Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
28 December 2022

Why I hate end-of-year lists

We think of them as a glimpse into a person’s taste, but they’re more revealing of how that person wants to be seen.

By Simran Hans

Five years ago, in an email newsletter, I wrote the following: “I wanted to write about my year in film, but 2017 was the year I stopped writing stuff down.”

That spring, I had started a job as a film critic for a newspaper, and was watching somewhere between five and ten films per week. Probably, I was overwhelmed; the sheer volume I was consuming made logging films feel like I was keeping a food diary – a moralistic record of my virtues and shortcomings. Each obscure screening I added to my public Letterboxd account, I felt, was indicative of my intellectual curiosity and good taste. But each rewatch of a Nancy Meyers movie revealed how willing I was to squander my spare time. As an experiment, I decided to opt out. I logged off, curious to see if it would change my habits.

When Sight & Sound magazine’s decennial poll of “The Greatest Films of All Time” was released earlier this year, it made headlines (“Film directed by woman picked as best ever,” wrote the BBC). I’ve been thinking about lists; best-of lists, end-of-year lists, the list of photographs and images I might refer to as a “dump” on Instagram. Lists, I have decided, are bad.

We think of lists as a glimpse into a person’s taste, but they’re more revealing of how that person wants to be seen. They’re less a way of sorting through and finding meaning in what we’ve consumed, and more about how we’d like a person to see our politics, our sense of humour, and where we locate beauty. The very act of list-making reorganises our personal encounters with art into a consumer guide for others.

It’s a human impulse to want to consolidate our experiences for posterity – but a list of movies I like today, I might not like tomorrow. Trying to figure out what films I might deem important, or interesting, in a decade’s time has never struck me as a particularly useful exercise.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

In theory, lists are a tool for documenting discovery, but in reality, they simply encourage consensus. What we encounter is dictated by what we already know about, what we have access to, and what has already been preserved by both history and technology. In 2019, the film academic Elena Gorfinkel wrote in her excellent manifesto “Against Lists” that “lists of films will not reorganise how films gain and lose value”.

Content from our partners
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate
How deception can become your friend

My year of not keeping a list did end up changing my habits. It reminded me to view films as experiences that I felt in the moment, instead of data I could analyse and share afterwards. It encouraged me to follow my own curiosities without performing them. Except I found that without the list I couldn’t always recall what I’d seen. I ended up reinstating the practice, this time for myself, as a note in my phone – where no one else can see it.

[See also: Why brass music has such a special relationship with Christmas]

Topics in this article :