Sight and Sound 2022 – The Greatest Films of All Time Ranked Once Again

The most hotly anticipated update to what amounts to, as someone with every right to make such a claim once said, “the only list serious movie people take seriously”, has arrived, bearing the most uproarious shifts in its 70-year history. Most everyone interested in the annual Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll knew change was a-comin’; the writing was on the wall once the magazine announced an expansion of the critical voting pool (nearly doubling in size to over 1,600 participants) and believing the massive cultural shifts we’ve undergone since 2012 mightn’t shake up results would’ve been a folly. Sight and Sound themselves labelled these changes ‘ambitious’. Well, they certainly have made for an exciting fallout.

In a stunning upset, the top spot went not to 50-year title holder Citizen Kane, nor to its freshly crowned successor Vertigo, but to Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which leapfrogged from its previous position of 36th in the 2012 poll. It’s going to be very, very funny watching readers and Letterboxd filmbros’ responses to this moderately underseen film. 3 and a half hours comprised largely of household chores.

Looking at the merits of this choice: In its construction, and on a technical level, the film is faultless. It makes its point subtly, but relentlessly; a point made from a radical perspective in 1975. Jeanne Dielman is a great film. But, as the standard bearer for cinema, the ‘CAPITAL M’ Movie, it leaves something to be desired. Kane is the conventional choice, but that’s also because it has massive ambition (can you ever hope to understand a person fully, is there any piece to the puzzle that you could find or indeed film, to do so?), and in its search it innovates and uses just about every cinematic tool at its disposal. Citizen Kane is a whistle stop tour of cinematic potential. If Sight and Sound is an ongoing mission to cement the canon, the sudden leap of Jeanne Dielman is curious. If it’s meant to reflect the ongoing adaption of critical taste, then it’s an easier move to swallow. If ever there was a moment when Jeanne Dielman meant more than any other, now may be that moment. It is as subversive and out-of-step with filmmaking today as when it was released. For the last poll in 2012, only two films directed by women were in the top 100. This year there are 11, and 4 of them land in the top 20.

Nevertheless, Kane once again didn’t top Vertigo, which staunchly hogged the second place. The top ten this decade was comprised of the typical selections, rounded out exclusively by modern additions (with the exception of Jeanne Dielman), including features from 1999 (Beau Travail, up from 78th), 2000 (In the Mood for Love) and 2001 (Mulholland Drive).

Filmmaker Paul Schrader holds himself to a reasonable rule when making his selections: nothing from the last 25 years should join the list. It’s too soon, and it is certainly far too soon to know whether a film from 2019 ought to command placement in the top 30 (as is the case with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and much further down the list, Parasite). If a film is younger than its age-rating, that’s a bad sign. As the BFI pointed out, in 2012 two films from the previous 20 years made it into the top 100, while this time there are nine (four of them having been released since just 2016). This invasion, paired with the acrimonious divorce of some towering classics from consideration, strikes me as vaguely short-sighted, and it speaks to what may be the largest contributing factor to the upheavals herein; the most significant changes in taste aren’t demographically motivated, but generational.

All of this hullabaloo has somewhat overshadowed the more typical, but still interesting titbits we might expect from an update to the list: Singing in the Rain, which often yo-yos in placement, climbed back into the top ten, if barely. Barry Lyndon underwent a predictably stratospheric boost (more attention has been lavished on that particular Kubrick than any other in recent years, though dethroning 2001 seems nigh-on impossible). John Wayne’s The Searchers held on admirably despite being chock-full of what could superficially be read as dubious Confederate-sympathizing politics, whilst The General failed to do the same, supplanted by another, briefer, Keaton classic; Sherlock Jr.

We can hardly blame The General too much; most silent films seem to have taken a bit of a tumble, worst of all Battleship Potemkin which fell a staggering 43 places south of its typical top 20s residence, while (expectedly) Intolerance plummeted over a hundred positions out of the top one hundred entirely (likely a response to the precipitous decline of D.W. Griffith’s reputation in recent memory, as his involvement in white supremacism proceeds in outweighing his contributions to the foundation of feature filmmaking language).

Certain outlying climbers (and their equivalent dive-bombers) suggest a tendency to shy from examples of technical (near mechanical) prowess in favour of the sensual and impressionistic. Think of In the Mood For Love, which not only climbed the ranks into the top ten, but surpassed Mulholland Drive (which had been ahead of it even in 2012), or Portrait of a Lady On Fire with its phenomenal debut at number 30, the delicate Moonlight tie-ing for 60th, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul essentially dividing its previous placement by two, Chung-king Express entering, and Beau Travail’s sudden bound from the 70s into the top ten. There is an argument to be made that short films shouldn’t cut the mustard for the list, but even so, Un Chien Andalou (the shocking, jerking sort of surreal) previously held the distinction of ‘short-film-of-note’, this time it’s Meshes of the Afternoon (the languid, dreamy sort of surreal). La Jetée remained essentially undisturbed.

Several greats got the boot, though it’s especially sad to see the disappearance of Lawrence of Arabia (and therewith David Lean’s inclusion wholesale). Despicably, The Colour of Pomegranates bowed out as well. Similarly absent was any and every Werner Herzog project (this constitutes some sort of crime, no doubt). Raging Bull tapped out and was supplanted by the more readily embraced Goodfellas. Many expected Paul Thomas Anderson and Terrence Malick to at last debut in the top 100, but no such luck. Once the full 250 entries are released, we’ll see just how close they came.

