Sight & Sound 2022

(NOTE: if you live in Chicago, it might be fun to know that the Gene Siskel Film Center already happened to have scheduled screenings of four entries in the Critic’s list INCLUDING the number one Jeanne Dielman.

Parasite – Monday 5 December
Stalker – Friday 23 December
In the Mood for Love – Saturday 24 December
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – Tuesday 27 December)

So it’s been a day since the BFI’s movie magazine Sight & Sound published the eighth edition of their list of the Greatest Films of All Time. For those who may not know, every ten years since 1952, the magazine had been reaching out to an extensive amount of professionals in the film industry – critics, programmers, curators, and directors (the last set of whom have their own list released with it) – and pooling their ballot of ten best films into a definitive consensus.

We just received our 2022 iteration, with the top ten spots taken up by the below ten films:

  1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman)
  2. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu Yasujiro)
  5. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
  7. Beau Travail (1999, Claire Denis)
  8. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
  9. Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)
  10. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

And do I have thoughts? I certainly do. Personally I haven’t yet determined if they’re a net positive or negative, maybe I can hash that out through this sprawling rant.

I’ll start with the positive first: that top ten is pretty damn unimpeachable. All ten in fact are jostling for spots on the upcoming edition of my top 100 favorite movies list (Spoiler Alert: I’m hoping to finish that up by New Year’s). Including and especially Jeanne Dielman. Such a radical choice for number one, dethroning Vertigo only one decade after THAT film took Citizen Kane‘s long-reigning top spot.

Jeanne Dielman‘s entrance, let alone its top spot, seems to be indicative of a major shake-up to the list that cannot be understated: there’s more films by women. 11 films by 9 different filmmakers out of 100 movies is not a major amount, but the last edition had only two in a set of 93 (Jeanne Dielman and Beau Travail) and now it’s representing over 10% in the 2022 list. Plus, of the 10 I’ve seen (Wanda is the single blind-spot I have on the whole list), they’re all quite marvelous and among the movies I’d use to introduce someone to the art. Plus some choices are delightfully idiosyncratic: I know we all love Agnès Varda now (later than we should have) but I’d never expected The Gleaners and I to be her second best according to consensus. And Daughters of the Dust shoots me over the fucking moon as a movie. Neither Gleaners or Daughters are better than Portrait, but surprisingly Portrait is one of the items I’m most muted in my enthusiasm for and I guess I may as well address the reasoning as one of the negatives.

4 films out of 100 should be insubstantial, one would think, but there’s just something that does not sit right with me on movies younger than 10 years being considered one of the best movies of all time. My admittedly arbitrary attitude is that any serious consideration should stand a test of time to qualify “all time”, but I’m also a bit thrown by the blatant populism of the selections. Two of those movies from the 2010s – Moonlight and Parasite – are Best Picture Oscar winners, Get Out is another Oscar winner that broke multiple box office records, and all three with Portrait of a Lady on Fire are pretty big time internet favorites.

I’ll confess: part of my stance is a projection of my own insecurities regarding blurred lines between impossible objectivity and inevitable subjectivity. I’m never even close to 100% certain that movies from the 1920s or 1940s are the Best of All Time. But I’m a little more confident in the context of everything I’ve watched and the sort of legacy they’ve left behind that lead to my exposure with them than by the great movies of the 2010s, which at least share the excellent high of loving and enjoying movies like Portrait or Parasite (both being among my Top 100 of the 2010s, mind you) but neither yet having the length of time to really feel like they left a transformative quake. 3 years – 2 of which had the movie landscape completely transformed so that we’ve had a significant depletion of movie releases – feels like some voters saw they had free spaces and just scanned their favorite movies of the last ten years.

That said, I don’t think recency bias is a new thing to Sight & Sound, I just think the degree is more severe in 2022 than it’s ever been. People have already been pointing out on twitter that the first edition of this list in 1952 had a four year old Bicycle Thieves as its choice for Best Movie Ever, but there’s a newfound expansion of film history and film accessibility in 2022 than we had with feature films not even being 50 years old in 1952 and I think that summons us as film lovers to try to engage with that vast wealth. And sure recency bias was still going on as the list entered the 21st Century with Pulp Fiction, All About My Mother, and Yi Yi. All three are great movies but did 2002 was too soon and I now welcome all three with open arms (congrats to Yi Yi for sticking around, it’s the best of those three).

I also don’t think recency bias is something unique to movies from the 2010s. Consider that we recently lost Varda and Akerman – though Varda I think it’s safe to say had received a growing lens on her since the 2017 Oscar nomination for Faces Places – and they each receive two very deserving films apiece. In turn, it’s tempting to attribute that same postmortem respect to the whopping 4 that Godard has on here now if not for the fact his death occurred shortly after voting ended so I don’t know, something’s in the water with that one. And I’d be shocked if Věra Chytilová’s death was all that registered as being something recent, though it was only 8 years ago. Anyway, I’m not complaining for this: four great filmmakers got their masterpieces pushed in.

