When Sight and Sound released their 2022 poll in December, the rush wore off within a couple days for me. I was impatient. I’m still impatient, because I want the vote counts for all of these movies to be released, and when that happens I’m sure I’ll write about that too. But a lot of my impatience has been mollified by the release of the movies which, for shorthand, make up the rest of a top 250. (There are 164 of these movies, and they go from “tied for 101” to “tied for 243.” If they wanted to call it the Hundred Years’ War, we can call this the Top 250.) A lot of my questions about the top 100 were actually answered by the release of these other films, and I’ve drawn some conclusions from these revealed additions which I’m not sure we could have drawn from just the top 100.
Before we start, and this is not a point I want to belabor too much, I want to be clear that I think it’s probably about as impressive to have a movie tied for 225th as it is to have a movie tied for 136th. If you look at the votes on the 2012 poll, you’ll see what I mean.
The story of that poll was Vertigo, mostly because it was the first time that a non-Citizen Kane film had topped the list in some decades, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that Vertigo was on 22.5% of the returned ballots. 846 people voted, and 191 of them had Vertigo as a top-10 movie all time. That’s an absolutely incredible ratio. The flip side is that to make the top 100 (technically the top 101) in 2012, a movie needed seventeen votes from 846 ballots. That’s 2%, like the milk. Getting seventeen people from that voting body to say your film is one of the ten greatest of all time is obviously no small feat, but to be named on the 2012 poll’s Top 250, a movie needed seven votes. Still a great accomplishment, and yet that’s less than one percent of all ballots. We don’t have the numbers for the 2022 poll yet, but even with about twice as many voters I’d be surprised if the pattern weren’t similar to this. At any rate, that’s why I think a top 25 spot is incredibly impressive and a spot around 80 is really not all that different from a spot around 175.
1) I did not include her, it’s not true, it’s bullshit. I did not include her, I did not. Oh hi Lucrecia.
Let’s start with the director who I think is probably the most important symbolic figure of the 101-250 range on this list.
One of the great snubs in this top 100, and I do mean that with the implication that someone else has her spot, is the Argentinian Lucrecia Martel.It’s me! I said that!
It turned out that Martel was a little less snubbed than I thought she was. There are three of her movies in that second 150. She’s also the only director with three films in the 2022 poll who wasn’t listed at all in 2012; all of those films are 21st Century releases, which is something that only Apichatpong Weerasethakul can also claim.
One way to react to this is to say that in the 2022 poll, Martel has as many films on this list as Andrei Tarkovsky, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, Federico Fellini, or John Ford. You could look at this and say that she has as many films on this list as Chantal Akerman, who is now credited by the poll with directing the greatest movie of all time. Martel has more films on this list than anyone from South America, and is tied with Luis Buñuel for the most listed movies made by a sometime denizen of the Western Hemisphere who is not from the United States. La cienaga has as many votes as The Seventh Seal and Pickpocket. The Headless Woman and Zama have as many votes as Double Indemnity, Uncle Boonmee, or Nosferatu. I don’t think it’s out of the question that La cienaga gets a jump like what Chungking Express or Do the Right Thing got from 2012 to 2022. To be honest, I’d love to see Zama pull the Cleo from 5 to 7 in 2032. (I don’t usually like watching movies more than once if I can help it, but Zama, like Silence and Cold War, is a film from the past ten years I’ve returned to already.) All of those empirically true statements are still incredibly impressive and show that Martel is not quite as disrespected as I worried she was back in December. (We’ll get into some of the other reasons why I think Martel is still at least a little disrespected in future sections of this post.) And just think, Marvel wouldn’t let her direct her own action sequences.
2) Let’s complicate the way we assess directorial performance on the Sight and Sound poll.
The bad news for Martel, other than losing what was obviously the chance of a lifetime directing Black Widow, is that she only has four points off of three movies. We’ll talk about it. What I wanted to measure by director was the amount of passion that the voting body has for their work, and to do that I broke the 2022 list into tiers.
|Tier||Movies Listed, ex.||Points Given|
|1 / First-Place Movies||1-3 / ex. Jeanne Dielman||10|
|2 / Beloveds||4-13 / ex. 2001: A Space Odyssey||8|
|3 / Three-Year-Olds and Old War Horses||14 to (tied) 41 / ex. Pather Panchali||6|
|4 / Safely Top 100 by One Ballot or More||43 to (tied) 84 / ex. Andrei Rublev||5|
|5 / Borderline Top 100||(tied) 88 to (tied) 108 / ex. Rio Bravo||4|
|6 / Triumph of the Genre||(tied) 114 to (tied) 129 / ex. The Matrix||3|
|7 / Velveteen Rabbits and Shiny New Toys||(tied) 133 to (tied) 157 / ex. Twin Peaks: The Return||2|
|8 / Wait ’til 2032||(tied) 169 to (tied) 243 / ex. Possession||1|
So to take this back to Lucrecia Martel, she has one movie in Tier 7 (La cienaga) and two movies in Tier 8 (The Headless Woman and Zama). That gives her four points, which, as we’ll see in a second, actually gives her the second-lowest average points per film listed of any director with multiple entries, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. If you want to see every director with a film on the 2022 list, that graph is ugly. Take a look at this ugly graph.
