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The Ghosts of Best-Of Lists Past

These albums, shows and movies were salivated over by critics — and then they disappeared. Did they fail us, or did we fail them?

Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards broadcast marks the start line of what could be called “the major awards circuit,” with the Grammys on February 10th and the Oscars on February 24th. But awards season has actually been happening for a while now. For pretty much the last two months, scarcely a day’s gone by without some kind of critics’ association, popular publication or awards-giving academy dropping a list of 2018’s essential movies, TV series, books, songs, memes… you name it.

If you’re the kind of pop-culture obsessive who keeps a little to-do list of new things to check out — or just a regular person looking for a cheat sheet of what to watch — this is a busy time of year. Year-end lists and major awards aren’t just cultural status reports; they’re predictions. Saying Roma is 2018’s best film — or that Atlanta’s the best TV show, or Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is the best album — is also an educated guess that 15 or 20 years from now, new and old fans will still be digging them.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Roma, Atlanta and Golden Hour will endure. But what about the Idles’ LP Joy as an Act of Resistance? Or the movie Support the Girls? Or HBO’s satirical drama Succession? In the year 2028, will we look back and wonder why we were so excited about any of these?

What follows is a list of albums, movies and TV shows that in recent years (from roughly 2000 to 2012) were staples of multiple critics’ lists and awards shows, but that for some reason or another just aren’t talked about much anymore. Before firing off any angry emails or tweets, please note that just because something’s on this list doesn’t mean it’s bad, or even mediocre. Many of these items still have a lot of fans, and many really were among the best of their respective eras. They just don’t resonate as widely now as they once did.

Did they fail us, or did we fail them?

Let’s look a little deeper…


Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast (2000)

Key accolades: #18 on Pitchfork’s Top 20, #4 on NME’s Top 50, winner of the Mercury Prize

Damon “Badly Drawn Boy” Gough appealed to multiple musical fandoms at the turn of the millennium. He borrowed from the best of ’90s DIY American indie-rock, while also flirting with the poppier wing of electronica, the avant-garde grandeur of Radiohead, and even a little bit of underground hip-hop (as filtered through the similarly eclectic troubadour Beck, anyway). The 18-track, 63-minute epic The Hour of Bewilderbeast was the culmination of his late-’90s recording experiments, and was overall more casual than virtuosic… so much so that even Gough seemed surprised, and perhaps a little shaken, by how popular the album became.

In the years immediately after the record’s release, Gough had another minor hit with the soundtrack to About a Boy, then retreated to being more of the cult act he was maybe always meant to be. He hasn’t released any new Badly Drawn Boy music since 2012. As for The Hour of Bewilderbeast, it hasn’t exactly been forgotten. Gough did tour in support of the LP’s 15th anniversary; and the record did made the cut for the mega-list 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Then again, that book came out in 2005; a new edition might make some changes.

Les Savy Fav, Let’s Stay Friends (2007)

Key accolades: #16 on Rolling Stone’s Top 50, #5 on NME’s Top 50, #44 on Pitchfork’s Top 50

Like a lot of arty rock acts in the mid-2000s, Les Savy Fav pivoted from experimental noise to jagged, guitar-driven dance music, in the vein of LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture and !!!. The album Let’s Stay Friends arrived after a long hiatus, during which fans wondered if the band had called it quits. The strength of this comeback record and subsequent tour, coming right after the long time off, may have helped boost its popularity.

Les Savy Fav hasn’t officially announced a breakup, but ever since 2010’s follow-up album Root for Ruin, frontman Tim Harrington has been writing books and making music for children, while some of his mates have been working in Late Night With Seth Meyers’ the 8G Band. Let’s Stay Friends remains an exciting record, full of catchy hooks and propulsive rhythms. But it increasingly seems very much of its era, without any new Les Savy Fav music to re-contextualize it.

Blitzen Trapper, Furr (2008)

Key accolades: #13 on Rolling Stone’s Top 50, included in NPR’s All Songs Considered Best of 2018 podcast, #42 on the Village Voice’s “Pazz & Jop” list

While indie-folk fellow-travelers Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Iron & Wine were racking up good sales, winning awards, and having their songs played on TV shows, Blitzen Trapper became some critics’ go-to “better than” choice. They were held up as an example of a band more authentic and inventive than the ones the masses loved.

