More Notes on the Sight & Sound Film Poll

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by Matt Singer
April 30, 2012 3:23 PM
30 Comments
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"City Lights."
Spending a few hours with the dozens of responses to this week's Criticwire Survey gave me plenty of time to reflect on Sight & Sound's Greatest Film Poll, that most prestigious and most ridiculous of top ten lists. There wasn't a place for my own observations in the actual survey, so please enjoy this brief epilogue. Once again here are the Top Ten Films of All-Time, as chosen by critics in 2002 (ballots for 2012's poll were due today, so the updated list should be coming soon):

1. "Citizen Kane"
2. "Vertigo"
3. "The Rules of the Game"
4. "The Godfather Parts I and II"
5. "Tokyo Story"

6. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
7. "Battleship Potemkin" (tie)
7. "Sunrise" (tie)
9. "8 1/2"
10. "Singin' in the Rain"

-In our Survey, I asked participants to remove the film they considered the least worthy one on the list and replace it with the most worthy one that was previously omitted.  Of the eleven films on the 2002 Sight & Sound poll, only two were never nominated for removal: "Citizen Kane" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."  In other words: don't expect either of those films to vanish from the 2012 poll.

-The most popular film to nominate for removal was "Singin' in the Rain," which makes a reasonable amount of sense; it was the least popular choice amongst respondents in the 2002 poll. But the second most popular films to nominate were "8 1/2" -- logical for the exact same reason -- and "Vertigo," illogical given the fact that it was ranked #2 in the 2002 poll, and there were seven other films that you might have theoretically expected to prove less resonant with audiences. Beyond generational fluctuations of taste, there's at least one possibile reason for the discrepancy: "Vertigo" was restored in 1996 and became a lightning rod for conversations about the importance and ethics of film preservation. It received high-profile VHS and DVD releases and played repertory houses around the country. In 2002, that restoration was still fresh in critics' minds.  Ten years later, "Vertigo" has faded in luster like an old VistaVision print. It's not even available on Blu-ray yet (neither, for that matter, is "Singin' in the Rain"). For this reason, I'm somewhat surprised distributors don't tailor their restorations of high profile art house classics to the timing of the Sight & Sound poll. If "Vertigo" had been remastered in HD and released on Blu-ray, say, 6 months ago, that might have changed our survey drastically. Will "Vertigo" drop out of the Sight & Sound Top Ten in 2012?  I doubt it, but I'd be surprised if it remains so highly ranked.  

-Three "most worthy omissions" received multiple votes from critics: John Ford's "The Searchers," Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights," and Jacques Tati's "Playtime." "The Searchers" appeared on the 1982 (#10) and 1992 (#5) polls -- so it may be gearing up for a return to the list (and, yes, it is available on Blu-ray). "City Lights" was runner-up to "Bicycle Thieves" in the very first poll back in 1952, but hasn't returned to the list since (too many worthy Chaplin nominees may split his votes, like a bunch of actors from one film nominated in the same category at the Oscars). "Playtime" has never made the top ten before, and I wouldn't expect to i this year either -- but it would be nice.

-Which brings me to my last note: several folks on Twitter asked what I would have picked in the survey. "Playtime" would get my vote -- though "The Searchers," or even perhaps "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," would merit consideration too -- over "Singin' in the Rain," which, I'd add, would definitely be in my top twenty all-time. The image from the film atop the survey was a clue to my own partisan leanings.

Now it's YOUR turn: what one film do you think deserves to make the 2012 Sight & Sound poll?  Leave us your pick in the comments below.

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30 Comments

  • Aditya | July 19, 2012 3:12 AMReply

    I would love to see The Dark Knight in this list. It's an excellent Film.

  • Ken | July 19, 2012 12:36 AMReply

    Judging by what I'd consider key criteria - power, beauty, innovation and influence - Griffith's "Intolerance" should be firmly at the top of the poll. I'd certainly keep "Kane" and "2001" in the mix. But my replacements for the others would probably include "The Magnificent Ambersons","Meet Me in St. Louis", "La Belle et la Bete", "Gun Crazy", "The Night of the Hunter", "La Dolce Vita" and "Days of Heaven".
    But - with only 10 slots - so many painful omissions: "Ugetsu ", "Ladri di Biciclette", Bondarchuk's "War and Peace" , "Gold Diggers of 1935", "Shane" etc.

  • DVD Phreak | July 17, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    The poll results will be on the September issue of the S&S magazine, which will be out Aug 7th, three weeks from now.

  • Will | July 14, 2012 5:43 AMReply

    Take off Battleship Potemkin
    Replace it with Black Narcissus

  • Joseph "Again" | July 12, 2012 11:43 AMReply

    By the way. Kudos to Ed Exley for even mentioning Ordet. Movie is a masterpiece, but wouldn't fit the political times with all the religion differences, then again this is a Worldwide poll.. hmm...
    Further insight from me on why I think Kane needs to kick the bucket. The movie is kind of a stale old teardrop. And if you remember the dancing scene where they are all celebrating Kane's success. Don't know about you.. watch that again and tell me that is not more cheesy than cheese itself. Vertigo is tour-de-force. Lots of different emotions in that one. Not just a dude that gets old and dies too famous and rich for his own good. Only my opinion.