Despite clearly representing the poll’s most inclusive and diverse selection in its history, the 2022 edition still has a few weak spots. Touki Bouki and Black Girl remain the only films from all of Africa to make the grade (Mambéty’s managing to shift from 98th to a firm 66th), while none-whatsoever from South America were selected (nor Australia for that matter). As ever, history-making populist achievements like Pulp Fiction and Star Wars are relegated to the doldrums of the IMDB Top 250, while Singing in the Rain (though placing squarely near the peak of the pantheon) represents the list’s only musical. As far as animation is concerned, two Ghibli (read: “Miyazaki”) classics entered the fray, Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, a stone’s throw away from each other at 75 and 72 respectively.

2001: A Space Odyssey had been predicted in many circles to top the poll, in fact it remained affixed in 6th place, and these omens only came to pass as far as the extensive Director’s poll was concerned. You can read the full list below. There’s only ten years to go until the next round of voting begins, so start watching.

1. “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
2. “Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
3. “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, 1941)
4. “Tokyo Story” (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
5. “In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai, 2001)
6. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7. “Beau travail” (Claire Denis, 1998)
8. “Mulholland Dr.” (David Lynch, 2001)
9. “Man with a Movie Camera” (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
10. “Singin’ in the Rain” (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1951)
11. “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
12. “The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
13. “La Règle du Jeu” (Jean Renoir, 1939)
14. “Cléo from 5 to 7” (Agnès Varda, 1962)
15. “The Searchers” (John Ford, 1956)
16. “Meshes of the Afternoon” (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
17. “Close-Up” (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
18. “Persona” (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19. “Apocalypse Now” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
20. “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
21. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1927)
21. “Late Spring” (Ozu Yasujiro, 1949)
23. “Playtime” (Jacques Tati, 1967)
24. “Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989)
25. “Au Hasard Balthazar” (Robert Bresson, 1966)
25. The Night of the Hunter” (Charles Laughton, 1955)
27. “Shoah” (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
28. “Daisies” (Věra Chytilová, 1966)
29. “Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
30. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Céline Sciamma, 2019)
31. “Mirror” (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
31. “8½” (Federico Fellini, 1963)
31. “Psycho” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
34. “L’Atalante” (Jean Vigo, 1934)
35. “Pather Panchali” (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
36. “City Lights” (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
36. “M” (Fritz Lang, 1931)
38. “À bout de souffle” (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
38. “Some Like It Hot” (Billy Wilder, 1959)
38. “Rear Window” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
41. “Bicycle Thieves” (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
41. “Rashomon” (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
43. “Stalker” (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
43. “Killer of Sheep” (Charles Burnett, 1977)
45. “North by Northwest” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
45. “The Battle of Algiers” (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
45. “Barry Lyndon” (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
48. “Wanda” (Barbara Loden, 1970)
48. “Ordet” (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
50. “The 400 Blows” (François Truffaut, 1959)
50. “The Piano” (Jane Campion, 1992)
52. “News from Home” (Chantal Akerman, 1976)
52. “Fear Eats the Soul” (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
54. “The Apartment” (Billy Wilder, 1960)
54. “Battleship Potemkin” (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
54. “Sherlock Jr.” (Buster Keaton, 1924)
54. “Le Mépris” (Jean-Luc Godard 1963)
54. “Blade Runner” (Ridley Scott 1982)
59. “Sans soleil” (Chris Marker 1982)
60. “Daughters of the Dust” (Julie Dash 1991)
60. “La dolce vita” (Federico Fellini 1960)
60. “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins 2016)
63. “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz 1942)
63. “GoodFellas” (Martin Scorsese 1990)
63. “The Third Man” (Carol Reed 1949)
66. “Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty 1973)
67. “The Gleaners and I” (Agnès Varda 2000)
67. “Metropolis” (Fritz Lang 1927)
67. “Andrei Rublev” (Andrei Tarkovsky 1966)
67. “The Red Shoes” (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger 1948)
67. “La Jetée” (Chris Marker 1962)
72. “My Neighbour Totoro” (Miyazaki Hayao 1988)
72. “Journey to Italy” (Roberto Rossellini 1954)
72. “L’avventura” (Michelangelo Antonioni 1960)
75. “Imitation of Life” (Douglas Sirk 1959)
75. “Sansho the Bailiff” (Mizoguchi Kenji 1954)
75. “Spirited Away” (Miyazaki Hayao 2001)
78. “A Brighter Summer Day” (Edward Yang 1991)
78. “Sátántangó” (Béla Tarr 1994)
78. “Céline and Julie Go Boating” (Jacques Rivette 1974)
78. “Modern Times “(Charlie Chaplin 1936)
78. “Sunset Blvd.” (Billy Wilder 1950)
78. “A Matter of Life and Death” (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger 1946)
84. “Blue Velvet” (David Lynch 1986)
84. “Pierrot le fou” (Jean-Luc Godard 1965)
84. “Histoire(s) du cinéma” (Jean-Luc Godard 1988-1998)
84. “The Spirit of the Beehive” (Victor Erice, 1973)
88. “The Shining” (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
88. “Chungking Express” (Wong Kar Wai, 1994)
90. “Madame de…” (Max Ophüls, 1953)
90. “The Leopard” (Luchino Visconti, 1962)
90. “Ugetsu” (Mizoguchi Kenji, 1953)
90. “Parasite” (Bong Joon Ho, 2019)
90. “Yi Yi” (Edward Yang, 1999)
95. “A Man Escaped” (Robert Bresson, 1956)
95. “The General” (Buster Keaton, 1926)
95. “Once upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone, 1968)
95. “Get Out” (Jordan Peele, 2017)
95. “Black Girl” (Ousmane Sembène, 1965)
95. “Tropical Malady” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)