As you can see, there’s a long tail of directors who got one point for their one appearance on the list. And there are also, much more importantly, a number of directors who got a lot of points for the one movie that they had on the list. In fact, out of the fifteen directors who scored better than 5 points via this metric, ten of them placed only one movie on the list, and they make up nine of the top ten spots. Dziga Vertov and Donen/Kelly both pick up eights; Vera Chytilova, Vittorio De Sica, Maya Deren, Claude Lanzmann, Charles Laughton, Spike Lee, Jacques Tati, and Jean Vigo are all sitting there with six. Another way to say this? Two out of the ten directors represented in Tier 2 only appear in Tier 2; eight of twenty-seven, almost thirty percent, of the directors in Tier 3 only appear in Tier 3.
This graph handles the noise better. Francis Ford Coppola, because critics and Film Twitter are only growing into a more unified Venn diagram, has three entries and eighteen points. Charlie Chaplin and Fritz Lang are both at 5.5, which I don’t think is coincidental. Both of them are being rewarded for movies made no later than 1936 (that’s Chaplin pretending he can get away with silence, incidentally), and they are representative of the old movies that are hanging on with their fingernails. Then come people who have had the top-ranked movie in the poll in the past three go-rounds, plus Tarkovsky, Ozu, Marker, and, interestingly, Miyazaki. Whether Miyazaki will be able to hold this position in future polls is a pretty interesting question. I think it bodes well for him that the voters are backing My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away rather than trying to mix in Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service as well. (Once again, something else we’ll get back to.) The opposite is happening to Joe Weerasethakul, who has six points off three movies. Tropical Malady and Uncle Boonmee appear to be solidified, but support for Blissfully Yours has turned into support for Syndromes and a Century in the ten-year hiatus. But the group that I really want to talk about is this one, the one that looks like a sad ghost.
Maybe Steven Spielberg doesn’t really belong in this group, seeing as Jaws came in just outside the top 100 despite being completely absent from the 2012 list. (I know, something else to talk about later.) On the other hand, the guy did just lose E.T. from his count, and here I thought that was going to be one of his more reliable numbers. I’ll also listen to objections about Sergio Leone, who has Once Upon a Time in the West in the top 100 and got The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on here as well. But the rest of the men here are in some kind of peril. They, and here I do include Spielberg and even Leone, who has now split from halves to thirds, bear filmographies which are just varied enough to deny a consensus. One may pick and choose just a little too much from these. Take Bresson, who in the past two polls has seen Au hasard Balthazar, Pickpocket, A Man Escaped, L’argent, Mouchette, Diary of a Country Priest, and The Devil Probably make the cut. He’s down to the first five now, with only Balthazar and A Man Escaped in the top 100, and the latter barely hanging on at that. Taxi Driver is Pickpocket now, and I say that ruefully despite being someone who prefers Taxi Driver. Antonioni has three features on the list, having lost The Passenger and Blow Up from 2012, and L’eclisse is one of eight movies on the 2022 list to have fallen more than one hundred spots. The others? Silent movies (Intolerance, Greed, The Last Laugh), a Bresson (Mouchette), the increasingly radioactive Woody Allen (Annie Hall), and two by Powell and Pressburger. A Canterbury Tale is not going to be here in 2032, and despite the lake still being there and Candy, presumably, remaining unchanged, I worry that we’ll lose Colonel Blimp as well. The Archers combine for six films, a number that is equaled only by Alfred Hitchcock on this poll. But despite being tied for first in films, they are tied for fifteenth in points, alongside Bresson(!), Scorsese, and Howard Hawks. I’ve lamented the loss of older films in that post I linked to up there, and trust me, that dissatisfaction spreads out to losing multiple Mizoguchis and Spring in a Small Town as well as losing Bresson and watching silent cinema disappear. I won’t reiterate the bulk of that again; mostly I don’t like the feeling that the people who I’d hope would have longer views don’t really seem to maintain that kind of vision.
In the spirit of the thing, I have a series of charts here that show: films that rose fifty or more places from 2012 to 2022, films that rose between one and forty-nine places, films that dropped one to forty places, and films that dropped more than forty places. The only movie that doesn’t appear on any of those charts is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is still hanging on to sixth.
3) Now that we’ve mentioned him, it’s time to talk Howard Hawks and the vote-splitting issue.
Aside from the return of Twin Peaks discourse (as if Berlin Alexanderplatz and even Fanny and Alexander hadn’t been screwing with the TV/movie line for multiple polls), I think the one that was most interesting to follow was about Hawks. The point of the Sight and Sound poll is hardly to get a certain list of directors into the top 100, but when a director who’s obviously got a lot of support whiffs on that top 100, it’s worth seeing why that’s the case. Hawks makes it easy. If the 2022 group is like the 2012 group, the difference between Rio Bravo and His Girl Friday is probably not even that great in terms of the total percentage of ballots; based on the number of ties/places between the two, Rio Bravo would have ended up with like five more votes than His Girl Friday.