  • Joseph "Optomistic" | July 12, 2012 11:26 AMReply

    Hell, what about Night of the Hunter? Should be on there somewhere if it where up to me. I recently watched Citizen Kane and thought of this list while I was watching it. I hope it finally gets kicked off the top. I would rather have 2001: A Space Odyssey at the top. It wouldn't surprise me if it was up way higher on this time at least. But if I had my final vote, it would have to be Vertigo.

  • Tom Wesley | July 8, 2012 4:35 PMReply

    Vertigo is the greatest movie ever, it SHOULD remain at #2 for the 2012 poll, Citizen Kane is a deserving #1 because of its influence and the fact that it is also a fantastic film.

  • Ron Millennor | July 5, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    I would replace Singing In the Rain with the Bicycle Thief (Thieves). In my opinion, the greatest film ever made. No piece of art has affected me more than this classic.

  • J. W. | June 22, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Battleship Potemkin and Singin' in the Rain are the two that I could do without. The former is now more an object of study than living cinema, and it's Soviet polemic has none of the eternal emotional or spiritual significance of Citizen Kane, Vertigo, or 8 1/2. Singin' in the Rain is wonderful, a masterpiece, a delight, but too slight in story and meaning to really stand with these other films. I'm not sure what one film I would promote, but these spring to mind: The Third Man, Seven Samurai, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Pierrot le fou, Once Upon a Time in the West, Taxi Driver.

  • IG | June 18, 2012 12:41 AMReply

    So when is the list coming? We're halfway through with 2012 and still no list.

  • Jeff Crouse | June 16, 2012 5:25 AMReply

    Definitely omit 8 1/2 from the list, and elevate Rules of the Game or even Grand Illusion to #1. With vigor and passion I hope that Sunrise makes the list, as well as another silent film, City Lights or Man with a Movie Camera. And why not the perfect Meet Me in St. Louis or The Band Wagon? As far as more recent films, Mulholland Dr. deserves fullest consideration, as does the ingenious comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the woefully undervalued The New World or Rachel Getting Married each providing damn close rivals. Finally, I serious consideration should be given to The Magnificent Ambersons (better than Citizen Kane), Letter from an Unknown Woman, Holiday, Rio Bravo, The Last Picture Show, and Chinatown.

  • Steve Sikes | June 13, 2012 10:47 PMReply

    Choosing the 10 "greatest" films would be like choosing the 10 greatest "paintings", or "books", or "poems", or "songs", or "designs", so I can see why many critics opt out. What I'll try to do is choose 10 outstanding films, which have superior screenplays, direction, cinematography, and performances. I also feel these ten films get better with each viewing:

    Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Searchers, Vertigo, City Lights, Roman Holiday, 8 1/2, Ugetsu, Godfather Part 2, Saving Private Ryan

  • PreterNat | June 6, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    All I can say: Watch out for Bela Tarr's "Satantango."

  • Matthew Tesoro | June 2, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    From critics perspective, I understand why 8 1/2 is more favored to be taken off list. Not sure why the writer didn't add the "director's list" because there is no way one could knock that off list.

    Last point (recent films):
    For critics list if I had to add something, it would probably be Malick's, The Tree of Life and a very distant WALL•E. For director's list, Synecdoche, New York.

  • WFGlover | May 16, 2012 2:38 PMReply

    I still consider myself a novice in these matters - so many films to see, so little time - but I'd say that Casablanca and The Third Man are the two films that I'd be most pressed to find fault with. For a modern entry, which a lot of critics seem to be contemplating this year so as to shake up the list a little, I'd choose one of the following: The Fall, The Tree of Life, Wall-E, In the Mood for Love or Blade Runner. Of the films currently in the top 10, I'm yet to see three (Tokyo Story, Battleship Potemkin and Sunrise), so of the remaining ones I'd remove 8 1/2, which left me cold, 2001 and The Rules of the Game, both of which I'd also consider to be vastly overrated (though I haven't seen 2001 in a very long time, I'll admit).

  • StephenM | May 10, 2012 4:16 PMReply

    I'd lose Battleship Potemkin without doubt--it's influential, sure, and nothing can take that away, but it has no characters and its message is a simplistic barrage of propaganda for a murderous regime. Why it's always on the list is beyond me. . . . .The other films are all great, but if I was making a list I'd shake things up quite a bit more (ditch 8 1/2, Vertigo, possibly even Kane to be different) and insert Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev at #1. Why hasn't Tarkovsky ever made it on the list before? I'd probably also include It's a Wonderful Life, The Third Man, and possibly On the Waterfront. And maybe The Tree of Life--the list needs more recent films.

