The Chantal Ackerman drama is among several by female and Black directors in the respected once-a-decade survey, last conducted in 2012.
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By Reggie Ugwu
For the first time in its 70-year history, an esteemed international poll of film experts has ranked a film directed by a woman as the greatest of all time.
“Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” written and directed by the Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman and released in 1975, topped a list of 100 films honored by the British magazine Sight and Sound’s “Greatest Films of All Time” critics’ poll, the publication announced Thursday. Conducted only once a decade, the poll is the largest of its kind and the results have been regarded as an authoritative canon since it was first conducted in 1952. This year, it surveyed more than 1,600 critics, scholars, distributors, curators, archivists and others.
The previous No. 1 on the list, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1959), dropped to No. 2. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” (1941), which had held the top spot for 50 years before that, is now No. 3.
“Streaming and digital communication have created opportunities to amplify voices and films that were less seen before,” said Mike Williams, the editor of Sight and Sound, which produces the list in partnership with the British Film Institute, the magazine’s publisher. “I think our list is becoming more reflective of the wider world of filmmaking, enjoyment, criticism and conversation.”
The number of participants is nearly double the 846 surveyed when the last poll was conducted, in 2012. Williams said that the inclusion of so many new voices probably helped elevate films and filmmakers from a broader range of backgrounds and perspectives.
In the 2012 poll, “Jeanne Dielman,” then tied at No. 36, was one of only two films directed by women, along with Claire Denis’s “Beau Travail” (1998), then tied at No. 78. (Regardless of ties, which occur often, only 100 films make the cut.) This year, 11 films directed by women are on the list, including “Beau Travail,” now ranking at No. 7, Agnès Varda’s “Cléo From 5 to 7” (1962) at No. 14 and Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) at No. 30.
For the first time, the poll also acknowledges the work of several Black directors. In 2012, the Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty’s “Touki Bouki” (1973) was the sole Black-directed film in the Top 100, ranking at No. 93. This year, seven Black directors appear on the list, including Spike Lee, at No. 24 for “Do the Right Thing” (1989), Charles Burnett, tied at No. 43 for “Killer of Sheep” (1977), and Julie Dash, tied at No. 60 for “Daughters of the Dust” (1991).
In another first, the list also includes two animated films, both directed by the Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki: “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) is tied at No. 72 and “Spirited Away” (2001) is tied at 75. Four films in the Top 100 were released in the last decade, including “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” (2016), tied at No. 60, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” (2019), tied at No. 90, and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017), tied at No. 95.
In 2012, no film released in the previous 10 years made the cut.
As is the case every decade, the new arrivals mean some notable demotions. This time, a handful of long-heralded landmarks, including David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974) dropped out.
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“Momentum moves in both directions,” Williams said. “Certain directors perhaps are less in vogue now than they were in the past.”
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.
Akerman’s triumph continues decades of growing recognition for the director, who died in 2015 at 65. “Jeanne Dielman,” the first of several of her films exploring the interior lives of women, meticulously tracks the daily routine of a middle-aged widow, slowly building to a dramatic climax. A second Akerman film, “News From Home” (1976), inspired by her move to New York City, also made the Sight and Sound list, tied at No. 52.
Speaking to The Times for Akerman’s obituary, Nicola Mazzanti, the director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive at the time, said “Jeanne Dielman” “created, overnight, a new way of making films, a new way of telling stories, a new way of telling time.
“There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history,” he said. “And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.”
Top 20 ‘Greatest Films of All Time’ Critics Poll
Here are the films (with their British release dates) at the top of Sight and Sound’s survey. The full list will be available on the BFI’s website
1. “Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
2. “Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
3. “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, 1941)
4. “Tokyo Story” (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
5. “In the Mood for Love” (Wong Kar-wai, 2001)
6. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7. “Beau Travail” (Claire Denis, 1998)
8. “Mulholland Drive” (David Lynch, 2001)
9. “Man With a Movie Camera” (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
10. “Singin’ in the Rain” (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1951)
11. “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
12. “The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
13. “The Rules of the Game” (Jean Renoir, 1939)
14. “Cléo From 5 to 7” (Agnès Varda, 1962)
15. “The Searchers” (John Ford, 1956)
16. “Meshes of the Afternoon” (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
17. “Close-Up” (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
18. “Persona” (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19. “Apocalypse Now” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
20. “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
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