If you read The A.V. Club very often (that would be the non-satirical entertainment section of The Onion), you're familiar with its fondness for lists, from the sublime to the truly and gloriously ridiculous.
In the first category, you would find the list of 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, which crystallized a concept so utterly necessary to the understanding of movies, irritation and Zach Braff that it's a wonder all reviews of Garden State didn't simply say "Blah blah blah, feh" until it was written.
In the second category, you would find a list called You Got Your Moog In My Keytar!,which lists 10 Highly Pretentious Musical Instruments. (Get your Internet flamethrowers ready, grand piano fanboys! Your favorite instrument is pretentious, you hear me? Pretentious!)
Many of the A.V. Club's very entertaining lists are rolled up into Inventory, its amusing and stealthily educational new book. (Note: A.V. Club film writer Scott Tobias also contributes movie reviews to NPR now and then.) What makes these particular writers so good is that their lists are not merely a bunch of boring "greatest" compliations; these lists are built around good ideas, such that seeing them next to each other genuinely does make you think about a strand of popular culture.
Labors of love, Patton Oswalt, exclamation points, and more, after the jump.
Take the list of 16 Career-Jeopardizing Labors Of Love. Combining the successful (Apocalypse Now) with the unsuccessful (Heaven's Gate) makes a point of its own by underscoring that a failed experiment is still an experiment of the type that necessarily has to occur in order for anything interesting to happen. When you read about Heaven's Gate in the context of Apocalypse Now, it brings focus to the idea of risk that isn't there when you see the latter simply included on a list of great films. The different paths that risks can take are more complex than pass/fail — the list includes The Passion Of The Christ, Titanic and My December (Kelly Clarkson's third album). Think about that.
Interestingly, the "guest lists" from celebrity contributors are more uneven than the ones generated by the paper. John Hodgman offers his usual fake-facts shtick in a list of 6 Mysteriously Unheralded Character Actors, while Patton Oswalt comes closest to sounding like the lost member of the actual writing staff talking about 6 Quiet Film Revolutions. The introduction from Chuck Klosterman is about three times as arch as it needs to be — one of the delights of the rest of the book is precisely that it's funny without overworking the cleverness in the way the introduction does.
Make no mistake — this is a funny but very, very informative book, and if you grow fatigued from the detail-oriented write-ups of lists like 13 Songs About The Horrors Of Bus Travel, you can follow the little banner across the top and bottom of every page, where an item across the top ("A.V. Club Heaven") is matched with an item at the bottom ("A.V. Club Hell"). An example taken from the world of exclamation-point movies: heaven is Moulin Rouge! or Airplane!; hell is Benji: Off The Leash! or Tora! Tora! Tora!. There are hundreds of similar examples; they could hold you for years.
Inventory is a festival of nerd overindulgence, like an eighteen-foot box of donuts for people whose idea of a sugar high is a lengthy, well-informed dissection of drum solos or Simpsons episodes. It's deceptively smart, reliably entertaining, and unafraid of controversy (the list of 24 Stupid Inventions For Lazy Americans includes not only the Snuggie/Slanket, but also the Segway and the Flowbee — cultural heresy!). Highly recommended for pop-culture students, geeks, obsessives, trivia hounds, and anyone trying to improve his or her score at a local pub quiz.