside Satan" (Bruno Dumont)
    •    "The Strange Case of Angelica" (Manoel de Oliveira)
    •    "Super 8" (JJ Abrams)
    •    "The Tree of Life" (Terrence Malick)
    •    "We Have a Pope" (Nanni Moretti)

John Waters in Art Forum, here's five of his ten:


1 The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar) A dark, twisted, beautiful, and, yes, funny shocker from the greatest director in the world. God bless you, Pedro Almodóvar!
2 Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes) This elegantly shot, pitch-perfect made-for-TV melodrama makes everyone who watches secretly yearn to be a woman with issues. The best period film in decades—period.
3 Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Jon M. Chu) I’m not kidding. A well-made doc that proves the Bieb was a child prodigy. Wait until you see Justin stick his head into the audience and shake his hair in 3-D. I screamed.
4 Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont) In this grim, fiercely uncommercial movie, a fanatical Catholic young lady from a rich family hooks up with a handsome male Muslim terrorist, and together they blow up a commuter train. Love is strange, especially when God is involved.
5 Kaboom (Gregg Araki) A sexy, well-written, end-of-the-world comedy that succeeds beyond all expectation. Doomsday never looked so hot.

This article is related to: Reviews, Awards, Awards, Lists


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.