I figured I knew the answer to this already, but I checked anyway. I looked for all directors with at least three films entered and then compared how many tiers their films were in. I’ve got Hawks across two tiers; was there anyone else who was personally sabotaged by making enough movies of roughly similar quality that voters couldn’t decide?
Twenty-nine directors with three or more films listed. Eight of them have two or more of their movies in that eighth and final tier: Antonioni, Buñuel, Murnau, Rossellini, Weerasethakul, Bresson, Kubrick, Powell and Pressburger. Hawks doesn’t come out best here, although if I’d guessed without looking I would have guessed wrong! Hawks has two movies in Tier 5 and two in Tier 6. For all of the Powell and Pressburger tsuris I’ve whipped up, The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death are both in Tier 4. Godard has three in Tier 4, and Wilder and Tarkovsky finally have something in common now that they both have two movies in Tier 4. Hitchcock and Kurosawa, predictably, outdo everyone else with two movies in Tier 3. But no one else is doing what Hawks is doing once you get down to 5 and 6, which makes him the most appreciated underappreciated director via this exercise. Hawks outnumbers Ford, even though Ford basically outdoes Hawks in terms of which tiers he appears in, and as it stands these are two of the last three guys standing from the Hollywood studio era as Sight and Sound’s major representatives thereof. In fact, given that Hitchcock has only one movie from before 1954 out of his six, I think it’s probably fair to say that Hawks, with two ’30s and a ’40s, might be the overall favorite of the classic Hollywood era here. I don’t usually expect boring from Sight and Sound, but this is a little bit dull?
4) Luis Buñuel is out. David Lynch is in.
In 2012, Luis Buñuel had seven movies listed, which was tied with Bresson for the most total by any director. A lot of directors have lost movies since 2012, but Buñuel’s fall from seven to three feels significant to me. None in the top 100 after only squeezing in Un chien andalou in 2012. Los olvidados is now his top-rated film, with The Exterminating Angel and Un chien andalou both a level below. Gone are Viridiana, L’age d’or, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Belle de jour. Buñuel has something like the same issue that Howard Hawks has, which is that there are so many movies of similar quality that it’s enormously difficult to get 1,600 people to agree on what the best of them might be, let alone if any of them ought to be rated among the ten best films ever made. But he also is fighting history, and History is rarely defeated by anyone but Nature. If it’s a foundational document of surrealism, an artistic form which has devolved from the sublime to the adjectival (how many critics struggle to tell the difference between “surreal” and “kooky,” I wonder), then it’s falling away. If it’s a satirical statement about Europeans who presumably have position and propriety, those objects have been dead or atomized so long that it’s difficult to relate to them. (Are people comparing Orban to Franco with all of the seriousness that demands, or do people mostly worry that Orban is a bad influence on Donald Trump because he’s teaching him to swear and leave bags of dog poop aflame on the steps of western Europe?) If it’s about the power of Catholicism over proletarian people, then does that really mean so much to an ever more secular Europe? Buñuel as an artist is always relevant, but it’s less obvious now than it was in 2012, let alone how clear it was in 1982, and now a more obviously relevant auteur has generally taken the surrealist banner from him.
David Lynch certainly suits the theatrical element of being our chief cinematic dreamer better than Luis Buñuel did. Buñuel came from wealth, married an Olympic gymnast, was good at virtually everything he tried, spent his youth hopping around the great cities of the world. Lynch, on the other hand, spent his childhood on the move because of his father was a government employee, growing up on opposite sides of the country, dropping out of and enrolling in multiple colleges, married four times. Buñuel was a rapier intended for, well, the bourgeoisie. Lynch insists that there is a eerieness all around us, that we live on the back of a giant turtle which feeds exclusively on pond scum. It’s easier, I think, to enjoy Lynch in the present time than Buñuel, and not simply because Lynch’s targets are more visible than Buñuel’s. It’s because it’s impossible to imagine Buñuel doing the ice bucket challenge and nominating Leonid Brezhnev to do it next.
Lynch has three films and one TV series in the top 250. Mulholland Drive has jumped to eighth overall, and while Blue Velvet has actually dropped fifteen spots since 2012, it’s still a top-100 film. Joining them are two Twin Peaks pieces. Fire Walk with Me was probably two or three ballots away from not making the list, which ain’t nothing, while The Return is this poll’s version of television that we pretend is film because it’s really good. In 2012, Berlin Alexanderplatz filled that role; in 2022, it’s The Return. Three of the four movies that Lynch has here are on basically the same topic, about the systemic rot that is at once destroying and propping up a way of life in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a version of Buñuel which is closer to home for most of the Sight and Sound voters these days, one that some number of them probably grew up on and have returned to frequently in their careers. Surrealism is for a period which is recognizably contemporary (i.e., a time which one remembers with one’s own mind), not a period which takes places in history books. Un chien andalou, the historical landmark, and Los olvidados, which is not at all surreal, will probably battle to be the last on the 2032 poll.
5) Michael Haneke and Krzysztof Kieslowski are out. Women directors are in…specifically a few women directors.
