Check Out IndieWire’s Critics’ Ballots for the 2022 Sight & Sound Poll of the Best Films of All Time

Four IndieWire staffers voted in the latest iteration of the lauded poll. Ahead, they explain their picks (and their processes behind getting to them).
"Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles"
"Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles"

It’s the list so formative and formidable that it can only be published once a decade. Every ten years, Sight & Sound unnerves and delights cinephiles in equal measure, care of its seminal list of the best films of all time. First conducted in 1952, this year’s iteration of included the largest assortment of voters yet, including over 1,600 film critics and journalists from around the globe. Of those numbers: four of IndieWire’s own, who are eager to share both their picks for the poll and a little insight into how they arrived at those choices.

For the 2022 edition of the poll, Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” took the top spot, followed by a range of other picks, including “Vertigo,” “Citizen Kane,” “Tokyo Story,” “In the Mood for Love,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Beau Travail,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Man with the Movie Camera,” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

All voters were asked to pick not “the best” or “their favorite” films, but something slightly different: “the greatest,” a term they were free to interpret however they saw fit. And interpret we did!

Ahead, IndieWire’s own critics who contributed to the latest poll share their own lists, some insights into their list-making processes, and much more.

All films are listed in alphabetical order on each ballot.

David Ehrlich, Chief Film Critic

The act of making any sort of movie list is an open invitation for second guesses any regrets — one that I suspect cinephiles have always been powerless to resist by virtue of loving a medium young enough to seem like it can still be seen in full — but never, in all my years of compulsively ranking art like a moron, have I experienced anything quite like the sick-to-my-stomach gut-punch I felt when I mailed off my Sight & Sound ballot of the 10 greatest films ever made. I’d obsessed about it for weeks, only to swap out almost half of the list at the last second in some kind of hare-brained attempt to make my ballot seem less calculated than it was.

Doubts poured in the moment I fired it off, as if pressing that little “send” button had punctured a hole in the hull of the Titanic. “What happened to ‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters’? or ‘Modern Times’? Hadn’t you promised yourself that you would err on the side of canon-busting personal favorites like Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ and left-field choices that had no hope of cracking the overall list like Koreyoshi Kurahara’s anarchic ‘The Warped Ones’? Oh, and where the fuck is ‘Carol’?!”

EYES WIDE SHUT, Leon Vitali (sitting), Tom Cruise (lower center), 1999. © Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
“Eyes Wide Shut”Everett Collection / Everett Collection

But 10 is a cruel and unforgiving number, and meaningless choices had to be made. “Close-Up,” “Ikiru,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Yi Yi,” “Sans Soleil,” and “Jeanne Dielman” were non-negotiable bulls-eyes that fell dead in the center of the Venn diagram between formative viewings, medium-shaping masterpieces, and sentimental picks. Much like those movies,“F for Fake” radically expanded my understanding of what movies could do; I don’t know if it’s better than “Citizen Kane,” but it left a deeper impression on me. “The Wind Rises” was an easy choice: I didn’t want live-action to dominate the entire list, so I made room for the greatest animated film ever made. “Titanic” is on there because I’ve watched it more than any other movie over the course of my life, continue to be awed by it every time, and sincerely believe that it deserves to be canonized alongside cinema’s greatest epics, while “The Music Room” has resonated with me since I first saw it, and just happened to be on my mind that morning.

I still worry that my list is too safe and stuffy — even while I kick myself over the absence of anything made before 1952 — but such is the nature of these things. The good news is that 2032 will be here before you know it, and maybe I’ll be more comfortable with a ballot implying that “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is better than the collected works of Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, et. al by then.

“Close-Up” (Abbas Kiarostami)
“Eyes Wide Shut” (Stanley Kubrick)
“F for Fake” (Orson Welles)
“Ikiru” (Akira Kurosawa)
“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (Chantal Akerman)
“The Music Room” (Satyajit Ray)
“Sans Soleil” (Chris Marker)
“Titanic” (James Cameron)
“The Wind Rises” (Hayao Miyazaki)
“Yi Yi” (Edward Yang)

Kate Erbland, Executive Editor, Film

While David seems to have spent the past few months — fun fact: ballots were due in early August — agonizing over his (quite good!) choices, I approached my ballot in a slightly different way. Which is to say, I meticulously picked my own brain, combed over previous entries on the list, considered what I thought needed more representation (like more women), scribbled, combined, sorted, de-sorted, added in, tossed out, and then promptly ended it all with Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” and hit “send” on that baby. And while I looked forward to the day the poll was shared, I didn’t worry about it at all.

To the point that — full transparency here — I didn’t even remember the full contents of my ballot until each individual list was published in full by Sight & Sound on Friday. It’s not that I think these lists are somehow forgettable, but they are ephemeral. Consider how much of this list — this seminal, lauded, meticulous, curated, wonderful list — changes each decade it’s published. All of this is changeable, all of it is transitory, and that’s a great thing.

ALMOST FAMOUS, John Fedevich, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, 2000, (c)DreamWorks/courtesy Everett Collection
“Almost Famous”©DreamWorks/courtesy of The Everett Collection

The films I picked back in August (well, let’s be honest, I submitted mine in July, I just love getting things done) reflect how I felt back in July. In the moment, those were the “greatest” films to me, the ones I was eager to champ and tout, to share with anyone and everyone. Would that list look different if I made it today? Probably, but that doesn’t make this one less valuable (it just means that my stress level is perhaps a touch lower than David’s).

