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15 December 2008

Time for the top ten

By Harry Williams

As the year draws to a close, the time comes to take stock of what 2008 has added to the mound of artistic endeavour.

In line with the craze for Best Of lists, books editors will be searching round for those definitive novels, biographies, memoirs and histories which readers and critics have snatched from the deluge of this year’s published material. One lauded book, Pierre Bayard’s ‘How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read’, may come in handy when perusing these lists, the guilt of unbent spines offset by considering oneself a crusader against “the oppressive image of cultural literacy without gaps”.

Arts editors will look back to the big blockbuster successes of Rothko and Bacon at the Tate, ‘From Russia’ at the Royal Academy, and that great warehouse show in Peckham that, if you’re in the know, you’d know was the Next Big Thing. Barenboim playing Beethoven’s sonatas, Leonard Cohen at Glastonbury (see clip below), the rise of Glasvegas: perhaps some of the year’s musical highlights. And then there’s dance and theatre.
The art form best suited to the compiling of lists is film. ‘Best of’ lists have been popping up all over the arts press this week. Sight and Sound’s December issue seeks the advice of 150 critics in the search for the year’s Top Ten. At number one is Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’, one of three British films along with Mike Leigh’s ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’, and Terence Davies’s ‘Of Time and the City’. The Guardian Critics’ Poll has ‘Hunger’ in ninth position, giving top film to the Coen Brothers’s ‘No Country for Old Men’. This is followed by ‘Man on Wire’, which also makes the Top Six in the Times Top 100 list.

Other big hitters gleaned from the proliferating December lists on the internet are ‘Waltz with Bashir’, ‘Gomorrah’, and the Romanian film, ‘4 Months, 3 weeks, and 2 days’.

On his Books Blog, Guardian writer Robert McCrum writes that “the book world is in full-blown transition”, with the rise of the digital book compounded by job cuts in publishing, and in literary journalism. While the latter may be a passing effect of crunching credit, the internet’s absorption of the traditional book is potentially revolutionary. In his Nobel acceptance speech, French writer J.M.G. Le Clezio addressed exactly this issue, stressing the importance of the physical book, “practical, easy to handle, economical”, in a globalised world. “We live in the era of the Internet and virtual communication. This is a good thing, but what would these astonishing inventions be worth, were it not for the teachings of written language and books?”

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