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Sight and Sound's 2022 critics’ poll: what has changed, and what else should change?


- The new edition of the most famous poll of the greatest films has been announced, and its increased diversity has provoked clashes of opinion, but what is still missing from the list?

Sight and Sound's 2022 critics’ poll: what has changed, and what else should change?
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman, which topped the Sight and Sound critics’ poll this year

The British Film Institute's esteemed Sight and Sound magazine has been compiling a list of the Greatest Films of All Time every ten years since 1952 by inviting film critics to vote. Over the decades, it has become the most prominent and most widely referenced list that has dramatically influenced what we consider cinematic canon.

After Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves in 1952, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane topped the list for 50 years until Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo took over in 2012. The latest list, announced just last week, for the first time saw a film directed by a woman come out on top: Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. This represents arguably the biggest shift in the last half-century, along with an overall stronger presence of films directed by women but also of those by filmmakers from underrepresented groups.

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I voted for the first time in 2012, and since the new edition was announced, it has caused a big stir in mainstream media and an even bigger one on social media. Arguably, it is exactly this aspect that influenced the change over the course of the last decade, and this is a phenomenon that warrants an in-depth look at why and how the apparent tastes of the voters have shifted. Another key reason must also be that the 2022 list gathers more than 1,600 critics from the widest possible geographical spread, doubling the number from ten years ago.

I was a little surprised to see Akerman on top, but not shocked. The sociopolitical climate has changed significantly in the last ten years, and critics are not only sensitive to such developments, but they also actively contribute to them. The problem is that this film, in addition to a couple of other classics widely recognised as great works of feminist cinema (Daisies [+see also:
film profile
, Cleo from 5 to 7, Meshes of the Afternoon), is one of the few made by women that most voters (myself included, and that’s exactly why I didn’t put it on my list) could think of. Five films by African American filmmakers are on the list for the first time, too, but it looks like an even lazier bunch with Moonlight and Get Out, while not many more works by African filmmakers have made it.

This underlines the nature of said changes – that they are still merely superficial. But it’s a first step, and I am very happy that now we have a list that’s quite a bit different from the previous ones, and that young people or regular cinema-goers who watch films with different eyes can spot some titles that aren’t repeated again and again, and maybe search them out. I have even found a couple that I had managed to miss, and several reminders of pictures worth revisiting. This was not the case ten years ago, when I had a deep knowledge of almost every film on the list.

What I am not so happy about is that, in addition to a total absence of Latin American films, there are still too few documentaries (six), animations (two) and shorts (two), which is, to me, cinematically if not always politically, a far bigger problem than having fewer films by women or filmmakers from underrepresented groups. What about underrepresented forms and genres?

We need to dig deep, learn more about and introduce audiences to all of the intriguing developments, surprising causalities and wonderful, uncategorisable works in the history of cinema, not just about aspects relating to keywords that trend in a particular era – however valuable they are in a political or civilizational sense. What we should be challenging is not only the issue of who gets to make films, where they get to be seen, how they are presented and evaluated, and how many people can see them, but more importantly, what we essentially perceive cinema to be – which is, ultimately, the most political issue of all.

Even with the new, significant shift, the Sight and Sound list is still woefully Western-centric, American-centric, Anglo-centric, Euro-centric and male-centric (as is my own), even if the magazine went out of its way to gather as many diverse critics as possible. I helped friend and fellow critic Neil Young put together the line-up of contributors from the former Yugoslavia, and I know the magazine’s intentions were absolutely commendable and as open as possible.

So the problem does not lie in the origin of the critics who voted; it is much deeper: it’s in which films the critics all over the world are aware of and why, and how they rate films from their own cultures and countries as opposed to the “canonical” works of cinema. It is, again, a matter of cultural dominance that will hardly ever go away. But any action, not necessarily against it but rather aware of it, brings small steps forward, getting some new – and many old – viewers acquainted with different films. To my mind, every such step is a victory.

I also had a different approach this year from 2012. I wanted to highlight all of the various things that cinema can be, as opposed to regurgitating the strongest films by the most acclaimed directors. Sure, some of these had to stay, but only if they fit this criterion: that they show the richness of the art form in all its glory. Three titles released in the 21st century, two of them in the past five years, are also included. I call this my vote for the future.

Here is Vladan Petković's Sight and Sound list:

Twin Peaks: The Return - David Lynch (USA, 2017)
Shoah - Claude Lanzmann (France, 1985)
2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick (USA, 1968)
Asparagus - Suzan Pitt (USA, 1979)
An Andalusian Dog - Luis Buñuel (France, 1929)
Battle in Heaven - Carlos Reygadas (Mexico, 2005)
Vampyr - Carl Theodor Dreyer (Germany/France, 1932)
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism - Dušan Makavejev (Yugoslavia, 1971)
Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky (USSR, 1979)
Radiograph of a Family [+see also:
film review
film profile
- Firouzeh Khosrovani (Norway/Iran/Switzerland, 2020)

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