To paraphrase a film on my ballot: “What do you love about movies?” To begin with…

“Almost Famous” (Cameron Crowe)
“Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles)
“Cleo from 5 to 7” (Agnes Varda)
“The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola)
“It Happened One Night” (Frank Capra)
“Jaws” (Steven Spielberg)
“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (Chantal Akerman)
“North by Northwest” (Alfred Hitchcock)
“The Piano” (Jane Campion)
“Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen)

Eric Kohn, Executive Editor and VP, Editorial Strategy

I appreciate the care and anxiety over creating these lists that my colleagues express here, but I have to say I shrugged off that kind of prevarication a long time ago. The challenge of anointing any film the best of all time is that you’re always limited by your own criteria. No single list can epitomize the full scope of film history or the personal relationships that often inform individual choices. Year-end lists have the practical function of immediate advocacy — they provide handy reminders of movies worth seeing in the moment — but “best of all time” lists tend to have the opposite effect: No matter what, you’re excluding a lot of cinema worth singling out.

The only way out of this conundrum is to make peace with the subjectivity of the process, and so I tend to think of it in immediate, autobiographical terms. Which films still stick with me after all these years — and which ones have infiltrated my recency bias?

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Keir Dullea, 1968
“2001: A Space Odyssey”Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Many of the movies I treasure the most are the ones that led me to appreciate the expansive nature of Thea art form. “F for Fake” remains the movie that had a transformative effect on me after all these years, much in the same way it did for David, as it consolidated so much that I love about the movies as both a way to see the world and escape from it. “2001” was my gateway drug to the avant garde. “City Lights” epitomizes the poignant undercurrent of silent slapstick. My most “obscure” choice is Jean Rouch’s extraordinary 1970 colonialist indictment “Little By Little,” which has to be seen to be believed (think “Borat” with an anthropologist twist). And I have never seen a richer film about WWII — and the horrible instincts that such a climate allowed to run wild — than “Seven Beauties.” It is even more relevant today.

Other films on my list were simply on my mind when this poll came along: A recent viewing of “The Big Lebowski” made realize that its enduring cultural appeal is, in fact, because it’s a note-perfect encapsulation of American malaise. I recently introduced “My Neighbor Totoro” to a young relative and recognized how profound and mythic its narrative, like some kind of ancient parable waiting eons to be told, that just happened to find its expression in the animated medium. “Playtime,” which I sat and watched in one of MOMA’s permanent exhibition galleries this year, is like that, too: It’s the post-modern equivalent of a cave painting, a complete visual statement on the world as a singular, functioning system. And it kills me that — again, having recently revisited it — more people don’t recognize “After Hours” as the Best Scorsese Movie, because it’s also the most New York thing of all the very New York things he’s made.

Anyway: I’m thrilled to see “Jeanne Dielman” capping this survey because it seems very likely to encourage more people to take daring experimental storytelling seriously — aka, the kind of filmmaking that reminds us it’s a damn art form before all else. I need to see it again before I vote in another one of these. Who knows what my recency bias will bring the next time out?

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick)
“After Hours” (Martin Scorsese)
“All That Jazz” (Bob Fosse)
“The Big Lebowski” (Joel and Ethan Coen)
“City Lights” (Charlie Chaplin)
“F for Fake” (Orson Welles)
“Little by Little” (Jean Rouch)
“My Neighbor Totoro” (Hayao Miyazaki)
“Playtime” (Jacques Tati)
“Seven Beauties” (Lina Wertmuller)

Anne Thompson, Editor at Large

While plenty of people are decrying the end of the cinephile authority of the Sight & Sound poll, the pendulum had to swing toward more diverse directors, even if it will likely swing back again. “Jeanne Dielman” is a film I respect more than I admire, but I get why it rose to number one status with a voting pool that more than doubled since 2012.

Several of my choices made the top 100: “The General,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Breathless,” and Jane Campion’s 1993 “The Piano,” the most recent film on my list. I picked “Ran” over “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai” and “Notorious” over “North by Northwest,” “Vertigo,” and “Psycho.”

“Touch of Evil” fell off the Top 100, but at least “Citizen Kane” is still there. There’s no Howard Hawks to be found. The chameleon director gets punished for having so many great films, all different genres: slapstick comedy “Bringing Up Baby” was my choice. For my musical, I picked Vincente Minnelli’s family heart-tugger “Meet Me in St. Louis.” And my romance was the exquisite Scottish fable “I Know Where I’m Going,” from Michael Powell.

TOUCH OF EVIL, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, 1958
“Touch of Evil”Courtesy Everett Collection

“Breathless” (Jean-Luc Godard)
“Bringing Up Baby” (Howard Hawks)
“The General” (Buster Keaton)
“I Know Where I’m Going” (Michael Powell)
“Meet Me in St. Louis” (Vincente Minnelli)
“Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock)
“Once Upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone)
“The Piano” (Jane Campion)
“Ran” (Akira Kurosawa)
“Touch of Evil” (Orson Welles)

You can check out the full results for the Sight & Sound poll right here.

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