There’s also another side of recency bias in the inclusion of Daisies, Black Girl, Wanda, and Daughters of the Dust. Those almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if not for the recent restorations of the last 6 years making them much more accessible. But you won’t catch me claiming a single one of those movies are out of place on this list, despite only having seen Black Girl and Daughters of the Dust within those last 6 years. I guess largely because we know why it was so critical that the reinvigorated distribution of those films be paid attention to. That said the “recent restoration” rule isn’t infallible either. Did Touki Bouki need to find its way into the Scorsese World Cinema Project to already exist on the list by 2012? Or fellow 2012 entrant Beau Travail when it only just landed in the Criterion Collection 2 years ago? Plus, consider the films from the 2012 iteration that dropped off in this new list – conveniently reported by the below tweet – which includes The Mother and the Whore, Greed, The Color of Pomegranates, and The Magnificent Ambersons, all of whom had major restorations and re-releases through the past decade.

I’ll confess the biggest blows to me are the drops of Greed and Intolerance – not only because they’re silent movies, but because they mark a level of ambition that fits very well with the best entrants of the list. In addition, I’m a bit relieved to see Fanny and Alexander fall off as one of those “television =/= movies” prigs and shocked to see The Godfather Part II dislodged entirely from its previous dual placement with The Godfather to fall furthest from grace. And yes, I feel a special sadness for Nashville and Rio Bravo fully kicking Robert Altman and Howard Hawks off the list. Most of these movies I shall mourn quietly, so let’s turn to what we have remaining the 100 list before us.

No use beating around the bush: The 100 movies in the Critic’s List and the major shifts in both the entrants and the placements look like they are representative of the cultural atmosphere beyond movies. Or to use the term a lot of reactionary responses have had: if the ballots themselves aren’t political (which one can never determine), the full consensus feels like that on surface. So, let me begin with addressing this is not a bad thing in itself, I don’t think. A consensus like this was always representing and betraying certain things about its voters and the world they live in, especially when Sight & Sound made a point of expanding its voter base majorly from 2002 to now. A new variety of backgrounds from which people respond and put themselves into art means a final result that can resemble those perspectives in a singular way. And frankly a lot of these movies are long overdue: Do the Right Thing is the most obvious instance and that should have been showing up by 2002, though it’s clear in 2022 why it’s especially angrily relevant.

The angle of that singular presentation bugs me a bit, though. By shifting the usual center of film criticism from Europe (France particularly) to America, we’ve honestly moved even closer towards Anglo- and Euro-centric arenas for the most part. Of the increase in woman-directed films, we have one non-white women (Dash – Daughters) and the only one whose movies aren’t in either French or English is Chytilová. Of the black filmmaker-directed movies, only two are non-American (Sembene – Black Girl, Mambety – Touki Bouki). There’s stagnation in the films from Japan (only real newbies are two films by Miyazaki Hayao and both are deserving, but boy would I like more animated movies), China, and Iran. The only Indian film is the obvious one (Pather Panchali). And we are absent any Latin American films. Is this the responsibility of the more diverse entries? Fuck no, they’re still outnumbered by films by white men if we’re going to import that something HAS to be replaced by these marginal areas on the basis of representation and I don’t think I’m committing to that attitude. I just note these deficiencies as a quiet observation of what has been given priority over the list’s outcome of ostensibly broadening its range.

Back to the list’s representation of culture circa 2022 and its values: This may be a brand-new path for the Sight & Sound list, but it also felt like we were headed this way ever since Citizen Kane showed its reign was not infallible after 50 years. I can understand the abrupt feeling but while 3 years is not a long time, 10 years is. That 7-year difference is, I think, what makes this list feel at least more thoughtfully put together as social mirror than would seem on first glance.