But the group peaked early, with its first two Sub Pop albums, Wild Mountain Nation and Furr — with the latter especially singled out as the apotheosis of Blitzen Trapper’s intricate, moody, vaguely psychedelic soft-rock. Subsequent albums have been warmly received, but the moment when this band was regarded as one of the most promising of its generation seems to have passed.

Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song (2010)

Key accolades: #5 on Rolling Stone’s Top 30, #5 on Spin’s Top 40, Grammy nomination for Best Country Album

Before Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell became the modern standard-bearers for smart, song-centered, classic-rock-influenced country music, Jamey Johnson had already become a sensation with his back-to-back hit LPs That Lonesome Song (from 2008) and the double-disc The Guitar Song. He then released a duets album in 2012, covering music by one of his biggest influences, Hank Cochran.

But squabbles with his label seem to have to kept Johnson mostly on the sidelines ever since, aside from a few minor self-released records. The sprawling The Guitar Song — a mix of classic C&W covers and predominantly melancholy originals — remains an impressive achievement. But the paucity of new music in the eight years since its release is making its success look more and more like an anomaly.


Quills (2000)

Key accolades: Three Oscar nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, #1 on the National Board of Review’s Top 10

Throughout the 1980s, director Philip Kaufman specialized in large-scaled, sophisticated dramas, aimed at adults: The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June. Then he pretty much took the ’90s off, aside from 1992’s financially successful but critically derided Rising Sun. The Marquis de Sade biopic Quills — with Geoffrey Rush playing the libertine revolutionary writer toward the end of his life, in a French insane asylum — was considered a return to form for Kaufman in 2000, and was mostly greeted warmly for the way it revisited the filmmaker’s past fascinations with sensual spectacle and cultural criticism.

Still, even many of those who hailed Quills also acknowledged that it was second-tier Kaufman. His middling output since (consisting of the dopey 2004 thriller Twisted, the bland HBO biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn and nothing else) have largely taken the director and his lesser work out of the critical conversation.

House of Sand and Fog (2003)

Key accolades: Three Oscar nominations, one Golden Globe nomination, one New York Film Critics Circle award, three Independent Spirit Awards nominations (one win), one National Board of Review award

Here’s one of the dirty little secrets of the year-end list-making business: Deadlines are the enemy of evaluation. Critics spend months thinking about and (one hopes) properly assessing any movies they may have seen at Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto Film Festival or the multiplex. And then right before Top 10s are due, these same critics have to cram in multiple screenings a day of the films the studio publicists are pushing hardest for Oscars.

First-time feature-director Vadim Perleman’s adaptation of Andre Dubus III’s best-selling novel House of Sand and Fog arrived with a lot of pre-release hype. In the rush to rubber-stamp something that had already been touted (by the studio’s marketing department, that is) as one of the year’s most important films, a lot of list-makers and awards-giving bodies ended up applauding the kind of dreary, overworked picture that might’ve sunk without a trace if it’d been released in arthouses in April. Fifteen years later, Perleman has yet to direct anything anywhere near as acclaimed.

Kinsey (2004)

Key accolades: One Oscar nomination, three Golden Globes nominations, four Independent Spirit Award nominations, Top 10 lists in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek and Time

Before Liam Neeson became Hollywood’s favorite sexagenarian action hero, he was a staple of year-end awards-bait, adding gravitas to characters in mature historical dramas — like when he played the famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, in writer-director Bill Condon’s Kinsey. Condon, meanwhile, has had a more-than-respectable career himself: from his work as a writer and director on smart genre pictures like Strange Invaders and The Man Who Wouldn’t Die, to critics’ darlings like the offbeat biopic Gods and Monsters and the literary mystery Mr. Holmes, to blockbusters like the live-action Beauty and the Beast and the final two Twilights.

His Kinsey is a very good film, sensitively contrasting its hero’s surface academic reserve with the deeper desires he’s been trying to legitimize through science. Nevertheless the movie hasn’t remained lodged in the public’s aesthetic consciousness, for some reason — perhaps because its subject matter was later usurped by the buzzy cable series Masters of Sex. (Speaking of which… well, we’ll get back to that.)

