Sight & Sound Poll: 2022

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It’s impossible to articulate how momentous it is that Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) topped the Sight & Sound poll of 2022. Over one thousand film critics have agreed that Chantal Akerman’s feminist masterpiece is the greatest film of all time. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles has topped such stalwart classics of the world cinema canon as Vertigo (1958), Citizen Kane (1941), and Seven Samurai (1954) on a list that has, until very recently, omitted films by women and People of Color.

Although I personally agree with putting Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles at the top of such a list, one has to be cautious about how this list is interpreted. A list of this sort has been the vice of cinephiles for over one hundred years and that isn’t going to change. At best these lists cast disparate films together in combinations that had previously been unconsidered. Suddenly one could be examining the intertextuality between a film by Robert Bresson and a film by Ousmane Sembène.

A list can have even less nuanced effect on its reader by simply presenting them with films that had been unknown to them before. It’s this factor that always motivated me to give students lists to help guide them from the mainstream and into the depths of more obscure film canons. While the Sight & Sound poll probably won’t accomplish this for most of its readers, it will no doubt have a profound influence on some.

Even as Sight & Sound and the critics they poll strive to be more inclusive and representative of cinema as an international art form for all genders the danger still exists that some may take the list as fact. Which is to say that a number of people may look at the list and walk away with the impression that their taste is wrong, invalid, or just poor. It may sound silly, but lists can be intimidating and we are all far more impressionable and sensitive than we realize.

One has to remember that every decade Sight & Sound has published this list it has appeared with slight variations every time. Taste is fluid and the art that is valued in one decade may be dismissed entirely ten, or thirty years later. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the cinema an individual values. The great errors are simply to accept authoritative lists as truly authoritative and to be complacent about cinematic experiences.

If one hates Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles that’s fine. But one can’t turn a blind eye to that fact that a queer woman’s film has taken first place on a list titled The Greatest Films Of All Time. It’s a revolutionary moment that must be celebrated. If not for the political ramifications than simply for the fact that more people are likely to be exposed to the immense power of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles than before.