Forty-eight movies tied with seven votes for representation in the top 250 of the 2012 list. Two-thirds of them did not make the 2022 list, which was certainly foreseeable. The Piano was the only film to make the top 100 from that position, although The House Is Black came pretty close. All That Heaven Allows and Where Is the Friend’s House? both made nice jumps too, but these are absolutely the exceptions. Most of those movies from the tied-235 section are gone, even movies by Sight and Sound luminaries like Hawks, Visconti, Weerasethakul, and Satyajit Ray. The chart above is the list of directors who made the top 250 in 2012, most of them in that danger zone at tied-235, and how many movies they had before they were knocked out.
Vincente Minnelli stands out to me, because I’ve got my own shame about not adequately appreciating him that I’ve written about before. Meet Me in St. Louis and The Band Wagon, neither of which even appeals to me as a top-10 film of their respective decades, is gone. There is no more representation for George Méliès at Sight and Sound, nor have the voters for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari come out. British cinema took a body blow with the loss of Humphrey Jennings, Robert Hamer, and Ken Loach; Czechoslovak cinema is about Vera Chytilova and not Frantisek Vlacil. But these groups are not necessarily indicative of one another or like each other. Again, most of them are films that got seven votes out of about 850. What interests me more are five films that are no longer listed, which means their directors are likewise out of the top 250. Krzysztof Kieslowski lost two of three Colors, Blue and Red, as well as The Double Life of Veronique. We could have guessed that The White Ribbon would have fallen off, but it sure seems like Caché, perhaps the European arthouse picture of the aughts, is no longer considered one of the great films of that decade by this body. You can throw darts and hit any number of reasons why Kieslowski and Haneke are no longer here, with the most likely reason being that if you double the number of participants you are going to get different results. I also wonder if there’s something similar happening with Kieslowski and Haneke because of the subjects of their oeuvres. Kieslowski’s late career, exemplified by Three Colors, is so much about reckoning with a unifying Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, Haneke was especially incisive at viewing a changing Europe through the eyes of class and race. But if your voters are no longer thinking about the novelty of the European Union, if the Cold War is either thirty years past or even outside of adult memory for a number of the voters, how much does that hymn for the unification of Europe in Blue really resonate? This is the Buñuel hypothesis again in a different form, clearly, but the absence of eleven movies feels like an enormous shift when we try to identify what film critics value thematically in European film.
Is it an overstatement to say that the major difference in European films listed in 2012 and 2022 is the sex of the director? Even though you could make that case on the whole, it’d miss the point.
Europe netted a loss of twenty-four films from 2012 to 2022. Forty-eight European films were lost, and twenty-four were added. Forty-six of the movies lost were directed solely by men. Two of them with coincidentally Italian names, The Turin Horse and Sicilia!, were co-directed by women. As for the new films, half of them were directed by women, although there’s not much variety in them either geographically or personally. Eight of them are French (and one is Belgian). Two of them are British, leaving a single Soviet film. Over half are by Chantal Akerman, Celine Sciamma, or Agnes Varda, and I think that’s where the difference lies. It’s not that like there’s some enormous diversity in the people who have come in on the European side, and if you looked at this and said “People put in Vardas and Akermans instead of Kieslowskis and Hanekes this time,” that would be true on the aggregate if not necessarily on a ballot to ballot basis.
6) Hey, here’s an unanswerable question. Who’s the best director who doesn’t have any movie on the 2022 poll?
So the person who made me think about this is Pedro Almodovar, who definitely does have a movie on this list. All About My Mother, as it has been since 2002, is named in the poll, although where it’s been in the poll has fluctuated since 2002. I am continually surprised that we can’t get a second or even a third Almodovar on this list, but at least there’s one! There are 151 other directors/director pairs on this list besides Almodovar with at least one film. (If I can editorialize, here are some other directors where I think it’s wild they only have one film listed, in alphabetical order: Robert Altman, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean-Pierre Melville, Sergei Parajanov, Jacques Tati, Tsai Ming-liang, Luchino Visconti.) That means that the average director on this list comes in with 1.73 films per, which seems about right to me?
I spent like, five minutes coming up with this list, because sometimes I actually mean it when I say that some questions are unanswerable. I’m going to highlight ten (eleven, but it’s ten) directors who have been on this list before or never been on this list, and because I’m a good sport I’m even going to make a ballot for those ten (eleven, but it’s ten) directors. Before we get there, a quick alphabetical sampling of some directors who were not named in the top 250 (264, but it’s 250) this poll. I list this non-exhaustive list as a reminder, because I think it’s very easy to pretend that Sight and Sound presents a monolithic truth when in fact you could probably go full Rosenbaum and make a list of 250 equally good movies without using a single director from this poll.
Anyway: Maren Ade, James Cameron (there’s a reason I’m bringing him up), Leos Carax, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Souleymane Cisse, Jean Cocteau (if Buñuel is diminishing, Cocteau is dream cinema’s Terri Schiavo), Costa-Gavras, the Dardennes, Peter Greenaway, Wojciech Jerzy Has, John Huston, Jim Jarmusch, Krzyszstof Kieslowski (covered in detail above), Emir Kusturica (cinema of the former/present Yugoslavia is absent), Ken Loach, Ida Lupino, Louis Malle, Steve McQueen, George Melies (this still sucks), Vincente Minnelli, Jafar Panahi, Glauber Rocha, Bimal Roy, Shadi Abdel Salam, Abderrehmane Sissako, Jan Troell, Raoul Walsh, William Wyler, Zhang Yimou, Andrei Zyvagintsev.