That said, I read a take online about preferring a stodgy list as the primary canon by which new cinephiles may launch their exploration into the medium and I think I mourn that particularly. When I first caught the 2002 edition of the list around 2005, that was how I dived into my movie gateways: Intolerance, The Seventh Seal, Seven Samurai and so on codifying what I look for in cinema and why I love the films I love. Those movies aren’t deep cuts by any means: you can’t tell me with a straight face Citizen Kane or Singin’ in the Rain are underseen gems. But… in 2022, if I’m trying to use a list as a ground level for a nascent cinephile’s survey of its history and potential, it’s more likely the case that whoever is reading the list has already seen Parasite or Get Out than they have Singin’ in the Rain or Man with a Movie Camera. Y’know why Wanda is one of the few new entries that really energizes me? Because it’s the only one I haven’t seen and its placement is a challenge to me, hearkening back to that 13-year-old I was wanting to know what the hype is on this here Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. And sure, maybe some people will catch Jeanne Dielman and wonder what the fuck was the fuss, but y’know what? I think that risk and tension is a big part of actually breaking into your own viewpoint on art in general. There’s a lot on the 2002 list I found overrated upon first watch: Batteship Potemkin and Out of the Past and they actually grew on me over time. I think we need to give the space for overhype, disappointment, and reconsideration for filmgoers. It allows the film fan to be a dynamic and changing force able to hold its own against the moving image. Sadly, I think we lose that risk the closer the entries come to the present day or feel representative of movies everybody has already caught so it can reconcile that “your taste is valid”.

But we also lose that risk even more when one of the last reliable and steadfast big movie lists to maintain its core spine goes this wildly in flux. Sight & Sound’s transformation into a time capsule of the new decade’s extra-cinematic attitudes might be less annoying if the Critic’s list wasn’t mostly resembling the same takes I can catch in a scan of letterboxd or film twitter. Or maybe if there were more gaps for me personally to square a potential new “Definitive Oversight on How Movies Evolved and Developed in Form”. Maybe some can find excitement in the way that this suggests further shaking up in another ten years when some of the contemporary selections will drop (not to say they’ll age badly: All About My Mother is still a masterpiece in my eye and if Portrait waves goodbye – I fear it will, it’s the largest recipient of “Actually Not Good” twitter takes since the list dropped – it’s still easily one of the great masterpieces of the 2010s). And if the number one remains continuously changing, we should be so lucky if they maintain the five-star masterpiece track of Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Jeanne Dielman.

Anyway, I ask to be permitted my sense of discomposure by this new reality and the lack of real import the list is going to have as a recommendable start point if there’s no real stability to it from here. I’m sure I’ll learn to live with it by the time another ten years passes.

Most important of all: At least there’s now 8 more silent movies, which is a miraculous growth since 2002 had only 1 and 2012 had only 3. If I had my way, it’d be at least 75 silent movies and I guess we can give a couple to them talkies.

Anyway, that’s a lot of talk just for the Critic’s list. But what of the Director’s Consensus List, top ten listed below…

(Note there are ties between 4 and 5, between 6 and 7, and between 9 10 and 11)

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
  2. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
  3. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu Yasujiro) TIED WITH
  5. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman)
  6. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) TIED WITH
  7. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini)
  8. Mirror (1974, Andrei Tarkovsky)
  9. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) TIED WITH
  10. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai) ALSO TIED WITH
  11. Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)

Honestly, the top ten is on-par with the Critics’ Ten in unimpeachability. Personally I prefer Jeanne Dielman to 2001, but it makes sense why director’s would favor the magnificent craft of 2001 compared to the exercise in watching that Jeanne Dielman represents. I bet I just doomed myself to forever be a guy who talks about movies instead of making movies with that claim, fuck!

But maybe not as this is yet another instance where I find myself more aligned with the directors’ entries and absences than the the critics’ version. More Iranian films (including Taste of Cherry), more Tarkovsky, Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga rolling up, Don’t Look Now, A Woman Under the Influence, Jaws (and ain’t it something that the Critic’s list disrespects Spielberg so close to his birthday?). Even the only two movies that are from the last ten years to switch over are the two that I’d without a doubt call capital-G Great: Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Heck, the only true objection outside of that and Michael Haneke’s existence (though there could be worse choices for him than Caché) is Fanny and Alexander being there since it’s television but it’s still a masterpiece so boo me. It doesn’t lose the same sense the Critic’s list has on being a representative of The World as Seen in 2022, but I think it approaches it at least closer from being Western-centric and with more movies I’d both be giving five star ratings to and feel like deep cuts. And yes, I accept that such a sentiment – like every letter of this post – says more about me than it does about the list. Plus it has one additional gap for me outside of Wanda, Ken Loach’s Kes.

Finally, since I’m likely to never be invited to submit a ballot on this thing, I guess I may as well have some fun by submitting what my pick for the ballot would be, not necessarily meeting “Best” or “Favorite”, just the ten I’m feeling at the time. Not even sure I bothered thinking up an order besides number one.

  1. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  2. Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein)
  3. I Am Cuba (1964, Mikhail Kalatozov)
  4. Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)
  5. L’Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
  6. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
  7. Breathless (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
  8. Nostalghia (1983, Andrei Tarkovsky)
  9. The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979, Mike Jittlov)
  10. Tale of Tales (1979, Yuri Norstein)

Yes, I’m aware that only three movies on my list are silent films. I’m a quitter.

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