I'M CHECKING those lists and reading them twice, maybe even a dozen times. I get obsessive this time of year, reading 10-best lists, wondering what I missed or how can I be more hip - an increasingly losing proposition.
And every year there've been rewards, getting introduced to a composer like Magnus Lindberg or an author like John Banville. This year the beneficiaries have been the rock group TV on the Radio, the classical pianist Gloria Cheng, and the late author Roberto Bolano. I just might finish his 900-page "2666" in time for next year's lists.
It's nice to stay current, but what really lifts my spirits every year seems to be old masters often passed over for the new and novel. None of these lists makes much sense to me if its missing the likes of Philip Roth, Mike Leigh, or Dion.
No, not Celine Dion, Dion DiMucci and his "
I didn't have much use for his folky and religious phases, but maybe he needed to go through them to get back to his roots as he and Robert "Crow" Richardson pay eloquent homage - in a personal way - on the new CD to the likes of Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Bo Diddley.
In the accompanying DVD, Dion says "Bands today sound like Oscar the Grouch . . . It's all rock, no roll." It reminded me of one recent year sitting there listening to a CD by Ghostface Killah that had made a ton of lists and thinking, "What the hell am I doing pretending that I like this?"
I look forward to tackling The New York Times Book Review end-of-the-year list, which came out a couple of weeks ago, though I was ready to give up after trendy mediocre recent picks like Marisha Pessl's "Special Topics in Calamity Physics." This year's selections seem more solid with Jhumpa Lahiri's excellent "Unaccustomed Earth" and Bolano's epic.
But how could any list be complete without Philip Roth's gem "Indignation" - and the Times is hardly unique for leaving it off. Maybe book critics take Roth for granted after a career that's included "Portnoy's Complaint," "The Human Stain," and "The Plot Against America." But for all there is to admire about Lahiri, Toni Morrison's "A Mercy," Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland," and Steven Millhauser's "Dangerous Laughter" - I'll get back to you about Bolano - Roth leaves them in the dust.
What's amazing is how much he accomplishes with this economical book that begins like "Portnoy" before twice knocking you off your seat in a story that deals with parental love, collegiate lust, assimilation, and choice and randomness. And against the backdrop of the Korean War, it delivers as devastating an antiwar coda as I can remember.
The big movies of the year are well known, and those that have fought for the top spot - the imaginative "WALL-E"; Danny Boyle's beautifully made "Slumdog Millionaire"; and Gus Van Sant's moving biography, "Milk" - should be on everybody's go-to list. Still, I'd take Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," which didn't make the splash of the other movies and you'll probably have to wait for home video to see it at this point.
In fairness, this British film centering on a relentlessly upbeat young English woman did make it onto some lists, and its star, Sally Hawkins, is this year's critics' darling.
But Leigh, like Roth, is easy to take for granted, and many argue that this isn't in the same league as, say, "Secrets & Lies." Still, I can't think of any other filmmaker whose characters are as uncompromisingly human as Leigh's. Here you're tempted to applaud something as simple as a first date for the director's ability to steer clear of Hollywood clich??s and glibness - which all the other top movies rely on to some extent - while nevertheless fashioning an entertaining story that gives you as much hope for the human condition as all the holiday movies out there combined.
Freelance writer Ed Siegel is a former theater and television critic for the Globe.