‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Vertigo’ lose top spot on BFI best movies list to Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman

‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’ tops the latest ‘Sight and Sound’ magazine list, published every 10 years and selected by 1,600 experts in 2022

Delphine Seyrig in a still from 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles'.
Delphine Seyrig in a still from 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles'.

For once Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather did not win. Neither did the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo, or Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, which are among the most-often selected titles when it comes to trying to decide the best film ever. All of them feature in the latest selection from the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine poll, which takes place every 10 years and is considered one of the most prestigious and comprehensive in the industry, with more than 1,600 experts voting on the 100 greatest movies of all time. In the 2022 edition, Belgian director Chantal Akerman took top spot for his 1975 release Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Akerman’s movie, which is over three hours long, centers on a widow who does what she can to make ends meet while taking care of her home and child, until one day an unexpected event turns her life upside down. In the previous edition of the list, in 2012, it was ranked 36 and was one of only two feature films directed by a woman among the selection, along with Claire Denise’s Beau travail, which has leapt from 78 to 7. In the 2022 selection, female filmmakers contribute 11 of the 100 films chosen. The third highest-ranked film helmed by a female director is Cléo from 5 to 7, by Agnès Varda, which placed at number 14.

Vertigo, which topped the 2012 list, dropped a place to number two while Citizen Kane, which had dominated the number one spot in previous editions, had to settle for the bronze medal. Tokyo Story, by Yasujirō Ozu, and In the Mood for Love, by Wong Kar-wai, complete the top 5 selected by the 1,600 critics, curators, distributors, archivists, researchers and other experts consulted by Sight and Sound. The United States (36), France (32) and Italy (13) lead the way in terms of the most-represented production locations.

James Stewart and Kim Novak in 'Vertigo'.
James Stewart and Kim Novak in 'Vertigo'.

The British Film Institute and Sight and Sound practically doubled the number of participants compared to the 2012 edition (846), in an attempt to increase the inclusiveness of the jury. “Streaming and digital communication have created opportunities to amplify voices and films that were less seen before,” Mike Williams, editor of Sight and Sound, told The New York Times.

As such, the selection offers several new features. For the first time, two animated works are included: My Neighbor Totoro (72) and Spirited Away (75), both by Hayao Miyazaki. There are also four movies released during the last decade: (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, by Céline Sciamma, at 30; Moonlight, by Barry Jenkins, at 60; Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, at 90, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, at 95), compared to none on the 2012 list. Djibril Diop Mambéty, with Touki Bouki, was the only black filmmaker present on the 2012. In the latest selection, among others, are Spike Lee at 24 with Do the Right Thing and Charles Burnett, at 43, with Killer of Sheep.

The new entries, evidently, entail some departures. Among others, The New York Times points out that films such as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia have been ousted from the selection. The New York Times also explained the methodology of the list: its organizers ask each expert to select the 10 most important films in history – the criterion is “greatness” and everyone can interpret that as they wish – with no order of preference. The final list is based on the number of times each movie has been chosen by one of the members of the jury.

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