But like I said, I’m a good sport. Here’s a genuinely believable, maybe even outstanding, ballot without using any of the 152 directors already recognized by Sight and Sound this time out.
- Theodore Angelopoulos / The Travelling Players
- Henri-Georges Clouzot / The Wages of Fear
- Joel and Ethan Coen / Fargo
- Todd Haynes / Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
- Humphrey Jennings / Listen to Britain
- Jia Zhangke / A Touch of Sin
- Mikhail Kalatozov / The Cranes Are Flying
- Aki Kaurismaki / Leningrad Cowboys Go America
- Errol Morris/Frederick Wiseman (this is eleven, but it’s ten, consarn it) / The Thin Blue Line/In Jackson Heights
- Victor Sjostrom / The Wind
Most of these directors have made the Sight and Sound list in the past three tries, some of them with the movie named (Angelopoulos, Jennings). And I’ll grant that for a non-American audience, maybe Todd Haynes or Frederick Wiseman feel a little bit forced. On the other hand, there are three directors here who, to the best of my knowledge, have not been listed ever, or at the very least from 2002 on. It gets harder to find records of how individual polls with so relatively few voters went in the past, so maybe there’s some love down the line for Mikhail Kalatozov in 1962 or 1972 I don’t know of. But there are plenty of his films to choose from, and The Cranes Are Flying must be one of the greatest homefront movies, or indeed war movies, ever made. Aki Kaurismaki has been making reliably distinctive, wry, and humanist movies for decades now. Are there many directors of his status making films about immigration like he does, such as Le Havre or The Other Side of Hope? The one that just leaves me gobsmacked to see absent is Jia Zhangke, who is probably the foremost artistic talent in mainland Chinese cinema this century. There are so many outstanding pictures to choose from, and yet no large enough contingent has taken the leap for him. Will 2032 break the streak with Still Life or Platform, or perhaps with the popular Ash Is Purest White? Like I said, the question of the best director missing from this poll is a stretch of quicksand you might never escape from, but today I think the best director working who isn’t named anywhere could well be Jia.
7) Is this the poll we remember as the turning point in rating Asian cinema?
Asia netted negative three films from 2012 to 2022, which I thought was pretty surprising! First off, I wanted to start by charting all nations with a film in the top 250 in 2022.
And this next one shows every Asian movie that was on the 2012 or 2022 list, and showing what number they rated at in 2012 and 2022.
Finally, the number of movies per Asian country in 2012 compared to 2022.
In 2022 as well as 2012, Japan is the hegemonic power in Asian cinema, at least by Sight and Sound. But that power is weakening; Ozu and Mizoguchi have lost movies from this list and have not been met with reinforcements from Takashi Miike, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, or Satoshi Kon. (Mikio Naruse has been dropped and there’s no sign of Obayashi or Oshima or Suzuki.) More films from Hong Kong and, for the first time, South Korea are joining this list. Even as individual films drop from India or Iran or Taiwan, they have by and large been replaced by other films from the same country. One poll does not make a trend, but I think it’s incredibly interesting that Japanese film is no longer redoubtable in the eyes of Sight and Sound; other national filmographies from other Asian nations are coming, and given some other genre significations, it seems more likely that Park Chan-wook or John Woo or Hong Sang-soo would sneak a movie on before even a classic Japanese director might reclaim a spot. A second Bong in 2032 is inevitable.
The real question, now that we have movies from Mauritania and Angola on the list, is if we can get some Asian movies that are not from one of these eight places. Will Lav Diaz or Lino Brocka break through for the Philippines? Can Nadav Lapid make it on the 2032 representing Israel? Will some Asian SSRs break through? If Turkey is sufficiently Asian, will we get to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan? Or, more likely, do the gates continue to open for Hongkonger and Taiwanese filmmakers?
8) Which movies down the list are this edition’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu?
In 2012, three of the several movies tied for 202nd (eight mentions) were Russian Ark, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and The Turin Horse. All three of these films failed to get enough votes to make the 2022 poll, and none of these films, if they were transformed into human individuals, would be old enough to order a drink at a bar in the United States. I can’t draw a conclusion from The Turin Horse getting dropped. Tarr is probably less popular with 1,650 voters than he was with 850, but he is still on the list in two other places, and Satantango is still a top-100 film. Russian Ark falling off is, from at least one angle, totally fascinating. It’s one of just two Russian films (not Russian, but Soviet) to have gotten multiple votes since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The other is Burnt by the Sun, a Nikita Mikhalkov which got two votes in 2002 and hasn’t been heard from since. There are a bunch of reasons that Russian Ark might have fallen off, from the expanded pool of voters to a lack of interest to the possibility that some percentage of voters might be boycotting Russian films because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Who knows? The film that I’m interested in working from as a model here is Mr. Lazarescu, because out of that group of three, it’s probably the one that evinces “trendy” the best. It’s a representative of the Romanian New Wave, which was one of the brightest spots in 21st Century international cinema. Cristi Puiu remains one of the most compelling directors in the world, and Sieranevada was one of the most lauded films of the 2010s. But neither Puiu nor any Romanian director made it on the list in 2022, which leads to the question of which movies from the 2010s and 2020s which were well-regarded, if not outright fashionable, will fail to make the leap to 2032.
