Lists that promise the “all-time” greatest are destined to get people in a tizzy – Entertainment Weekly recently released its 100 all-time greatest issue which included the best in film, music, television, stage, and literature. Because it’s Entertainment Weekly, I was skeptical of its list of the greatest books of all time – as an English major, I had the unfortunate tendency to sniff disapprovingly at some of the inclusions, exclusions and placements of the books listed.
Overall, the list had some of the usual suspects – Citizen Kane, I Love Lucy, Shakespeare, and Nirvana’s Nevermind. There were some interesting inclusions of recent works of art, as well as some head-scratching exclusions and bizarre placements.
STAGE: I love the theater, but I don’t go often enough. I read lots of plays, but overall, I’m not really qualified to judge the list – though some of the plays listed I did agree with. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was listed as first, and I agree with that – Miller’s not one of my favorite playwrights – I find him rather heavy-handed and overrated, but I do believe Death of a Salesman is a brilliant play, deserving of all of the attention and critical laurels. Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, August Wilson’s Fences, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town round out the top ten. I think each deserves a place. I think Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women is much too low on the list (number 45), and John Guare’s excellent Six Degrees of Separation is placed too high at number 25. Wendy Wasserstein’s represented by her 1977 play Uncommon Women and Others, but I think her Sisters Rosensweig or The Heidi Chronicles are much better representations of her talent. Also, strangely enough, musicals were given some kind of side feature – and while the ten listed are good (though the inclusion of The Book of Mormon seems to pander to contemporary stage audiences), I think the musicals show be folded into the whole list – and Mame should’ve been included as well.
BOOKS: The books section was the list I was looking forward to the most, because I love to read. I understand that in the 100, contemporary classics, big hits, as well as the canonical classics have to sit side-by-side, but there were some issues I had with the list, as well as things I liked. The top ten list was what one would expect – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dickens’ Great Expectations, the Harry Potter series, Beloved by Toni Morrison, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, among others. The list of the greatest books pretty much looks like a summer reading list – though I do wish Austen’s Emma was included. I also found it interesting that Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – a brilliant novel, is rather low on the list (no. 58), but his excellent The Satanic Verses isn’t on the list. Also missing are the great mystery writers Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Also missing is David Sedaris, whose Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day should’ve been on the list as well as Helen Fielding’s fantastic Bridget Jones’ Diary; and Hollywood memoirs are given a tiny featurette, and though Lauren Bacall’s excellent By Myself deserves its high position (no. 2), Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Kathy Griffin’s Official Bookclub Selection also deserve inclusion. And finally, the last-place entry of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is pretty criminal.
Music: I love music – all kinds of music, so I was looking forward to the music list and was probably most disappointed by it. Now, I know these lists cannot be all things to all people but there were some really weird omissions: Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Janet Jackson, The Pet Shop Boys, Diana Ross – and the biggest one of all, Carole King’s Tapestry is missing. Also, there are some goofy inclusions, again, I think in hopes of appeasing contemporary readers: Beyoncé’s B’Day, a perfectly fine record, but no where near a classic; or Alicia Keys’ impressive debut Songs in a Minor, which while entertaining, is not a classic – or at least not better than Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis (at an ugly no. 97). Madonna’s on the list, which is great – except it’s for her debut album and not Like a Prayer, Ray of Light, or Music – records that are far more worthy than Madonna. Also, dance music, rap music, country music, and Broadway music aren’t represented enough in this list.
TV: The greatest TV show lists was the best, I think – the list was pretty fair, with a few goofs. Firstly, I’m thrilled that Lisa Kudrow’s brilliant The Comeback is listed – it’s a fantastic show and deserves its legendary, cult status. Some of the positions of the shows are very questionable: The Wire, a great show – is not the best show ever…I Love Lucy not being in the top five is ridiculous, but it not even being in the top 10 (no. 11) is just stupid, and throws the whole list off. Murphy Brown, Parks and Recreation, Strangers with Candy are all missing – and Grey’s Anatomy, Good Times, Felicity, Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, Will & Grace (despite the vice president’s endorsement), all decent-to-good shows, don’t deserve to be on the list of 100 greatest.
MOVIES: The list of films listed are pretty uncontroversial. I didn’t have any issues, really – no eyebrows-raising inclusions – though some of the placings are a bit strange: Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve should’ve been higher than it’s lowly 86, and The Wizard of Oz should’ve been placed in the top 10. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is a great film and also should’ve been in the top 10, as should’ve Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot. But I’m not a great cinophile, and my taste in films is admittedly suspect (my two favorite movies include Shirley Valentine and Truly, Madly, Deeply).
Anyways, these are my thoughts on Entertainment Weekly‘s the 100 all-time greatest lists.