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Who Got Snubbed? 10 Directors Who Surprisingly Aren't On The Sight & Sound Top 50 Greatest Films List

by The Playlist Staff
August 2, 2012 2:02 PM
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So many auteurs, so little time... It's less than 24 hours since the unveiling of Sight & Sound's once-a-decade extensive poll of film critics to find the quote-unquote greatest film of all time, which for the first time ever, saw Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" fall off the top spot and replaced by Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." And as ever, the list has already inspired extensive and fervent debate.

And as with any such list, there are absences. Not just in terms of films, but also directors who failed to crack the top 50 (all that's been offiicailly revealed by the BFI so far). While Godard gets four, Tarkovsky and Coppola three, and several other directors more than one, there's all kinds of great filmmakers who miss out entirely. Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into such lists: they will always be divisive and controversial/subjective and many will take them all too seriously, often in a counter-productive, over-emotional manner.

But lists such as this one can also spark debate and discussion, so in the spirit of that notion, we wanted to respond by highlighting some of the most surprising omissions. Below, you can find five classic auteurs and five still-working directors who seem to have been strong candidates for having a film included, and yet still missed out. Angry that both Sight & Sound omitted your own favorites? Let us know in the comments section.

5 Classic, Much-Missed Auteurs

Krzysztof Kieślowski
With arguably three masterpieces under his belt (one composing of an entire trilogy, the other spanning a sprawling 10-episode social epic and another chasing his perennial themes of kismet, predestination and chance), the late Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieślowski never quite gets his due on holistic and sweeping cinephile lists like the Sight & Sound one. Sure, his final film in the Three Colors Trilogy "Red" was nominated for three Academy Awards, busting out of the foreign category ghetto to earn plaudits for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. And even Quentin Tarantino himself was surprised when "Pulp Fiction" won the Palme d'Or in 1994 over "Red" (as was some of the audience who booed and jeered the decision vocally). And while "The Decalogue" -- his masterful 10-episode film series based on the ten commandments about interconnected people living in a housing complex -- the Three Colors Trilogy and "The Double Life of Veronique" (the latter two having been certified modern classics by the Criterion Collection) definitely received their rave reviews at the time, Kieslowski always falls short on all-time lists; something we'd love to be reconsidered in the future. The late Stanley Kubrick, a man known for his reluctance in praising others said about Kieslowski, "[His] very rare ability to dramatize ideas rather than just talking about them [was done with] such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.” And Roger Ebert said, “There were those who believed Kieslowski was the greatest living director. Certainly he ranked with such modern masters as Scorsese, Kubrick and Kurosawa.” Called a metaphysicist and a moralist (both two reductive), one could argue Kieslowski was always trying to remake the same film. His was a relentless search of the the invisible mysteries of life, manifesting in doppelgangers and coincidences that were so much more, and the ineffable and elusive intersections where accidents, chance, fate and the synchronicity of time sometimes met and unraveled. Now mind you, Kieslowski's film weren’t remotely close to science-fiction, instead hewing closer to a enigmatic quality of the unforeseeable that was spiritual, but ultimately agnostic. His determined exploration of these themes created deeply moving, thought-provoking and emotionally vibrant films, never over-intellectualizing and always grounding each story with a strikingly relatable moral sheen. For Kieslowski, the world had no strangers, just an interconnectivity that most of us weren’t cognizant about. He is certainly one of the all time greats and the hope is one day he is recognized beyond question.

Luis Buñuel
The Spanish-born Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel is still perhaps best known as the guy who sliced up eyeballs with Salvador Dali for the infamous 1929 silent surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou” (immortalized in the Pixies song “Debaser”). But Buñuel’s long career, which spanned almost six full decades (1929 to 1977) grew into something much more, evoking spiritual themes, scathing and grotesque (and often hilarious) social and political critiques and yes, often within employing an illusory patina of ambiguity and opaqueness. And while the Mexican period of his filmmaking spawned “The Exterminating Angel” and “Simon of the Desert” -- the former, a nightmarish and comical look at guests at an upper-class dinner party who find themselves inexplicably unable to leave -- it’s perhaps his final French period (six films, five of which are in the Criterion Collection, “Tristana” unfortunately being the odd man out) that birthed a period of oblique, surrealist classics like “Belle Du Jour,” “"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and perhaps his masterpiece about lust, jealousy and identity, "That Obscure Object of Desire." Buñuel was well-lauded in his career: "Viridiana" won the Palme d'Or in 1961, "The Exterminating Angel" won the FIPRESCI prize the following year, 'Charm of the Bourgeoisie' won the Best Foreign Oscar award in 1972 and 'Object of Desire' was nominated for two Academy baubles in 1977. Still, how about a Sight & Sound mention?