The Ides of March (2011)

Key accolades: National Board of Review Top 10, four Golden Globe nominations, one Oscar nomination, the Venice Film Festival “Brian Prize”

George Clooney could almost be the poster boy for this list, given that he’s spent more or less the past 15 years of his career almost exclusively starring in, writing, and directing prestige-y dramas and dramedies. Most of these movies play at film festivals, draw some positive critical attention, and do fairly well at the box office… but then just don’t get revisited very often. (Up in the Air? The Descendants? Syriana? All good! Rarely talked about any more.)

Clooney’s creative partner Grant Heslov’s adaptation of the Beau Willimon play Farragut North has a crackling energy and an air of “importance” even now, thanks in large part to an ace cast that includes Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman as warring campaign managers, and Ryan Gosling as an idealistic consultant. But like Willimon’s subsequent Netflix TV series House of Cards, The Ides of March is so insistently vague about its political point-of-view — beyond an amorphous commitment to “integrity” — that it’s had almost no relevance to what the world’s been becoming since 2011.


Boomtown (2002–3)

Key accolades: One Emmy award, Four Television Critics Association Awards nominations (two wins), 2013 AFI Top 10 Television Programs

Television shows slip into obscurity for multiple reasons, often unrelated to their quality. The innovative, multi-layered Los Angeles crime drama Boomtown — which each week jumped around in time and location to consider exciting and traumatic events from multiple perspectives — was a winner in every way except the ratings. Viewership kept slipping week to week, to the point where the series was cancelled early in its second season, following an ill-advised format change.

Boomtown’s not streaming on any of the major subscription services now either, which limits any chance of rediscovery. Weep not for the series’ creator Graham Yost, though. A few years later channeled what he learned from this experience into one of the most beloved cop shows of the 2010s, Justified.

Nip/Tuck (2003–10)

Key accolades: Five Golden Globes nominations (one win), eighteen Emmy nominations (one win), 2004 and 2005 AFI Top 10 Television Programs

One of FX’s first big hits — and the beginning of the channel’s long association with modern TV über-producer Ryan Murphy — Nip/Tuck was, initially at least, held in some critical esteem. The outrageous medical melodrama lost support from the television tastemakers (if not viewers) by the time it ended with its 100th episode. By then, Murphy was well on his way to guiding even bigger and better award-winning hits: like Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Feud and Pose.

Today, Nip/Tuck still gets talked about, but mostly for its historical importance, as a launching pad for both Murphy and FX. It’s also present as a cautionary example, of how its creator can sometimes lean too hard on shock and excess.

Boss (2011–12)

Key accolades: Two Golden Globes nominations (one win), one Critics’ Choice Award nomination, #6 on the Hollywood Reporter’s Top 14 TV Dramas of 2011, #4 on Metacritic’s “Best-Reviewed New Shows”

Two years before Netflix debuted its first binge-watching sensation, House of Cards, the upstart premium cable channel Starz thought it had found this era’s must-see political drama. Boss — which ultimately only lasted two seasons — was a hard-hitting, pulpy saga, about an ailing Chicago mayor fighting to hold on to his power. Like CBS’s contemporaneous series The Good Wife, Boss tried to explain the city that spawned President Obama.

Star Kelsey Grammer won a well-deserved Golden Globe as the blustering anti-hero, and creator Farhad Safinia (working in conjunction with producer-director Gus Van Sant) found an interesting take on political machines, treating them like the gangs in The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy. But the storytelling wasn’t as grabby as the shows it was emulating… or the ones that would come later.

Masters of Sex (2013–16)

Key accolades: Eleven Emmy nominations (one win), two Critics’ Choice Awards, 2013 AFI Top 10 Television Programs

When the first season of Masters of Sex landed in the American Film Institute’s TV Top 10, it shared space with the sixth season of Mad Men, the third season of Game of Thrones and the final run of Breaking Bad. The Showtime drama’s early reputation may have been bolstered to some extent by novelty. Critics had written plenty about all those other shows. Here though was something new: a thoughtful and frank drama about the groundbreaking Masters and Johnson human sexuality studies, well-balanced between the women’s and men’s perspectives.

Yet while another 2013 freshman on the AFI list — The Americans — remained a best-of staple throughout its entire run, Masters of Sex faded from the zeitgeist fairly quickly. It ended after four seasons, without any wave of “end of an era” think-pieces. It was the right show for its time; it just turned out that “its time” was short.