What to say about the films dropped from Sight and Sound list

Tom Davidson
4 min readDec 2, 2022

On Thursday Sight and Sound released their once-a-decade list of The Greatest Films of All Time.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II

Twenty five films that had been on the list in 2012 dropped off entirely.

They are:

  1. The Godfather Part II (Previously 31)
  2. Gertrud (Previously 42)
  3. Raging Bull (Previously 53)
  4. Touch of Evil (Previously 57)
  5. La maman et la Putain (Previously 59)
  6. Wild Strawberries (Previously 63)
  7. Pickpocket (Previously 63)
  8. Rio Bravo (Previously 63)
  9. L’Eclisse (Previously 73)
  10. Les enfants du paradis (Previously 73)
  11. La Grande Illusion (Previously 73)
  12. Nashville (Previously 73)
  13. Chinatown (Previously 73)
  14. The Magnificent Ambersons (Previously 81)
  15. Lawrence of Arabia (Previously 81)
  16. Fanny and Alexander (Previously 81)
  17. The Colour of Pomegranates (Previously 84)
  18. Greed (Previously 84)
  19. The Wild Bunch (Previously 84)
  20. Partie de campagne (Previously 90)
  21. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Previously 90)
  22. The Seventh Seal (Previously 93)
  23. Un chien andalou (Previously 93)
  24. Intolerance (Previously 93)
  25. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Previously 93)

First things first, it’s a fucking list guys, it matters not one jot.

No one is taking out the film negative for, say, Chinatown and burning it. None of these films are now bad, or ‘worse’ than they were 10 years ago. The films remain the same but perhaps the discussion around them has changed.

Chinatown, for example, is likely suffering from an industry-wide long-overdue Roman Polanski backlash (it still comfortably made the director’s list, where they’re more likely to be interested purely in craft and not on personal issues).

But there is one thing all 25 of the above films have in common — and I believe it’s a result of S&S opening up the voting to a bigger array of critics and film writers.

(This year they surveyed more than 1,600 critics, scholars, distributors, curators, archivists and others.)

They are all directed by a white man (or men, as in the case of Powell and Pressburger’s Colonel Blimp).

The price we pay for diversity, some much needed diversity by the way, is that some of the great films, directed at a time white male cinematic hegemony was at its peak, have ‘fallen off’ the list.

There is a particular backlash, if one wants to call it that, to New Hollywood. There is the aforementioned Chinatown, but also Nashville, Raging Bull and The Godfather Part II.

(The latter may be a victim of some tighter voting rules not allowing for ‘The Godfather Parts I and II’ as a single vote.)

There are some other, more general points:

  • The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Fanny and Alexander are all likely victims of vote-splitting among Ingmar Bergman fans.
  • Looking at The Wild Bunch and Rio Bravo, it’s safe to say Westerns are thoroughly out of vogue (even The Searchers dropped out of the top 10).
  • The Searcher’s isn’t even John Ford’s best film by the way, quite why it seems to be the accepted ‘greatest’ Western is a bit lost on me.
  • Ambersons deserves to go. Unfortunately it’s only 2/3 of a masterpiece (through no fault of Orson Welles).
  • La Maman et la Putain is probably paying the price for Jeanne Dielman’s success (critics are not likely to put two 180 minute+ French 1970s dramas).

Those 25 films have been replaced by a great glut of terrific filmmaking from a much broader range of directors.

In 2012 there was only a single film black-directed film, something which shamed not just S&S but the whole film community.

This year, seven black directors are on the list, including Spike Lee, in at 24 for Do the Right Thing, Charles Burnett for Killer of Sheep, and Julie Dash, for Daughters of the Dust. There is also a spot for Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

Likewise women filmmakers have enjoyed a surge in popularity. Not only is a female director, Chantal Akerman, on the top spot for the first time since the list’s inception, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire rocketed straight in at #30 (I do expect it to drop down in 2032).

Claire Denis’ masterwork Beau Travail has gone from 78 to 7.

The 14-minute long experimental Meshes of the Afternoon, released in 1943, had never previously listed at all. Now it’s ‘considered’ the 16th greatest film of all time.

Mike Williams, the editor of Sight and Sound, said: “Streaming and digital communication have created opportunities to amplify voices and films that were less seen before.

“I think our list is becoming more reflective of the wider world of filmmaking, enjoyment, criticism and conversation.”

“Momentum moves in both directions,” Williams added. “Certain directors perhaps are less in vogue now than they were in the past.”

The last thing any lover of cinema should want is a rote list of the same 100 greatest films every 10 years.

Isn’t this whole process not to codify film canon for all, but to spark debate and discussion and arguments?

It’s art for fuck’s sake, it’s not about the rankings. Now let’s wait for the individual ballots to come out, and then we can all talk about that…

This is how The New York Times describe the voting process by the way:

To create the list, five Sight and Sound editors and associates asked respondents to select what they considered to be the 10 greatest films of all time, with the definition of “greatness” left to the respondent’s discretion. The lists were unranked — each of the 10 films received one vote. The editors then used software to rank all submitted films by the total number of votes.

Directors who failed to make the list include Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Michael Mann, Jean-Pierre Melville, Pedro Almodovar, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, John Huston, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Howard Hawks, Robert Altman, Jonathan Demme…

--

--

Tom Davidson

31-year-old journalist living in south westLondon trying my hand at some film writing as and when