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Sight & Sound's 100 Greatest Films Poll

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

As a long-time subscriber to film magazine Sight & Sound, and an avid chronicler and compiler of my filmgoing and annual lists of favourite films, I always look forward to the decennial poll culled from the well-considered and agonised-over votes of worldwide film critics.

For the 2022 poll, the BFI expanded its horizons and invited a much greater number of voters, not just the ‘usual suspects’ of established critics, but a much wider selection including programmers, academics, and archivists from the film universe, with almost 500 filmmakers also voting in the concurrent directors’ poll.

From its inception in 1952, when Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves topped the poll, the list has (for good or worse and depending on whether you think such an esoteric and often controversial exercise is worth the trouble) been central to the shifting positions in critical discourse about cinema. I’ve always considered the poll as an essential launchpad each decade for my own understanding of where the battleground around certain directors, genres, or kinds of filmmaking lies. How assessment of great films changes over time, or in some cases, becomes entrenched, an established part of the canon, is an interesting question, and depends on many factors, for example, the availability and opportunity to see these films and streaming and social media as new channels for the viewing and discussion of cinema. Perhaps, as with all objective analysis of works of art, it's the weight of history and the perspective of time that enriches our collective understanding of what constitutes a 'great film'. So it's not a coincidence or statistical freak that several titles – Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, La Regle du Jeu, Singin’ in the Rain, The Searchers, or 2001: A Space Odyssey for example - have remained in or around the top 20 for decades and seem unlikely to be dislodged.

That said, the 2022 poll arguably represents the biggest shake-up of the established canon ever. The new no.1, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), has, in the words of British filmmaker Joanna Hogg’s memorable quip in her filmed introduction to the BFI’s launch of the poll in December 2022, “knocked Hitchcock off his perch” by bumping the Master of Suspense’s classic Vertigo from the top spot, a position it had only achieved in 2012. Orson Welles’s 1941 debut, Citizen Kane, a film that still astonishes, so rich and dark in its themes, and representing a veritable compendium of filmmaking techniques, had previously topped the poll for 50 years after it took the top spot from De Sica’s neo-realist classic.

Aside from the change at the summit of the list, the presence in the top 10 of both Wong Kar-Wai’s seductive, mesmerising 2000 masterpiece In the Mood for Love, and David Lynch’s fascinating, puzzling deconstruction of Hollywood folklore, 2001’s, Mulholland Drive represent a storming of the establishment by films from the 21st century.

The poll also reflects the burgeoning understanding and celebration of women filmmakers' vital contribution to the history of cinema. Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999) has risen from 77th place in 2012 to 7th, whilst the late, great Agnes Varda’s feature debut Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962) is up to 14th from a position of 202 a decade earlier. There’s also a long overdue recognition of black cinema with Spike Lee’s brilliant 1989 classic Do The Right Thing at 24 in the poll, with Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning breakthrough Moonlight (2016) and Julie Dash’s increasingly influential, singular Daughters of the Dust (1991) both new entries tied in 60th place, with Jordan Peele's zeitgeist defining 2017 social horror Get Out also edging into the top 100.

At Flicks Film Posters we have long championed many of the wonderful films in the poll and have posters for a number of titles in our collection. Have a look at this page for a selection but more importantly, if you haven't yet had the chance to see some of the fantastic films in Sight & Sound's 100 Greatest Films Poll there are great opportunities over the next few months to see them all at BFI Southbank. You'll also find many of them crop up on tv or streaming services so there's no excuse to miss out on experiencing great cinema!

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