Re-Ranking the Sight & Sound Top 100

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The results of last year’s Sight & Sound poll shook the film community to its sedentary core. Cinephiles everywhere could be heard shouting from the rooftops their recliners - Oh my God! Jesus Christ! Holy shit! Citizen Kane, officially the “greatest film of all time” for 5 decades, had been dethroned by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo! What strange new world were we living in? This tidal shift in critical consensus (Citizen Kane plummeted all the way to #2) inspired cinephiles to rise en masse from their recliners…then sit back down and take to Twitter. I too took to Twitter, with the aim of shattering the legitimacy of the poll in 140 characters. Alas, I recently deactivated my Twitter account and don’t remember what I said, but trust me, it was devastating. Happily, I remember the gist of the tweet, which I’ll get to in a moment.

First, let me say that I have nothing against Vertigo, per se. I have no ax to grind with it. It’s a fine film - the second best of 1958, behind Welles’ best film, Touch of Evil. No, my issue is with the poll itself, with the very idea of determining which films are the greatest ever made through a collection of personal top ten lists, as though a consensus of subjective opinion somehow held more objective weight than an individual opinion (for the record, it doesn’t). It wouldn’t make any difference even if all the critics in the world regarded Vertigo as the best film ever made. Even then, Vertigo wouldn’t actually be the best film ever made - it would merely enjoy unanimity of subjective opinion as such among film critics.

Of course, in reality Vertigo enjoys no such universal preeminence. Not even close. And that’s what my devastating tweet was about. Only 191 out of the 846 participants polled voted for Vertigo, which means that 77.5% of critics worldwide didn’t even put it on their top ten lists, let alone at the number one position. Yes, Vertigo received more votes than any other film, but a whopping 655 participants did not vote for it. In short, according to most critics Vertigo is not the “greatest film of all time.” (Of course, this goes for every other film ever made as well.) This is so obvious it wouldn’t even be worth pointing out were it not for the fact that so many self-important critics take the list very seriously indeed. Ten years from now we’ll do it all over again. Will Vertigo retain its title as the greatest film of all time or will it drop precipitously to number 2? Will Citizen Kane reclaim the throne or will it languish at number 2 for another decade? Wake me up in ten years.

Shortly after tweeting my qualms about the Sight & Sound poll I received an invitation from Iain Stott at 100 Evenings Illuminated to participate in a film poll of his own intended as a response to the Sight & Sound poll. Stott noticed that Vertigo appeared on only 191 of 846 ballots and wondered “just what did the other 655 people think of it? Would it have made their top 20s, 50s, 100s? Did they-and indeed do they-even admire it at all? This poll seeks to address that question; or, at least, to go some way towards doing so.”

The idea was for participants to re-rank the top 100 films from the Sight & Sound poll in preferential order and see how things shook out. How different would the list look? Would Citizen Kane remain dethroned? Would Vertigo still be number one? Where would Touki-Bouki end up? Sure, the poll promised to be every bit as arbitrary and meaningless as the Sight & Sound poll, but so what? I’d be in it. For some unfathomable reason I wasn’t invited to participate in the Sight & Sound poll (perhaps it had something to do with my not being a professional critic, who knows?), so to rectify that grievous oversight I jumped at the chance to participate in this one. Now my opinion, the one true opinion, would be heard.

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So here, then, is my re-ranking, i.e. the one true re-ranking, of the Sight & Sound top 100:

1.  Once Upon a Time in the West

2.  The Third Man

3.  Chinatown

4.  2001: A Space Odyssey

5. Taxi Driver

6. Sherlock Jr.

7. The Godfather: Part II

8. Psycho

9. The Godfather

10. North by Northwest

11. Touch of Evil

12. Mulholland Dr.

13. Blue Velvet

14. Citizen Kane

15. M

16. Rear Window

17. The Passion of Joan of Arc

18. Blade Runner

19. The General

20. Singin’ in the Rain

21. Man with a Movie Camera

22. Sunset Blvd.

23. Tokyo Story

24. Vertigo

25. Raging Bull

26. Persona

27. Rio Bravo

28. The Battle of Algiers

29. The Night of the Hunter

30. Seven Samurai

31. Apocalypse Now

32. Breathless

33. Casablanca

34. Some Like It Hot

35. Close-Up

36. Greed

37. The Magnificent Ambersons

38. In the Mood for Love

39. Modern Times

40. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

41. La Grande Illusion

42. The Wild Bunch

43. The 400 Blows

44. Bicycle Thieves

45. Un Chien Andalou

46. Nashville

47. Pierrot le Fou

48. La Jetée

49. Late Spring

50. City Lights

51. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

52. Pickpocket

53. Rules of the Game

54. Sansho the Baliff

55. A Man Escaped

56. L’Atalante

57. A Matter of Life and Death

58. The Spirit of the Beehive

59. Pather Panchali

60. Touki-Bouki

61. Wild Strawberries

62. The Seventh Seal

63. Metropolis

64. Fanny & Alexander

65. Battleship Potemkin

66. Lawrence of Arabia

67. Play Time

68. Intolerance

69. The Searchers

70. L’Eclisse

71. L’Avventura

72. Shoah

73. Ugetsu Monogatari

74. 8½

75. Les Enfants du Paradis

76. Madame de…

77. Au Hasard Balthazar

78. Le Mépris

79. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles

80. The Leopard

81. Barry Lyndon

82. Rashomon

83. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

84. La Dolce Vita

85. Imitation of Life

86. Partie de Campagne

87. Stalker

88. A One and a Two

89. Beau Travail

90. Andrei Rublev

91. The Colour of Pomegranates

92. La Maman et la Putain

93. Journey to Italy

94. Gertrud

95. Mirror

96. Ordet

97. Sans Soleil

Unranked

A Brighter Summer Day

Histoire(s) du Cinéma

Sátántangó

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By the way, in case you’re curious, here are the results of Stott’s poll. Citizen Kane is back on top, with Vertigo at number 2. Take that Sight & Sound! It’s official: Citizen Kane remains the greatest film of all time. But, of course, that’s complete bullshit - Once Upon a Time in the West is. (See my re-ranking above.)

