Reflections on the New Sight & Sound Poll (and Four Lists, 1982-2012)

1. For me, there have been quite a few surprises in the results of Sight and Sound’s latest ten-best poll of film critics around the world — not so much the displacement of Citizen Kane from first place (which it occupied for half a century, ever since the second poll in 1962) by Vertigo, something that was bound to happen sooner or later, as the first appearance of The Man with a Movie Camera (in eighth place, with 68 votes). And, perhaps most startling of all, seeing Sátántangó tied with Jeanne Dielman, Psycho, and Metropolis (each of which received 64 votes), or seeing Abbas Kiarostami  (represented by Close-Up, in 42nd place — in an incongruous six-way tie with Gertrud, Pather Panchali, Pierrot le fou, Playtime, and Some Like It Hot) doing better than Charlie Chaplin (represented by City Lights, in 50th place, tied with La jetée and Ugetsu Monogatari).


“Let’s remember,” Roger Ebert recently blogged, “that all movie lists, even this most-respected one, are ultimately meaningless.” But he goes on to note, correctly, that “In the era of DVD, all of the [50-odd] films on the list are available; in 1952, unless you had unusual resources, most of them could be found only in a few big cities,” which is far from meaningless. This may even help at least partially to account for the absence of, say, Stroheim’s Greed, which remains commercially unavailable on DVD. But on the other hand, this surely does nothing to explain the absence in the top fifty of anything by Luis Buñuel, Alexander Dovzhenko, Louis Feuillade, D.W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Max Ophüls, or Luchino Visconti.

At the very least, I suppose, the poll can be read as a report on fashion, and the fact that many more critics were polled this time than ever before (846 participants out of the thousand who were invited — in contrast to only 145 in 2002, which was described then as the largest of the polls to date) must have made some difference (although until we see the full list of names later this month, we have no way of judging how representative the selection was). I think we can safely guess that a greater number of film teachers among the critics polled would have something to do with the number of silent titles, three in the top ten–which is more than any previous year except for 1952, when there were twice that many, including two Chaplin features, The Gold Rush and City Lights, tied for second place.

“The results are full of experimental films,” Nicole Brenez pointed out in Facebook, and went on to cite as examples La jetée, Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jeanne Dielman, The Man with a Movie Camera, Sátántangó, “and of course the best sequence of 2001 and Vertigo‘s and Persona‘s special effects sequences.” Indeed, I’d like to think that the surprising triumph of Vertov’s masterpiece — the first documentary to make the top ten since Louisiana Story in 1952 — can be credited in part to the superb historiography of Yuri Tsivian on the DVD, especially the resurrection of the original musical score, which made it closer in our perception to a circus event or a Chaplin comedy than to an abstract avant-garde experiment.

2. I began writing for Sight and Sound in 1972, but I started too late to participate in the poll held that year, so my first time was in 1982. My thanks to Kevin Lee and Bill Georgaris (and to the latter’s website, They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?, at for finding and passing along this first list, which I’d somehow managed to misplace temporarily.

In preferential order:



A Bout de Souffle


Tale of the Late Chrysanthemums

City Lights

Céline et Julie vont en bateau

La Nuit du Carrefour


Too Early, Too Late


Here’s my 1992 list, in alphabetical order:

Au Hasard Balthazar

Chimes at Midnight

Foolish Wives

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Monsieur Verdoux


Out 1: noli me tangere



Tih Minh


And here’s my 2002 list, in chronological order, with a short note appended:

Les Vampires


Story of the Late Chrysanthemums

Ivan the Terrible

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Last Year at Marienbad

The House is Black



When it Rains

I’ve included a serial, an unfinished trilogy and two shorts, but assume that it’s no longer necessary to mention Chaplin, Godard, Hitchcock, Ozu, Renoir or Welles.


And here, finally, is my list this year, chronological, with another note appended:




I Was Born, But…

Rear Window



Histoire(s) du cinéma

The Wind Will Carry Us

The World

I didn’t allow myself to include any titles from my previous Sight and Sound lists. [8/2/12]

This entry was posted in Notes. Bookmark the permalink.