I never used to be much of a television watcher, but since the Anno Virum began, Marcia and I have generally watched something on the tube together most nights, even as our once frequent visits to movie theaters have dwindled into negligible numbers. While we’re no longer housebound as the virus has moved from pandemic to endemic state, our pleasant quarantine evening television habit has continued on mostly unabated. That being said, I can never stand to watch garbage just for the sake of killing time, so I do remain pretty selective on what I want to spend my time staring at, and I do a fair amount of reading and research on a running basis to try to find quality films for our evening entertainment.
As longtime readers here are no doubt aware, I’m also an inveterate list-maker, so when I’ve watched films I’ve enjoyed, I add them to a file I keep, so that I might refresh my memory when the end of the year arrives and I want to post my annual best films report here at the website. (Here’s last year’s list, for perspective). I’ve got 52 films released in 2022 on my pending list at the moment, from which I will cull my year-end “Best Of” report, supplementing it with whatever comes out and moves me between now and (nominally) December 31. I’ve seen some truly great films this year, a few that I might consider for my all-time favorite film list. There have been epic performances, amazing scripts, beautiful photography, incredible animation, sublime direction, stellar songs and scores, and all sorts of other cinematic highlights.
In trying to see how and where my own tastes might be aligning with 2022’s cinematic zeitgeist, I recently looked at one of the major trade magazines to see which of my favorite films and performances of the year might be trending highly with the professional cinematic chattering class. And I have to say that I was shocked that not a single one of my 52 favorite films thus far in 2022 appeared on the top contenders’ lists for any of what I count as the major Academy Award categories (Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, Score). Not one! NOT! ONE!!
Interestingly, though, the reason for that was not because I have bad taste, but rather because none of the critics’ favorite films and performances of 2022 have actually been released where regular folks like you and I can see them. They’ve screened at some select festivals or in very limited rund, for the most part, and are then being hoarded until the very end of the year for wide release, since apparently Oscar voters all have memory issues and have to see things within days or weeks or submitting their ballots. The net effect of this approach is that it makes release date much more important than it should be in critical consideration of the year’s best projects, and it also has a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect, as the critics and trade magazines and online repeaters get told over and over again what the best of the best is going to be, before it’s possible to make any decisions based on, you know, actually seeing the films in question.
(As an aside, yes, I know that Oscars don’t really matter, and that year-end lists are all artificial constructs anyway, as art is not bound by calendar-time. But in the same way that January 1 is always seen as a good day for life-changing resolutions to shape the year ahead, so is December 31 seen as a good day for looking back and reflecting. And while I pay less than no attention to the Emmys and Grammies and Tonies and such, Oscar Night still stands with the Super Bowl for me as one of the two big “All-American” television events that I make a point of watching and critiquing every year, for no good reason that I can explain).
This film industry practice got me to thinking about my own approaches to criticism in the public domain, more especially with regard to music. I have written and posted a “Best Albums of the Year” report for 30 straight years, and I usually do it around the end of November, or the beginning of December, believing as I do that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a given year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that. As I considered the fact this week that Oscar-bait films are all packed into the end of the year, I then started to wonder how long I actually tended to live with albums over years past before judging them to be the best things I heard in any given year.
Fortunately, since this website and my prior print archives go back that far, and then some, I was able to check the actual release dates of all 30 albums that I have judged to be the best of the best since 1992. Of those thirty, here is how their release dates fell by month over the past three decades:
- January: Three albums
- February: One album
- March: Three albums
- April: Five albums
- May: Two albums
- June: Six albums
- July: Three albums
- August: Two albums
- September: Five albums
- October: No albums
- November: No albums
- December: No albums
The earliest annual date that any of my Albums of the Year were released was January 8, when I gave the 2016 nod to David Bowie’s Blackstar. Him dying two days after releasing a masterpiece probably cemented that one before anybody else had gotten off the dime. The latest annual release date for any of my Albums of the Year was all the way back in 1994, when I awarded that personal honor to Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese, released on September 27. I know there are a ton of albums I love that were released in various Octobers, Novembers and Decembers over the past three decades, but none of them have sunk in well enough for me to declare them the best before the artificial end point of the calendar year arrives.
I guess the other thing that this exercise shows me is that I could go ahead and do my Best Albums list in October each year. Hey, maybe then I would be one of the critics influencing other critics in making their own year-end lists. At least that way they’d be picking things that regular listeners could actually hear, not things that are still in the “review copies only” pipeline. It’s a thought, though not one I will implement this year, with November already around the corner.
As it turns out, three artists who I have previously selected for a Best Album of the Year nod have just or will soon release new records: Goat, First Aid Kit, and Dry Cleaning. Their new records are all very good on first listens, and they will certainly place on my year-end list whenever I get around to doing it. But can one of them move me so deeply, so quickly, that Chocolate and Cheese gets bumped off as the latest-release entry in my pantheon of album greatness? I don’t know. It seems unlikely, but I suppose that it does remain conceptually possible. You know where to look, later this year, to find out the answer.