John Cassavetes
Head to any independent film festival, particularly in America, but also across the world, and one starts to understand how hugely influential John Cassavetes is. From the mumblecore movement to big-budget studio comedies from Judd Apatow, the director changed the face of American cinema, essentially creating the independent genre as we now know it and inspiring many to pick up a camera. A veteran character actor who used his acting roles (including "The Dirty Dozen," for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and "Rosemary's Baby") to finance his films, he made his directorial debut with 1959's "Shadows" (a film he had already shot in 1957, but disregarded and shot again), and went on to make several films, including "Faces," "Husbands," "A Woman Under the Influence," "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" and "Opening Night," in a similar style: self-financed, using a regular rep company, including Seymour Cassel, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and wife Gena Rowlands), and featuring non-traditional, oblique and challenging characters and situations. By putting the actors first, and with his visual style tailored to the resources available -- handheld visuals, little or no lighting -- Cassavetes made filmmaking look achievable for those outside the system, while still delivering a number of searing dramas. Cassavetes' films seem curiously out of fashion among critics, given their influence, which seems to be the major reason for their exclusion. Still, we live in hope for the next time around.

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Arguably the greatest British filmmakers in history (or at least the ones who stayed in Britain), the team of Powell & Pressburger (Hungarian emigre Emeric Pressburger wrote the scripts, Michael Powell directed, and the two produced together) were behind a string of solid-gold classics through their company The Archers, mostly in the 1940s, beginning with 1943's "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." Among their best-loved films: 1946's wartime fantasy "A Matter of Life and Death," dark, nunnery-set psychological thriller "Black Narcissus" and perhaps most of all, 1948's dance-fuelled fairy tale "The Red Shoes." By 1957, the two had amically parted, and never quite matched their early success, particularly after Powell directed the critically-reviled thriller "Peeping Tom," which derailed his career near-permanently, and as a result, the films never quite got the critical standing of some of their contemporaries. Their reputation was restored thanks to Martin Scorsese (whose editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, married Powell in 1984), and they've been mainstays in lists of the finest British films ever ("The Red Shoes" placed at number nine in the BFI's list in 1999). But like fellow British director David Lean, they missed out on the top 50 this year. Will their critical standing improve by next time around or are they destined to always miss out?

Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Few filmmakers in the history of medium burnt as brightly in such a short period of time as Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Despite passing away in 1982 at the age of 37, the German filmmaker produced forty feature films, two television series, three shorts and twenty-four stage plays. The director was always controversial and divisive, but his critical standing has only improved over time thanks to retrospectives and the like. And while his track record isn't flawless, the best of his work -- "Love Is Colder Than Death," "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant," "Ali: Fear Eats The Soul," "The Marriage of Maria Braun," "Veronika Voss" (read our retrospective on the director for more) -- stands with anything that German cinema produced during the 1960s and '70s. But while he's always had passionate advocates, it may be that his Douglas Sirk-influenced films are too brash and vulgar for some of the polled critics in Sight & Sound. And with such an enormous filmography, which even the most passionate cinephile is bound to have a few gaps in, it may have been that the votes were spread too thinly among his work to register in the top 50 (we'd be interested to know where he comes in the poll of critics' favorite directors, which will be revealed soon). Short of his influence being called upon by a new generation of filmmakers, we're less confident that Fassbinder will ever crack the top of this list, but we can always hope.