I started by pulling all titles new to the 2022 list, and then I decided to keep it to movies which were released from 2012 on. As much as I’d love to talk about why Heat is proof that there are way too many Gen Xers in this voting pool, I don’t want to try to predict which movies from the 1990s or 2000s aren’t going to make a list in 2032. Then I decided to power rank which movies I thought were most likely to drop from the 2032 list after a single appearance here. This is mostly vibes, stop yelling at me.
I think the bottom three are safe for at least ten years. I expect all of them to drop, if I’m being honest—I have a funny feeling that Portrait is actually going to do what The Godfather Part II did this time out and drop about seventy spots—but my guess is that all three of those films are still there. Twin Peaks: The Return is an interesting case, because Berlin Alexanderplatz fell off in 2022. It seems like there are enough Lynch aficionados to keep The Return afloat for at least another decade? Under the Skin is probably in a tier with The Return. It clearly has enough support right now to give it rope above the cutoff point, although the fact that there’s not another Jonathan Glazer in striking distance of this list makes me nervous for him. I have Zama and Fury Road in a similar spot. They got the same number of votes as each other. I don’t know if Martel is going to get three movies on the next list even if I think it’d be cool; Mad Max: Fury Road is currently outdoing stuff like The Wages of Fear and who knows how long this genre is going to keep its footing. That takes us to the top two. Petite maman is the only movie from the 2020s, and while this has not exactly been a great decade for films, no doubt other 2020s films will get votes, push it a little bit, etc. And then there’s Get Out, which I understand is a big swing. No film from the top 100 in 2012 was completely eliminated from the 2022 list, so expecting that Get Out will be dropped is probably a foolish expectation. This is a bet on the idea of being trendy, though. Just as Mr. Lazarescu is a film very much of its moment, Get Out is also very much one of those “movies of our time,” and while it’s not like systemic racism is going anywhere in this country, I don’t know that people fifteen years afterward are going to feel the lightning quality of Get Out any more than people fifteen years after literal lightning remember the forks of electricity. Also…I really hope that everyone starts talking about Nope instead of Get Out then.
9) If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is as well-regarded a movie as The Conformist or Aguirre, the Wrath of God, what does that say about highbrow film criticism these days?
Back in part 6, I said we’d get back to James Cameron. I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Terminator 2 is one of the 250 greatest movies ever made. If you made me do a Sight and Sound list with directors who weren’t represented this time out, I think Cameron is not just a good choice but an obvious one for such a list. But it took five polls (fifty years!) to get Jaws onto this list just outside the top 100. We may not have a habitable planet by the time James Cameron has that kind of support for any of his movies unless critics love Payakan for more than the memes. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, why not Terminator 2? If Jaws or The Thing, why not Terminator 2? Perhaps most saliently: if Star Wars or Mad Max: Fury Road, why not Terminator 2? I don’t have a good answer for this because I am not in the hearts and minds of the 1,600 voters. I do have a chart.
Obvious caveats are obvious: movies fit into multiple genres, I could have been way more detailed than this, I don’t care, I needed a shorthand, this is sufficient. This is what the critics that Sight and Sound wants representing them in their poll like. Or what they’re most moved by. Or what they feel comfortable putting on a ballot that’s going to have their name on it. Or what they find greatest. The last one is instructive, I think; these people don’t think musicals, as a group, are that good. This is part of the reason why Singin’ in the Rain always winds up so high; there is no other musical that the voting body is seriously considering for this list. On the other hand, social dramas, romances, and psychological dramas are, unsurprisingly, the three that critics are most impressed with. (That domestic dramas rate below comedies and crime films is something that we could psychoanalyze but are perhaps better off simply noting.) Right in the middle there, above war films and avant-garde pictures, are horror movies. Horror is a more respectable genre than action/adventure or musicals; it’s a more respectable genre than epics or science-fiction. Whether or not this was the case thirty or forty years ago, it’s the case now that horror is one of the key genres for people who are studying film and thinking film at this level. My not-very-good answer is that when Texas Chain Saw is here, and movies like Jaws and The Thing are leaping into the top 125 from not appearing at all in 2012, it means that horror is adequately acceptable, more so than other genres which are still more prestigious at the Oscars or in regional film critics’ circles.
There are two things most interesting to me in the films which qualify most as horror (as opposed to like, Videodrome, which I’d prefer to call science-fiction). First, that they are overwhelmingly from the 1970s and 1980s. Second, that a number of them are historic American box office successes, especially against their budgets. Take a look.
