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Spotlight Section: SIGHT AND SOUND

Posted April 23rd 2024

Once a decade since 1952, the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight and Sound has compiled their Poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. An international group of film critics submit what they subjectively consider the ten best films of all time, and they tabulate the results. The first list had Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves at #1, though it was only four years old at the time. Beginning with the second poll, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane – previously placing 13th – held the top spot for fifty years, establishing the conventional wisdom that it was the official best movie ever.

For the 2012 poll, Sight and Sound more than quadrupled the number of people polled, with an eye toward a more diverse voting body. Citizen Kane finally slid down to #2, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo climbing to the top.

The movies on this shelf represent the top 250 from the 2022 poll, which the BFI called their “most ambitious to date, with more than 1,600 of the most influential international film critics, academics, distributors, writers, curators, archivists and programmers voting, almost double the number of participants in 2012.”

The most discussed element of the list was Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles leaping from #36 in the previous poll to #1. It’s the first movie directed by a woman to top the list, and some say the least accessible. Other newcomers to the top ten were Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, Claire Denis’s Beau travail and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.

Like any list ranking movies, you can take this with a grain of salt. Not many people would agree completely on a definition of “Greatest Film of All Time” or that this exact list is the way to quantify it. As a BFI executive director said upon release of the list, “Canons should be challenged and interrogated.” But the Sight and Sound poll makes for an interesting snapshot of evolving critical consensus over the decades, not to mention a good place to look for highly recommended films you might not have seen yet.