Before I landed the stable, glamorous and lucrative job of film critic, I lived in a small town (population about 4500) with two movie screens (the theater expanded to a whopping five screens in the spring of 1985). As of the fall of 1984, I was already a movie nut. Over the course of the year, my parents drove me to see Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Starman and Dune. But it was in December that I saw the light. On their TV show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert counted down their lists of the ten best films of 1984, which contained many titles that I hadn't seen and many others I hadn't heard of: Once Upon a Time in America, Amadeus, The Cotton Club; Paris, Texas; Love Streams, Stranger than Paradise, Secret Honor, This Is Spinal Tap, The Killing Fields, Choose Me, Entre Nous, A Passage to India, Micki & Maude, The Natural, and -- oddly -- Purple Rain. I scribbled down the titles and spent the next several months hunting for them on video, feverishly watching them on my family's primitive, but then brand-new, VCR.
Nowadays, with the Internet and all, people can look up dozens (hundreds?) of ten-best lists, and unless you have a favorite critic, the result is going to be more or less a consensus of all those lists. Sadly, that generally singles out the lowest common denominator choices, the films that have been specifically created, screened and promoted as award contenders. (In other words, the films that wound up on Richard Roeper's list.)