Perhaps more than any other genre, box office and prestige go together for horror. No amount of box office success for a superhero move will make it adequately respectable for Sight and Sound voters. On the other hand, no amount of box office failure will dissuade them from putting a psychological drama on their ballot. Horror is a little bit of a different story, and while some of these films weren’t necessarily huge earners, like The Thing or Fire Walk with Me, they have both been so completely reclaimed in the past fifteen years or so that they had adequate momentum to make this 2022 list. On the other hand, if you were scared by Jaws or Alien, Texas Chain Saw or Get Out, that’s cool; everyone else was too. What I find more depressing is that you have to be literally F.W. Murnau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, or Alfred Hitchcock to get a horror movie released more than fifty years ago on enough ballots to be noted. This what I mean when I both harp on and carp about this prejudice towards, relatively speaking, newer movies. Are Suspiria and Get Out so much better than The Golem: How He Came into the World or Cat People or Haxan? Clearly more people reach for the first two, but the question of what is top of mind for critics continues to be so important as we get ever closer to the sesquicentennial of cinema.
10) American cinema runs this list. What is the American canon in 2023?
Ninety-three American films are on the 2022 Sight and Sound list out of 264. For those of us not close to a calculator, that’s better than a third. 35% of the films are American, and 65% belong to some other national cinema belonging to one of hundreds of countries. (Usually France.) It’s pretty clear to most of us that this is the inevitable bias of an English publication running this exercise, which said English publication is extremely cognizant of. What this does for American movies which it does not do for Japanese or Italian cinema, say, is provide a large enough sample that we can think about which American movies are not just canonized by Americans but by an international audience.
The average canonized American movie (CAMs) was released in 1965, and the trend ever so slightly points to newer movies at the expense of older. The 1970s are America’s great cinematic years; the 1950s are pretty close. The 1910s are imperiled.
7.5% of the directors of CAMs are Black; the rest are white. 7.5% of the directors of CAMs are women; the rest are men. (Julie Dash and Cheryl Dunye are pulling double duty here.) Almost a third of the CAMs were directed by people who were not born in the United States. That number includes people like Frank Capra and Maya Deren, who both spent the vast majority of their childhoods in the States, but we’re also benefiting from people who made careers in America long after they were born, raised, and became well-known. This is capitalism’s fault, clearly. Directors like Hitchcock and Chaplin, Murnau and Sirk, Ophuls and Renoir came to America because Hollywood was there. Some of those people mentioned just now also came because they wanted to escape persecution, especially from the Nazis. This is a very American idea, of course. People come here because they can live more freely, which tends to go hand-in-hand with seeking more income, which helps them live more freely, and so on. Maybe we should be a wee bit embarrassed that even if we don’t count Sunrise, there are eight Best Picture winners in this group. In other words, there are more movies that won Best Picture at the Oscars than were directed by women or by people of color. (Moonlight is the one doing extra work this time.)
The reason I’ve got the ninety-three CAMs depicted that way in the gallery up there is not about aesthetics but tiers. On the far left, ending with City Lights, are the top fifteen American movies. None of them have a tied vote total, which means, in Sight and Sound talk, that they got a lot of votes. These are the holy grail movies and just about everyone thinks so. The American Film Institute included all of them on their 2007 list except for Mulholland Drive and Meshes of the Afternoon. The latter film is too short to meet the minimum time limit of an hour that the AFI imposed, and Mulholland Drive would have been the second film from the 21st Century to crack that list. Every decade from the 1920s to the 1980s is represented by these fifteen films, and so are the 2000s. The 1910s, 1990s (the 1990s are a real trouble spot for CAMs, apparently), and 2010s aren’t addressed until later, but ninety years of American cinema are spoken for this way. The best American movie of each decade, according to Sight and Sound, is:
- (1910s: Intolerance)
- 1920s: Sunrise
- 1930s: City Lights
- 1940s: Citizen Kane
- 1950s: Vertigo
- 1960s: 2001
- 1970s: The Godfather
- 1980s: Do the Right Thing
- (1990s: Daughters of the Dust)
- 2000s: Mulholland Drive
- (2010s: Moonlight)
Sing it with me: these are incredibly boring picks! I think a teenager with a Letterboxd account could probably have come up with more than half these if I’d given her ten minutes to guess what the highest-rated film of each decade was. But that’s what it means to make a consensus, and these are consensus choices. They are so solidified that it’s easier for me to guess what will fall out of fashion (The Searchers, Sunrise) than it is for me to guess what will try to butt its head in over the next few years.
The next tier is, and I say this with more affection than not, the TCM tier. More or less educational, a little moralizing, here to play the hits too. The goal is applause here, polite applause with an occasional whistle for Wanda or Some Like It Hot or Blue Velvet. This tier ends at the tie for 95, which is the last spot before the start of the back 150, and it’s an indecisive tier. Vertigo and Psycho are the top Hitchcocks, but there are more than enough fans of Rear Window and North by Northwest to pass them along. No one could decide on which Keaton, which is why this tier has both Sherlock, Jr. and The General (even in the right order!), and absolutely no one at all could decide on which Wilder. There are three Billy Wilders in this group, and sort of like Howard Hawks fans, you wonder if the Wilder rooters couldn’t have pooled their money in order to get Some Like It Hot into the top 20 overall. There are fifteen directors in the Consensus tier; five (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Lynch, Scorsese, Chaplin) of them have at least one film in the TCM tier as well. There’s a hierarchy forming among directors in the TCM tier, one that favors Hitchcock, of course, but also Kubrick and Lynch, and which is congratulatory to but not entirely receptive of Ridley Scott, Michael Curtiz, and Charles Burnett.
