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From the editor: One, two, three

 


I don’t know if there’s a scholar out there willing to risk an otherwise stellar academic career by devoting a few months to answer what I consider an important question or not, but I would love to find out (without conducting the research myself) just when lists became an American obsession.

Certainly the phenomenon predated the 1977 publication of “The Book of Lists” and David Letterman’s nightly top ten lists that followed. Perhaps it could be traced to the “Hit Parade” and other accounts of the week’s top songs, reaching back to the 1940s. One memorable countdown dates back to the days of golden calves and burning bushes, of course. I doubt, however, the origins of our modern day fascination will be found in a century earlier than the one beginning in 1900.

It stretches credulity, after all, to imagine a list of the hottest gunslingers of 1878, the best parlor songs of 1862 or the year’s most popular stereopticon images.

Those stills from the battle of Antietam would be hard to beat.

Yet I must admit, as a child of the top ten era, I can’t resist a well-reasoned run down of the best war films of all time, the most famous last words of well-known people, the most challenging corners in international auto racing or whatever. Scanning each list, I can agree, disagree or blurt out incredulous “what the…” denials in the privacy of my living room (much to the astonishment of surrounding cats).

Yes, I know modern race cars can handle the torment once dealt out by Eau Rouge at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, but there is no way Monza’s Parabolica or Darlington’s one and two provide a greater test for driver and machine.

Not that I’m of any use creating such lists. The best I ever put together involved edgy and definitely not politically correct cocktails invented for frightening Halloween parties—for example, the Pinochet Grigio Spritzer or the Idi-tini.

Best not to go any further with that category.

Yet I was mulling the best Christmas movies or specials. Obviously age and perspective play into this, but it would be difficult for feel good holiday pieces to legitimately make any top ten list, in my opinion. OK, “Miracle of 34th Street” is cute and “It’s a Wonderful Life” heartwarming. But too many favorites either mimic the Hallmark version of the holidays or attempt to expand upon true classics. “A Christmas Story” grates on the nerves, for example, as does the Jim Carrey extension of the Grinch.

There are, however, some that set the spirit for me. Not the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas, mind you. They simply call to mind the progression that occurred from Thanksgiving to December 25, building anticipation in a Baby Boomer’s young mind.

The 30-minute cartoon version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” would wind up somewhere on my list, as would “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Excluding “A Charlie Brown Christmas” from the run down is impossible. How iconic is the scraggly tree? How many times have we copied the dance moves?

In long form I would add the 1970 Albert Finney, Alec Guinness film “Scrooge”—a mixture of cheerful musical and 19th century drudgery that leaves viewers with a warm feeling inside, though Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” isn’t too bad, either.

Yeah, I know—that’s not even close to ten. I probably should have searched a little deeper in my memory. Like I said, I’m not really good at this.

 

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