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  • Andrea Ostrov Letania | January 19, 2014 11:29 AMReply

    Alain Resnais

    Kon Ichikawa

    Lina Wermuller

    Shohei Imamura

  • hah | August 8, 2012 4:41 AMReply





  • kirk lazarus | August 7, 2012 5:47 PMReply


  • P K MATTOO | August 6, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Bunuel, Kieslowski, Hawks, Ritwik Ghatak, Coen Brothers, Sergie Leone, Alain Resnais , T G Alea, Glaber Rocha...
    Visconti's " The Leopord' , Resnais' ' Night and Fog', Kieslowski's 'Colors ' trilogy, Howard Hawks' 'Red River', Powell's ' Peeping Tom', Carol Reed's 'Third Man' ....

  • Alexander | August 6, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    "Any others you felt were missing from the list?" - Err, any women? At all. I can think of certain films worthy of this list from Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Harron...

  • Wade | August 6, 2012 8:08 AMReply

    Edward Yang

  • tronic | August 4, 2012 11:17 PMReply

    Hou Hsiao Hsien

  • AFD | August 4, 2012 5:37 AMReply


  • Eric | August 3, 2012 11:01 PMReply


  • Joseph Garza Medina | August 3, 2012 8:09 PMReply

    Bernardo Bertolucci, Eagle Pennell, Jacques Rivette, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Pierre Melville... there are way more than 50 great directors let alone 50 great films. Which is why it's always important to educate yourself and make your own canon.

  • Wes | August 3, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    What about films that got snubbed? For example: Casablanca, Raging Bull, Touch of Evil, La Grande Illusion, Third Man, Dr. Strangelove, Gold Rush, Sunset Blvd., Children of Paradise, Blade Runner, Night of the Hunter, It's a Wonderful Life, M, Rear Window, Lawrence of Arabia, Jules et Jim, and Wild Bunch.

  • Porter | August 3, 2012 7:04 PMReply

    Mr. von Trier

  • Sam M Bell | August 3, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    Where the hell's Cronenberg? These lists always ignore contempary cinema or something that is interesting as opposed to 'set the rules'.

  • yes! | August 3, 2012 11:33 AMReply

    totally agree!! its a crime that Herzog, Almodovar and Haneke aren't included. they are insanely prolific for the world of filmmaking!!

  • Marco "Stanze di Cinema" | August 3, 2012 5:05 AMReply

    Probably it's a partisan comment by an italian cinephile... but where are Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci? The Leopard, The conformist, Rocco and his brothers, The last tango in Paris?

  • Jose Angel | August 3, 2012 4:30 AMReply

    I've been campaigning for Once Upon a Time in the West ever since I watched in a revival theater. I think people can't judge films like this (or The Shining for that matter) unless they watch them on the big screen. The visuals of Leone and Kubrick make many of the films in the list look quite lame, and these visuals I consider are been underestimated. Glad to see Apocalypse Now up there, though. Too much Tarkovsky and Godard and too little Welles, Chaplin, Bergman and Kubrick. No South Americans. The list is also missing William Wyler, Scott, Gilliam and Eastwood's Unforgiven.

  • wes | August 3, 2012 7:18 PM

    Too much Tarkovsky? The man never gets enough respect!

  • javed | August 3, 2012 12:04 AMReply

    "...Stanley Kubrick, a man known for his reluctance in praising others..."

    Actually, he's known for exactly the opposite, at least for those who aren't too lazy to do some basic research.

  • Fry | August 2, 2012 8:52 PMReply

    Sergei Parajanov is to me one of the greatest auteurs and at least one his films -I'm pointing to either 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' or 'The Color of Pomegranates'- should have gotten a place on that list, other than that I'm glad Dreyer had three of his own. Oh, and kudos to Béla Tarr for Sátántangó.

  • Tom | August 2, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    I hope Woody Allen, R.W. Fassbinder and Wim Wenders at least make the freakin' top 100.

  • StephenM | August 2, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    I agree it's a shame about Kieslowski, but I think there's a pretty simple explanation: The voting rules this year stated that multiple films could not be cited for one spot. In other words, voters couldn't select "The Three Colors Trilogy" or "The Decalogue" anymore--which a fair number of critics did in 2002. Faced with choosing only single film from those series, I think most people just went for something different. I doubt it's a real drop in his reputation.

