The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine began, in 1952, to conduct a decennial poll of film critics, programmers, curators, archivists and academics. Every ten years, the poll produces a ranked list of what a given year’s pool of professionals feels are the 100 greatest films of all time.
In 1952, the No. 1 film was Vittorio de Sica’s 1948 Bicycle Thieves. In 1962, it was supplanted by Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane from 1941, which famously held onto the top spot in the next four polls. Seismic tremors were felt by movie connoisseurs in 2012, when Kane slipped to 2nd place and was replaced by Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo.
Anticipation was high leading up to the December 1st reveal of the results of the 2022 poll of over 1600 opinionated movie cognoscenti. The earth definitely seemed to have moved when it was learned that this decade’s list was topped by Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). It was followed by Vertigo and Kane in the Nos. 2 & 3 spots. (Bicycle Thieves is still on the list, tied with Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon for 41st place.)
The release of this year’s list has made us (the people behind the Vintage Film Festival) ponder several questions. How well represented were films made 50+ years ago (our definition of “vintage”)? How many of the 100 top films has the Festival programmed since its first program in 1993? And which vintage films have we conspicuously missed out on sharing so far?
VFF has screened more than 350 different vintage films over the course of its 29 programs to date. Sight and Sound’s 2022 list includes 62 movies made between 1924 and 1972; so, the vintage films definitely outnumber those of the last half-century (38). Only seven of these were made during the silent era, and VFF has shown four: Battleship Potemkin, The General, Metropolis and Sunrise. And we’ve programmed two – City Lights and The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) – out of the mere five from the Thirties. Amazingly, only one of Sight and Sound’s eight films from the Forties has appeared in a VFF program: the ever-popular Bicycle Thieves.
The BFI’s list includes a generous twenty films from the Fifties, and another twenty from the Sixties – again, apparently, including many titles we’ve overlooked to date. Only Rashomon, Rear Window and Vertigo (from the 50’s) and Psycho (1960) appear on our list, too.
VFF’s programming has always been strong on golden age Hollywood; this year’s Sight and Sound list is not. But here are a few of the films in that category which their 1600+ voters liked but which we haven’t (yet) screened: Modern Times, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain, The Night of the Hunter, The Searchers, Some Like It Hot, North by Northwest, The Apartment. Which of them would you like to see at a future Vintage Film Festival? And what about some of the many other titles on BFI’s list?