As a film lover (and as a music fan), I find that I am inextricably bound to a fondness for list-making, for rank ordering the best of the best, for almost arbitrarily ordaining certain pieces of artistic work as more artistic than others. It is silly. I am aware. But, it is also fun and convenient.
Citizen Kane would be just an amazing movie without the title of greatest film of all time (see “Sight and Sound” magazine, the American Film Institute, etc.), wouldn’t it? However, calling it the best, or putting at the top of a list, applies some greater meaning to the wonder of the film.
This ranking and ordering of pop culture is why we love our awards shows so much (never mind that this year’s Oscars were the lowest rated in the history of the Nielson rating). There is still a marked boost in the ticket sales and DVD sales of movies that win awards.
People like to feel smart. If you saw the best picture winner of a given year, then you can say that some part of you recognized and applauded greatness. More kudos to you if you saw the documentary and foreign film winners, but how much hipster, street-cred do you really need?
Does it matter if you didn’t see every best picture nominee this year? Will you be laughed at in board meetings? Will your friends shun you and, one by one, cease to return your phone calls? Probably not, and if they do, then they weren’t really your friends in the first place. However, it is never a bad thing to garner a little outside, “scholarly” opinion (big quotes around scholarly; film is the people’s medium) when choosing your next movie experience.
The point is that organizing our culture into digestible lists of Top Tens and Best ofs is a populist move, but it serves a greater purpose when used to exemplify what we find most enjoyable and inspiring in our art. It is a good thing and highlighting a good thing, with awards and lists and honorable mentions and schoolyard chatter, is a great thing.