As I see the best of the year lists popping up, I once again think about another approach I wish critics would employ–namely, instead of identifying the best works relative to other works within a given year, identify the works in a given year that compare favorably with the all-time great works. One drawback here is that none of the works may meet this criterion. For me, I don’t see this as a drawback. Here’s the reason why (and this will explain my overall mindset with regard to this topic).
First of all, there are many terrific books, music, movies, etc., from previous years, that I haven’t consumed. Indeed, I will almost certainly not be able to experience them of them. Second, like most people, my time and energy is highly limited. Because of these two factors, it shouldn’t be surprising that I care less about the best works within a given year. Instead, I care about the works that compare favorably to the best works of the past–i.e., the all-time great works. (I would settle for works that compare favorably to the best within a decade.) Given my limited time and energy, I don’t want to waste either. Is it just me?
A part of me feels like the relatively large interest in best of the year lists stems from inertia–i.e., we’ve always done it this way. In the past, prior to the internet and other technologies, when we had less access to art, entertainment and information, especially from a different time period, this approach made sense, especially when movies could primarily be seen in theaters. But it seems to make less sense now. Individuals have tremendous access to works from the past and from different cultures, which has expanded our options. Because of this, critics and curators should now expand the time frame beyond a given year. That is, they should compare new work with ones that came from the past (and possibly from other cultures). Again, I’m surprised if this puts me in a small minority.
Maybe there are many others who agree with me, but the best of the year lists continue out of the desire for profits, as these best of the year lists and awards help promote current movies, etc. At the same time, if sales for past works increased, wouldn’t that also be a good way to generate revenue? (Perhaps, it’s inferior to the sales of newer works?)