Sunday Matinee: Greatest Films Of All Time – Sight & Sound List 2012

The British Film Institute’s (BFI) Sight & Sound magazine does a Greatest Films of All Time list every ten years. They poll both critics around the world and directors and create two lists. They have been doing this since 1952 when Bicycle Thieves was voted the greatest film then. The following lists have almost always had Citizen Kane as the top film until this year’s list. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has bumped Citizen Kane down to the number two spot.

This year’s list was voted on by 846 critics and 358 directors for a total of 2,045 different films that were voted on. The complete list will be released online August 15, after the Sight & Sound magazine has had a chance to sell. But for now here is the director’s top ten list.

1. Tokyo Story
2 (tie). 2001: A Space Odyssey
2 (tie). Citizen Kane
4. 8 1/2
5. Taxi Driver
6. Apocalypse Now
7 (tie). The Godfather
7 (tie). Vertigo
9. Mirror
10. Bicycle Thieves

And here’s the critics top 50 list.

1. Vertigo
2. Citizen Kane
3. Tokyo Story
4. The Rules of the Game
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. The Searchers
8. Man with a Movie Camera
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc
10. 8 1/2
11. Battleship Potemkin
12. L’Atalante
13. Breathless
14. Apocalypse Now
15. Late Spring
16. Au Hasard Balthazar
17 (tie). Persona
17 (tie). Seven Samurai
19. Mirror
20. Singin’ in the Rain
21 (tie). L’Avventura
21 (tie). Contempt
21 (tie). The Godfather
24 (tie). In the Mood for Love
24 (tie). Ordet
26 (tie). Andrei Rublev
26 (tie). Rashomon
28. Mulhullond Dr.
29 (tie). Shoah
29 (tie). Stalker
31 (tie). The Godfather Part II
31 (tie). Taxi Driver
33. Bicycle Thieves
34. The General
35 (tie). Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce Bruxelles
35 (tie). Metropolis
35 (tie). Psycho
35 (tie). Sátántangó
39 (tie). The 400 Blows
39 (tie). La Dolce Vita
41. Journey to Italy
42 (tie). Close-Up
42 (tie). Gertrud
42 (tie). Pather Panchali
42 (tie). Pierrot le fou
42 (tie). Play Time
42 (tie). Some Like it Hot
48 (tie). The Battle for Algiers
48 (tie). Histoire(s) du cinéma
50 (tie). City Lights
50 (tie). La Jetée
50 (tie). Ugetsu Monogatari

It’s interesting to see that Tokyo Story is on the top of director’s list with Vertigo at number 8. But when both lists are combined as the great people at the Home Theater Forum have done here, with the number votes, it’s still Vertigo that comes up on top.

HTF combination of the Sight and Sound Directors and Critics list:

Rank TITLE DIRECTOR YEAR # of Votes Country
1 Vertigo Hitchcock, Alfred 1958 222 USA
2 Citizen Kane Welles, Orson 1941 199 USA
3 Tokyo Story Ozu, Yasujiro 1953 155 Japan
4 2001: A Space Odyssey Kubrick, Stanley 1968 132 USA
5 8 ½ Fellini, Federico 1963 104 Italy
6 Rules of the Game Renoir, Jean 1939 100 France
7 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Murnau, F.W. 1927 93 USA
8 Apocalypse Now Coppola, Francis Ford 1979 86 USA
9 Searchers, The Ford, John 1956 78 USA
10 Singin’ in the Rain Donen, Stanley 1951 76 USA
11 Godfather, The Coppola, Francis Ford 1972 74 USA
12 Taxi Driver Scorsese, Martin 1976 72 USA
13 Man With a Movie Camera Vertov, Dziga 1929 68 USSR
14 Bicycle Thieves De Sica, Vittorio 1948 66 Italy
15 Passion of Joan of Arc, The Dreyer, Carl Theodor 1927 65 France
16 Battleship Potemkin Eisenstein, Sergei 1925 63 USSR
17 Atalante, L’ Vigo, Jean 1934 58 France
18 Breathless Godard, Jean Luc 1960 57 France
19 Late Spring Ozu, Yasujiro 1949 50 Japan
20 Au Hasard Balthazar Bresson, Robert 1966 49 France
21 Persona Bergman, Ingmar 1966 48 Sweden
21 Seven Samurai Kuosawa, Akira 1954 48 Japan
23 Mirror Tarkovsky, Andrei 1974 47 USSR
24 Avventura, L’ Antonioni, Michelangelo 1960 43 Italy
24 Contempt Godard, Jean Luc 1963 43 France
26 In the Mood for Love Wong, Kar Wai 2000 42 Hong Kong
26 Ordet Dreyer, Carl Theodor 1955 42 Denmark
28 Andrei Rublev Tarkovsky, Andrei 1966 41 USSR
28 Rashomon Kurosawa, Akira 1950 41 Japan
30 Mulholland Dr. Lynch, David 2001 40 USA
31 Shoah Lanzmann, Claude 1985 39 France
31 Stalker Tarkovsky, Andrei 1979 39 USSR
33 Godfather Part II, The Coppola, Francis Ford 1974 38 USA
34 General, The Keaton, Buster & Bruckman, Clyde 1926 35 USA
35 Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Buxelles Akerman, Chantal 1975 34 Belgium
35 Metropolis Lang, Fritz 1927 34 Germany
35 Psycho Hitchcock, Alfred 1960 34 USA
35 Sátántangó Tarr, Bela 1994 34 Hungary
39 400 Blows, The Truffaut, Francois 1959 33 France
39 Dolce Vita, La Fellini, Federico 1960 33 Italy
41 Journey to Italy Rossellini, Roberto 1954 32 Italy
42 Close-Up Kiarostami, Abbas 1990 31 Iran
42 Gertrud Dreyer, Carl Theodor 1964 31 Denmark
42 Pather Panchali Ray, Satyajit 1955 31 India
42 Pierrot le fou Godard, Jean Luc 1965 31 France
42 Play Time Tati, Jacques 1967 31 France
42 Some Like it Hot Wilder, Billy 1959 31 USA
48 Battle of Algiers, The Potecorvo, Gillo 1966 30 Italy
48 Histoire(s) du cinéma Godard, Jean Luc 1998 30 France
50 City Lights Chaplin, Charles 1931 29 USA
50 Jetée, La Marker, Christopher 1962 29 France
50 Ugetsu monogatari Mizoguchi, Kenji 1953 29 Japan