We were also asked to make an alternative list of 100 films we considered just as worthy of canonization. Here’s mine (in chronological order):

Our Hospitality (1923, Buster Keaton & John G. Blystone)

Seven Chances (1925, Buster Keaton)

Ménilmontant (1926, Dimitri Kirsanoff)

The Unknown (1927, Tod Browning)

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Walt Disney)

Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)

Blood Money (1933, Rowland Brown)

Footlight Parade (1933, Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley)

It’s a Gift (1934, Norman Z. McLeod)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)

Swing Time (1936, George Stevens)

Pépé le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier)

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937, Leo McCarey)

Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)

Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett))

The Wizard of Oz (!939, Victor Fleming)

The Shop Around the Corner (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)

His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks)

The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)

Le Corbeau (1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot

Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

The Suspect (1944, Robert Siodmak)

The Body Snatcher (1945, Robert Wise)

The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)

My Darling Clementine (1946, John Ford)

Northwest Hounded Police (1946, Tex Avery)

Quai des Orfèvres (1947, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

Oliver Twist (1948, David Lean)

Red River (1948, Howard Hawks)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, Robert Hamer)

White Heat (1949, Raoul Walsh)

The Set-Up (1949, Robert Wise)

High Diving Hare (1949, Friz Freleng)

Gun Crazy (1950, Joseph H. Lewis)

Pickup on South Street (1953, Sam Fuller)

El (1953, Luis Buñuel)

The Naked Spur (1953, Anthony Mann)

A Star is Born (1954, George Cukor)

The Ladykillers  (1955, Alexander Mackendrick)

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Ingmar Bergman)

The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Alexander Mackendrick)

Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)

Fires on the Plains (1959, Kon Ichikawa)

Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)

Shoot the Piano Player (1960, François Truffaut)

The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer)

Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi)

The Innocents (1963, Jack Clayton)

Hud (1963, Martin Ritt)

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)

For a Few Dollars More (1965, Sergio Leone)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn)

The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)

Branded to Kill (1967, Seijun Suzuki)

Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero)

The Flat (1968, Jan Svankmajer)

Le Boucher (1970, Claude Chabrol)

A Touch of Zen (1971, King Hu)

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971, Robert Altman)

Duck, You Sucker (1971, Sergio Leone)

Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)

The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)

American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas)

Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)

Annie Hall (1975, Woody Allen)

Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

Modern Romance (1981, Albert Brooks)

Tango (1981, Zbigniew Rybczynski)

The Ballad of Narayama (1983, Shôhei Imamura)

A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)

Once Upon a Time in America (1984, Sergio Leone)

This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)

Blood Simple (1984, Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris)

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)

GoodFellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel & Ethan Coen)

Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

Bottle Rocket (1996, Wes Anderson)

Fargo (1996, Joel & Ethan Coen)

Happiness (1988, Todd Solondz)

Election (1999, Alexander Payne)

Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

Before Sunset (2004, Richard Linklater)

No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

10 Responses to “Re-Ranking the Sight & Sound Top 100”

  1. Mat … cannot believe that “The Usual Suspects” did not appear in your list of top films. Have you seen it recently? Check it out again and see if you’d consider it.

  2. I note the absence of “Resevoir Dogs” and “Inglourious Basterds” while “Pulp Fiction” made it. Hmmmm…..

  3. Apology … you did have Reservoir Dogs … but not on your official Top 100, only on the alternative list. Also, I noticed the absence of “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.” You would probably agree that at least one of QT’s and/or PTA’s film is worthy of the official Top 100.

  4. Mark,

    Did you read the post? The Top 100 list is my re-ranking of the Sight & Sound top 100. Reservoir Dogs (and the other films you mentioned) were not in the S & S top 100, therefore they were not in my re-ranked 100.

    I intentionally omitted the the QT and PTA films you mentioned just to piss you off. No, actually they easily could have made my alternative list (except Hard Eight). But I only had so much space and wanted other, less well known films represented.

    You’re welcome to post your own alternative 100 list.

    Mat

  5. Ah … your list was a re-ordered version of S&S’s. And of course the “S&S list” really stands for “Stupid & Shit” list.” You didn’t think Hard Eight was worthy of top 100 - maybe not, but I thought it to be a great movie. You didn’t comment on “The Usual Suspects,” a movie that is almost flawless in my opinion.

  6. I love The Usual Suspects. But you’re talking to a guy who’s seen around 7,362 films - not including shorts. I wanted to give a little recognition to some great but relatively obscure films, and so other great films got sacrificed in the process.

    Again, I invite you to make your own top 100 list. I bet you’ll omit some gems yourself.

  7. About 7,362? That sounds more like an exact number to me! That’s a lot of film viewing and critiquing!

  8. I keep an Excel spreadsheet of all the films I’ve ever seen (with director and year of release). I’m now at 7,364. No doubt I’ve forgotten some films, so that number is low. And it doesn’t include shorts (yes, I have a spreadsheet for shorts too).

    And believe me, I’ve done a lot more viewing than reviewing. I’d rather watch than write about movies!

  9. It’s really unfortunate that you’d rather watch a film than write about one - you’re a very good writer; an excellent one, in my opinion.

    And your stories on the home page are quite imaginative and could be converted into a screen play or even a TV series (cable TV series as its content is not ready for prime time).

  10. Thanks. Yeah, I’d watch that show.