Throughout the year — but especially at the end of the year — many publications rely on lists to drive traffic. It’s a simple enough conceit; people love clicking around to see if their favorite thing has topped the list, and when it inevitably doesn’t they will share the link and say “Can you believe this shit?”
The lists are meant to spark conversation for just a day or two, even if some poor team of writers spent weeks writing blurbs (which is randomly one of the hardest things to do in this biz). But who is watching the watchmen? Who is listing the lists? The answer is me, and without further ado here are the worst lists of 2021, ranked. (And yeah, there are only seven, 10 is a concept made up by SEO strategists.)
7. “Top 10 New York Dishes of 2021” – the New York Times
One of the inherent problems with lists, and perhaps criticism in general, is that you have to know where you stand with the critic in question. Do their tastes line up with mine? This is less of an issue with, say, television, where you can just watch something for 45 minutes and make up your mind, usually without commuting somewhere or paying $65. A “best dishes” list, this one written by longtime Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, requires complete trust in the critic. It’s the same problem I have with most food-based competition shows. I can look at a picture of the dish and read the words, but unless I take my ass to Sheepshead Bay to try the Lahmucan at Burchak Pide, I am never going to know if it “evokes all of Turkish cuisine at once.”
6. “The 10 Best Podcasts of 2021” – Entertainment Weekly
This entry is less about this specific list, and more so about any list of podcast that does not include the brilliant podcasts of my brilliant colleagues George Civeris and Jenny Zhang. If you’re not listening to StraightioLab and Criticism Is Dead, then what are you doing, babes? In this way, Time’s list of the best podcasts of 2021 was the best of the year.
5. “The 101 Best New York City Movies, Ranked” – Vulture
One of the few non-year-end lists on this list, I am falling directly into its trap. 25th Hour as the best New York City movie? That’s not even the best Spike Lee New York City movie. I understand that part of making a list is constructing it in a way that will get people talking, but the fact that Do The Right Thing, When Harry Met Sally, and The Apartment fall outside of the top five feels wrong to me. (Ed. note: The Party Girl omission was criminal) That being said, I commend all the writers of this list, which is a behemoth and features lots of my favorite movies.
4. “What Nick Jonas Can’t Live Without” – The Strategist
Every once in a while there is a “What [Famous Person] Can’t Live Without” that is interesting. Curtis Sliwa saying, “If I’m playing stickball and listening to EDM, I’m in nirvana?” Now that’s good stuff. But most of them are boring attempts to get you to click on affiliate links. I’m highlighting Nick Jonas’s in particular because of one thing he says when he’s talking about how much he loves his iPad. “I use my laptop quite a bit for writing screenplays,” he told Chloe Anello. Excuse? This list is predictably boring, and that is only highlighted by the fact that the idea of a Nick Jonas-penned film was the one thing that sparked one single neuron in my brain.
3. “The Best Shots of 2021” – The Ringer
I appreciate what this list is trying to do. Instead of compiling the best films of the year, writer Adam Nayman found an alternative way to create end-of-year content. Everyone has written their 100-word homages to Power of the Dog and Drive My Car, but no one has spoken to how cool one single frame of Malignant is. But there is a problem: the shots look like shit.. Not in a cinematographic way – they are just screenshots from a laptop. They’re low-quality snapshots of objects in motion, which dilutes the power Nayman is trying to convey through words. A noble effort, but ultimately a failure of execution.
2. “27 Scholastic Book Fair Series From The '00s That You'll Immediately Remember On Sight” – BuzzFeed
Not only is it completely baffling that BuzzFeed still uses this second-person headline structure, but it is demeaning that they made someone write this. Why, you might ask? Because every single link goes to the BuzzFeed shop, where they presumably get some kind of cut if you fall into this nostalgia trap and buy Bunnicula for your niece. It’s a disgrace to those of us who love reading lists and hate being tricked.
1. “The Year in Vibes” – The New Yorker
*Jerking off hand motion*