Let’s skip ahead to the last tier for a minute. It’s the smallest one, and the nine films in it are together because I’d guess that all of them came within two ballots of not making the top 250 at all. Four of them are new additions to 2022 compared to 2012: The Crowd (a new silent! I almost peed!), As I Was Moving Ahead, Harlan County, and Born in Flames. Among those, As I Was Moving Ahead and Harlan County are especially interesting. The Sight and Sound voters don’t really respect American avant-garde or documentaries all that much, it seems. There are three American docs on this list, which is more than almost anyone, but that’s fewer docs than the French have even though the Frogs only have a little more than half as many movies as the Yanks. And there are just two American avant-garde/surrealist movies, which is like two percent of all American movies and ten percent of all avant-garde/surrealist pictures. You’ll never believe this, but the French outnumber us here too.
That leaves two tiers, which contain more than half of all the CAMs listed by Sight and Sound. They range from Rio Bravo at 101 to the seven movies tied at 211. The fourth tier, for those of us keeping track of these names I’m definitely not coming up with as I write them, is the Inauspicious tier. There are twenty movies in this tier, and fully half of them are new to the Sight and Sound list this time out. I had no idea people liked The Deer Hunter this much, ditto The Birds, and if there is one movie that I am actively a little frustrated to see in this top 250, it’s Magnolia. (Obviously not everyone feels the same way as I do here, but like…easily the worst Paul Thomas Anderson, what are we doing here.) Symbiopsychotaxiplasm and Paris Is Burning are the top two American documentaries, and both are new; I like both of their chances. And if Jaws is suddenly this popular, then Raiders seems like it has an honest chance to hang around ten years from now. The other half are movies which have, by and large, cratered. The River is down more than fifty spots, Dr. Strangelove almost eighty, The Magnificent Ambersons almost ninety, The Tree of Life more than ninety, Greed more than one hundred. The one that shocks me a little is The Tree of Life, which looked like it was going to be a challenger to rise well into the top 100 after tying for 102nd in 2012. On the other hand, 102nd looks like a cursed position from 2012. Eight movies tied for 102nd in 2012. Meshes of the Afternoon skyrocketed into the top 100, but there were three movies dropped from the list entirely, and the average drop for the other four was sixty-eight spots. If you were to tell me that one of these tiers would lose two-thirds of its number between 2022 and 2032, I’d definitely pick this tier.
Our last tier is the Possibilities tier. It’s larger than the rest, which is part of the reason it’s kind of weird, but it’s also weird because it feels like these movies didn’t share ballots with each other. It’s easy to imagine a ballot with Citizen Kane and Vertigo on it, just like it’s easy to imagine a ballot with Blue Velvet and Apocalypse Now. I have no idea whose ballot includes The Matrix and Trouble in Paradise, y’know? Some of the boldest decisions on the entire top 250 are in here, like The Matrix and The Thing and, of course, Twin Peaks: The Return. And then a number of these films are quintessential TCM tier movies, or, heck, quintessential basic cable on a Sunday movies. The Godfather Part II and Jaws are here (I guess we’ll find out who the real dads are in the voting body), The Wizard of Oz and Pulp Fiction, and the ever-popular and largely seasonal It’s a Wonderful Life. In a way I’m almost as bored with this tier as I am with the Consensus tier; there are a few interesting picks along the way, but naturally the movies aren’t quite as good. For all of the boldness elsewhere on the list, from Jeanne Dielman to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Sight and Sound’s voters have more or less giftwrapped their largest national contingent.
2 thoughts on “Ten Thoughts on the Other 164 Movies in the 2022 Sight and Sound Poll”
I’m commenting well after the point of relevance, but this is fantastic analysis that addresses the knee-jerk concerns that arose on social media. I appreciate that you acknowledge my two biggest surprises: Jia Zhangke’s absence and the abundance of Oscar winning films. The latter is my biggest gripe with this list, as Oscar winning seems to me already a form of canonization – why stump for any of those movies in a poll like this when their status is already guaranteed? Same is true for the basic cable picks. I wonder if this, too, has something to do with the disproportionate Gen X makeup of the list, when those two things counted for a movie’s prestige during a gen x cinephile’s formative years. Certainly the Gen X makeup accounts for Magnolia which can’t possibly stick around. This makes me curious about the effects of millennial film culture, influenced more by the internet and boutique blu-ray/streaming than by TV, on the 2032 poll. Perhaps it’s already evident in Janus’ dominance on this list.
I’m with you about the Janus stuff, for sure. Since the individual ballots have come out, the things that have stuck with me are 1) the Janus/Criterion/Mubi segment of the voting body and 2) the huge Francophile contingent of the British critics.