As I’ve probably said a number of times now, when any of us draw up lists in which our favourite films of the year, we’re always at the mercy of what we’ve actually managed to see. Those who write about film for a living have obviously seen far more new films than someone like me can manage to squeeze in to his rationed free time, and thus tend to draw up more comprehensive lists and include titles that I’ll usually have to wait for later disc releases to have a chance of tracking down.
I was made acutely aware of this last week when in the course of a single evening I finally caught up with Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales and Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts, both of which I loved and which, had I seen them last year, would likely have included on my pick of 2016. In the past, the only rule I’ve imposed on such list-making is that I saw the film for the first time during the year in question, but increasingly reviewers have been specifying that the films must have been released in the writer’s country of residence that calendar year, a dictum I’ve found myself trying to adhere to as well (I always make exceptions for films screened at festivals, as they sometimes do not land a subsequent cinema or disc release). This does mean that if a film was released in 2016 and didn’t make my end-of-year pick because I didn’t see it until the new year was under way, not only was it excluded from my 2016 list, it’s automatically disqualified from inclusion on the one I’ll draw up at the end of 2017. It’s thus possible to look back over my past choice picks and find that some of my favourite films of recent years don’t even get a mention.
I found myself wondering what I should do about this. Of course, being an online publication, it’s all too easy to retrospective edit such a list and add the films that you missed, but not only is this cheating, it’s pointless. End-of-year picks tend to only get read when they are posted, and are not revisited later at irregular intervals to see if anything’s changed. A more practical option would be to post a secondary list a couple of months into the new year, by when I should have caught up with almost all of the films I wanted to see last year but couldn’t due to my far-flung location, unfortunate timing or my foot-related incapacitation. Alternatively, I could kick off the 2017 list with a round-up of choice titles that were released in 2016 but which didn’t see until the following year. Either way, if a film you thought was great last year fails to appear on lists drawn up by writers whose opinion you respect, is it because they didn’t think as highly of the film as you, or because they didn’t get around to seeing it until after their self-imposed deadline?
I’ve also, for the first time since my film school days, started listing every film I watch during the course of the year. So shabby is my memory that come list-making time, I’ve repeatedly had trouble recalling exactly which films I saw in the allotted time period. A key aide memoire here is the site itself, as a couple of hours spent trawling through the review index pages always helps to jog my memory. The site, however, is not database driven and every page has to be updated by hand, so to speak. This does mean that someone as disorganised as I am will intermittently fail to update the appropriate index pages when posting a new review, which in turn means that sometimes a review cannot be accessed at all because there’s no damned link to it. I’m usually alerted to this by a pleading email from the writer in question, but if that writer was me then the omission can go unnoticed for months at a time. When I was drawing up my lists of favourite films and discs of 2015, I once again gave my memory a prod by tripping though index pages, unaware that one of my favourite discs of the year was not listed, precisely because I’d failed to update the appropriate page. Thus Eureka’s terrific dual format release of Anthony Mann’s darkly superb final western, Man of the West, was not included on an end-of-year list where it should have had pride of place. So now I write down every single film and disc I see, listed by viewing date. All I have do now is remember to keep that list updated as well...