  • ralch | August 2, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    If I'm not mistaken, this article refers to directors that do not appear in the Top 50 films selection by critics, not the Top 10, hence the omission of Lean.

    I agree about Herzog and Wajda. Wajda's war trilogy (A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) is one of the more forcefully poetic works of cinema (and my favorite trilogy overall).

    Names that hopefully will be more explored in the future are Chantal Akerman, Frantisek Vlácil and especially Otar Iosseliani. I also think there is a wealth of (to some) undiscovered greatness in the classic cinema of Latin America. Names like Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Emilio Fernández do get some recognition, but others like Manuel Antín, Ismael Rodríguez, Alejandro Galindo, Ruy Guerra, Patricio Kaulen or Octavio Cortázar go completely overlooked. The early work of Carlos Saura and the films of Víctor Erice rival Almodóvar's work as far as Spain is concerned.

    I forget if Abbas Kiarostami was included... Anyway, Nory, Dory and Loaury, your comment is one of the most ridiculous things I've read in a site like this. I hope you're 13 or something.

  • ralch | August 2, 2012 5:22 PM

    No accents. Damn. I meant Frantisek Vlacil, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Emilio Fernandez, Manuel Antin, Ismael Rodriguez, Octavio Cortazar and Victor Erice.

  • Nory, Dory and Loaury | August 2, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    Because the directors you've all mentioned that have been snubbed are pretentious and that's about all. They make films for themselves and at that they are selfish.

  • nory is clueless | August 3, 2012 11:31 AM

    if you believe that being an auteur means being pretentious, then you really shouldn't be reading film blogs... what kind of film lover are you?? Haneke & Almodovar are GENIUSES - they continue to break the mould, and actually aren't selfish at all in that respect!

  • AS | August 2, 2012 4:32 PM

    Filmmaking is an art form, therefore, every film should be intensely personal.

  • jawsnnn | August 2, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Hayao Miyazaki is the one who should be counted the greatest anime director. He is the best example of the truth: "It is very easy to be difficult, but it is very difficult to be simple"

  • AS | August 2, 2012 3:53 PM

    Ha! He has obviously never met Michael Bay.

  • samir | August 2, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    Roger Ebert posted the top ten that he submitted to Sight & Sound earlier this year, and in his top ten he did include "The Tree of Life." I'm looking forward to seeing how many ballots it appears on when they release the individual top ten's later this year. Even if it's on a few it would be impressive considering no one wants to take too much of a chance on a recent movie that hasn't had time to simmer in the collective minds of film culture. But I'm pretty confident it will appear on the list in 20 years.

  • StephenM | August 2, 2012 6:06 PM

    Seconded. All of it.

  • AS | August 2, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    Michael Mann, the most underrated director of all time.

  • Tony Macklin | August 3, 2012 5:30 PM

    When I submitted my best ten list to Sight & Sound this year, I chose Mann's The Insider as my tenth pick.

  • tristan eldritch | August 2, 2012 3:28 PM

    Right on!

  • Wes | August 2, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    They're also missing Coen Bros, Sergio Leone, Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen, Ridley Scott, Luchino Visconti, and John Huston. But I'm fine with the absence of Howard Hawks, Steven Spielberg, D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Max Ophuls, Michael Curtiz, Alain Resnais, Sam Peckinpah, Preston Sturges, Victor Fleming, and Frank Capra.

  • Wes | August 2, 2012 2:46 PM

    And I second the confusion about David Lean and Robert Altman.

  • James | August 2, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    Robert Altman. Where's he at?

  • Ryan | August 2, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    David Lean anybody? Hello?

  • TimmaeXVX | August 2, 2012 2:42 PM

    He's mentioned in the Powell-Pressburger text but i think his absence is much weirder. I guess the voters couldn't decide between Lawrence, Kwai, Zhivago and Brief Encounter. I'm positive he's gonna be in the directors list.

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