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.

20 thoughts on “Sunday Matinee: Greatest Films Of All Time – Sight & Sound List 2012”

  1. Not to agree or disagree with the BFI’s assessment, but I’d say that “Chinatown”‘s primary virtue is the quality of its screenplay, but its execution as a film (as skillful as it may be) is not particularly innovative. Arguably one of the greatest screenplays in American cinema, but not necessarily one of the greatest films in the canon if the criterion is pushing forward the medium.

  2. Thanks, anonymusses. “Mulholland” it is.
    It’d be interesting to see what the criteria are; I’m guessing that the article will/may give some indication.

  3. Um, any of these people heard of “Space Chimps”?

    Seriously, it’s always interesting that the vast majority of these films are pre-1980. Do they also show the average age for the groups of voters? What a disconnect with popular opinion.

  4. @Bronymous #8: as the lists were apparently compiled by directors and film critics, I’m guessing that popular opinion wasn’t among the criteria for list placement.
    There’s also nothing before 1925, which cuts out pioneers like D.W. Griffith. I’m surprised, too, to see that no mention of Abel Gance’s work. And “City Lights”? Please. “Modern Times” would get my vote.

  5. The thing about popular opinion is that it flows and ebbs around what’s in the public consciousness from year to year, with much of it shaped by marketing, media saturation etc. There is a reason why the Sight & Sound list is labelled as “Greatest”, rather than “Popular”, and it would have to do more with promoting films that are critically recognized as advancing the medium, which isn’t necessarily popular with a mass audience (see: Bela Tarr). A “canon” that comes from critical consensus typically takes years to formulate, which is why you see so many so-called “older” films on the list. The IMDB Top 250 would be a list more suitable to evaluating what is currently popular.

  6. Barb: “City Lights” was always more of a critics’ and filmmakers’ darling (the first Sight & Sound poll in 1952 had “City Lights” in the #2 slot). Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with either “City Lights” or “Modern Times”.

    D.W. Griffith is problematic for a lot of critics, as his most technically accomplished and influential film – “The Birth of a Nation” – of course was one of his most controversial. Similarly, despite its profound technical and stylistic influences, it would be impolitic (to say the least) to have Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” similarly noted. It would probably be more fair and acceptable to cite Griffith and Riefenstahl on a “most influential directors” list rather than citing their films as “great”, but I suspect even that designation would generate controversy.

  7. @anonymusses #12: no doubt the criteria will be at least touched upon in the magazine article. Your suggestion that a “most influential directors” list might lift a couple of great film-makers up out of the realm of political correctness is a sound one; after all, we acknowledge Neitzsche as a must-read philosopher, and Karl Marx as a must-read political economist, and look at what their influence has wrought. On a somewhat smaller scale, I give you Ezra Pound, recognized as a very influential poet and editor (of T.S. Eliot, for one), but also a traitor and a notorious anti-Semite.

  8. Yes, always the eternal difficulty in separating the artist from the work: to bring it full circle, Polanski, and “Chinatown”.

  9. Yes, I get all that, it’s just interesting how much this list differs from the popular public opinion, that is all. No judgment, just an observation.

  10. Yes, especially because taste is unique to each individual. “Bloodsport” not being on this list is a tragedy.

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