I love a pop-culture list. I don’t get annoyed at lists, because they’re a great way to discover new things. For a film nerd, the release of the once-a-decade Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll of critics and film buffs is a bit like an early Christmas.
I like the Sight and Sound poll because its ten-year gaps force us, in a culture that never stops speeding along, to slow down and take stock. Cinema is barely more than a century old after all, and this poll has always felt a bit more sturdy and authoritative than year-end magazine lists and listicles. That’s not to say it’s always “right,” but it’s always worth reading.
Would Hitchcock’s amazing Vertigo continue at the top as it was in 2012, or would Citizen Kane, which topped the poll for decades, return? The answer was neither. Fascinatingly, at the top position was a film I’ve only barely heard of, the 1975 Belgian film Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by director Chantal Akerman, which, fitting that lengthy title, is a 3-hour plus drama. Who saw that coming?
The poll seems to have taken a large leap forward this year rather than the more stagnant aura it once had – Kane topped it from 1962 to 2002, for instance. I’m sure certain corners of the internet are howling that Hitchcock and Welles were pipped by a woman, but I’m totally cool with it. I adore Hitchcock and Welles and as fun as these lists are, nothing has changed about that for me today. But I do get to (eventually) check out Jeanne Dielman, and hey, I might discover a movie I totally love in the process.
That’s the true beauty of lists like Sight and Sound for me. I grew up on Police Academy movies, but there’s so much more to cinema too. I was introduced to Yasujirō Ozu’s heartbreakingly good 1953 drama Tokyo Story because of its high placement on previous lists. I’ve discovered many more movies because of lists like this or the late great Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” features.
There’s some great progression from 2012 on the 2022 list, which features far more women and Black and minority creators than ever before. Some absolutely stellar more recent films have inched up – David Lynch’s masterpiece, 2001’s Mulholland Dr., is now in the top 10, the newest movie there, while very recent movies like Parasite, Get Out and Portrait of a Lady On Fire are included. Others are gone – Lawrence of Arabia and Chinatown dropped from the top 100, but that doesn’t make them any lesser in my own eyes.
Film ain’t a contest to me, and I don’t care if your list puts Jaws above Kubrick’s 2001 or you think Adventures in Babysitting is the best movie of all time. We love what we love, and in an increasingly vile and argumentative internet, that bears remembering.
Anyway, I’m happy to spend weeks poring over the list, which now includes at least 35 movies I’ve never seen. Film internet will be debating, arguing, praising and condemning the Sight and Sound list probably until the next one rolls around in 2032 (assuming we’re all still here). Me, I’ll be watching some movies.