  • Joe Ruf | May 4, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    Lose potemkin and sunrise. Tho influential that style of acting camera and editing is outdated. I'd replace with city lights, Sansho the Bailiff, Seven Samurai or, if I had my way, Freaks.

  • zaviar wun | May 2, 2012 10:32 PMReply

    lose 2001, find room for Barry Lyndon. Or, if Kubrick isn't your bag, fit L'atalante in there somewhere

    My current all time top 10 (which I would submit to the S&S poll if anyone affiliated with the publication was aware of my existence and/or if I had a critical background to speak of)
    Sunrise
    The Life of Oharu
    Mulholland Dr.
    The Last Laugh
    I Was Born, But...
    L'ecclisse
    L'atalante
    Hiroshima, mon Amour
    Barry Lyndon
    City Lights

  • MDL | May 2, 2012 5:19 PMReply

    'Most important' and 'greatest' and 'favorite' are three different things. I personally do not like The Searchers [and I've seen it three times just to confirm] but I can understand why it is considered important. Many other films that make these lists I can take or leave. It's nice to see them once but few become favorites. That said, I look more toward listing films that are influential to other filmmakers. Horror films and film noir are among the most influential. So films that should be included might be Psycho or Chinatown [late noir]. Or something that combines both like Sunset Boulvard or Night of the Hunter.

  • Joe Ruf | May 4, 2012 12:47 PM

    Totally agree. I second this mans opinion

  • Vinouel Lim | May 2, 2012 9:50 AMReply

    If I were given a ballot for the Sight and Sound’s 2012 poll to determine the greatest films of all time, I would vote for the following:

    01. Otto e mezzo (1963, Fellini)
    02. Smultronstället (1957, Bergman)
    03. City Lights (1931, Chaplin)
    04. Citizen Kane (1941, Welles)
    05. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick)
    06. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Kelly)
    07. Tōkyō Monogatari (1953, Ozu)
    08. Vertigo (1958, Hitchcock)
    09. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972, Herzog)
    10. The General (1926, Keaton)

    Other films come to mind…

    Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom (2003, Ki-duk)
    Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925, Eisenstein)
    Dekalog (1989, Kieslowski)
    The Godfather (1972, Coppola)
    Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966, Leone)
    Intolerance: Love’s Struggle through the Ages (1916, Griffith)
    Jeux Interdits (1952, Clement)
    Nattvardsgästerna (1963, Bergman)
    Oro Plata Mata (1982, Gallaga)
    Synecdoche, New York (2008, Kaufman)

  • Keil Shults | May 1, 2012 11:47 PMReply

    I also suspect Bergman and Bunuel to move down, while Altman and Polanski will likely move upward.

  • Keil Shults | May 1, 2012 11:40 PMReply

    Although it would take up 20% of my list, I'm not sure I could leave off either of the first two Godfather films (they can no longer count together as one entry). And I'm not sure I could choose only one of the two either.

    I tend to echo previous nods toward The 400 Blows and Taxi Driver, though I doubt either will enter the Top 10 this year.

    Titles I would expect to be featured more prominently in the lists include Do the Right Thing, The Thin Red Line, and Mulholland Drive.

  • Vincent Douglas | May 1, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    The 400 Blows, Dog Day Afternoon, Tristana, and Manhattan would get my vote.

  • Rman | May 1, 2012 2:16 AMReply

    These great films should be on the list:
    Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel"
    Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" and "Seven Samurai"
    Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon"
    Gillo Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers"
    Alan Pakula's "All the President's Men"

  • Ed Exley | May 1, 2012 1:19 AMReply

    The movie I would take out is 8 1/2. I feel the film is a little dated and that Fellini had better movies. To replace it I would consider Apocalypse Now, but do not feel that Coppola should have two movies and I would not pick against The Godfather. In the end I would go with Ordet for a foreign feature or Casablanca for an American film.

  • Bob Strauss | April 30, 2012 8:15 PMReply

    Not enough Bresson, Bunuel, Fassbender or Keaton. And they keep choosing the wrong Ozu.

  • Cinephiliac | April 30, 2012 6:29 PMReply

    Let's go Breathless and L'Atalante!

  • Patrick | April 30, 2012 5:27 PMReply

    City Lights, certainly, or Sunset Blvd. Raging Bull or Taxi Driver is bound to show up one day considering how well Scorsese ranks on the Directors' polls. Also, if Roger Ebert is correct in saying that two films cannot count for one vote, what happens to the The Godfather(s)?

  • katie | April 30, 2012 4:53 PMReply

    i recently watched peter bogdanovich's "the last picture show" (1971), reportedly shot in black & white on the advice of orson welles. the people in this small unimportant texas town leave the ennui of their existence as this story unfolds. i think it's a well told coming of age tale, about love and responsibility and should be included in the 2012 'sight & sound' poll.

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