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  • Writer's pictureZachary Zanatta

Sight and Sound 2022: New and Maybe Improved?

Sight and Sound’s once-a-decade “Best films of all time” lists are considered holy scripture among film circles. The list, compiled of hundreds of critics’ individual top 10 lists, is regarded as the most trustworthy source in the unsolvable debate of “the best”. Part of its reverence comes from its heavy emphasis on international cinema and art films. Whereas sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are both dominated by mainstream blockbusters (and a shocking lack of diversity among countries and filmmakers), Sight and Sound’s list is defined by an eclectic group of fascinating films from across the globe and spanning a diverse array of creative minds. 2022 marked Sight and Sound’s 8th publication of their “Best of” list, and with film and film communities being as large as they now are, anticipation for the list ran high. Once released, opinions seemed to be mixed. Many praised the rise in diversity, many felt that some omissions were rather glaring, and a select group of obnoxious individuals felt that the list was pushing a “woke agenda”, which is filmbro speak for a film not being only about misunderstood violent white men. We’ll get to my opinion at the end, but for now I think it’s interesting to discuss why this year’s Sight and Sound list is making such an impact.

The Fresh Faces:

The biggest question surrounding 2022’s list, outside of what would be taking the coveted top spot, was what newer films would make the list. 10 entire years had passed since 2012’s list, and that decade saw its fair share of groundbreaking films. Conversation surrounding the new recruits singled out a number of potential contenders ranging from indie horror to massive blockbusters. In the end, only 4 films made the cut since 2012, Get Out, Parasite, Moonlight, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

In my opinion, these are 4 films more than deserving to make the list. Outside of being a genuinely phenomenal film, Get Out is responsible for the meteoric rise of so-called “elevated horror”. Writer/director, Jordan Peele’s fiery bluntness in attacking racism in America made Get Out as effective a piece of social commentary as it is horror. The recent uptick in thoughtful horror is following in Peele’s footsteps in using horror to directly address social issues, opposed to using murky metaphors. Parasite was a monstrous success with a completely deserved legacy among the greats. Bong Joon-Ho’s class commentary/thriller/comedy/drama is riveting in every facet. I’m of the opinion that the recent rise of film communities (see sites like Letterboxd or Twitter) is largely owed to Parasite’s unforgettable success. It’s a film that will only grow more impactful as time goes on. Moonlight is startlingly brilliant and emotional. It’s a story so profound and real it can become uncomfortable, but it is one of the most incredible cinematic representations of humanity in history. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the finest romances of all time. Devastating and beautiful in equal measure, the film is an unequivocal artistic triumph.

These films not only deserve placement due to how great of a film they are, but how important they are in the larger cinematic landscape. Each film uses a distinct cinematic language to tell stories that prove integral to the past and current social landscape. Race, class, and sexuality among many others are each dominating themes of these films. These real issues are dissected by their filmmaker and in turn aim to change not only the film landscape, but society as well. Their influence has transcended the artistic landscape, and in turn lands them as monumental works that deserve recognition as such.

However, I believe some films that deserved to make it since 2012 did not. Films like Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Spiderverse, The Florida Project, and Mad Max Fury Road have proven themselves to be worthy. Perhaps they seem to be too boilerplate mainstream or not thematically deep enough. I still believe that these films present a fascinating and surely innovative new cinematic experience just as much as the 4 that made it. However, I’m still extremely satisfied with Sight and Sound’s choices and if it had to come down to 4, those would probably be them. Oh well, there’s always 2032.

Diversity:

One of the most immediately noticeable changes in the overall list is the shocking amount of representation from all facets of art. This ended up angering a lot of small-minded people so it should be said that more diversity is never a bad thing. In fact, the newfound diversity is, in my opinion, one of the new list’s strongest aspects.

The 2022 list is big for including dozens more women and POC filmmakers. Compared to the 2012 list, there are 9 new women-directed films and 6 new films by Black filmmakers. Representation from voices infamously silenced in the larger cinematic canon is integral to crafting an all-encompassing list of “the greatest”. This diversity doesn’t rewrite the canon as much as it unearths its true form. Films such as Wanda and Killer of Sheep are hugely influential and were never given their proper dues. They were disregarded and forgotten in the larger landscape until recent revitalization exposed their monumental influence. The 2022 list aims to remediate their exclusion and form the definitive cinematic canon for the new age.

Omissions:

The biggest form of contention emerging from discourse surrounding the new list are the glaring omissions. Of course, with changing attitudes in the film landscape certain movies will fall to the wayside, but the lack of certain films seems to be rubbing many the wrong way. Whether or not the outrage is justified is up to personal opinion, but the exclusion of some films certainly comes as a surprise.

Some films omitted include The Godfather II, Raging Bull, Children of Paradise, Fanny and Alexander, Nashville, and Chinatown. The exclusion of these films is both shocking but understandable. Not being on their list doesn’t automatically mean they no longer hold critical reverence, but rather certain critics believe that there are better examples. While I believe most of these films deserve a spot, I see why they may have not made this year’s list. In the current film landscape, massive character dramas along the lines of the films of Carne and Altman are few and far between. Their influence is still immeasurable but it’s no longer as direct as it once was, leading these types of films to follow the legacy of the western. The modern era’s rise in intimate features spearheaded by the emergence of indie filmmaking has more borrowed DNA from films like The Piano more than Nashville. This type of large-scale epic storytelling is very important, but it now shares the spotlight with different forms of cinematic expression. I would prefer that these films still weasel their way into the list, but I can’t deny that there are reasons for their omission.

The New Queen:

Of course, nothing has been more noteworthy than the brand new #1 film, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Rising a massive 35 spots between polls, Jeanne Dielman has risen above such classics as 2001, Citizen Kane, The Godfather and last decade’s #1, Vertigo. As with every aspect of this list, this proceeded to generate mixed reactions. It’s a bold pick, an unusual pick, not my personal pick, but ultimately might just be the best to top Sight and Sound 2022.

Most significantly is how for the first time in 70 years, a woman directed film has topped the poll. This is as exciting as it is necessary. As I said earlier, female voices in cinema were silenced for far too long, so to see a film that could only be made by a woman top the list is telling of a very positive change in the cinematic landscape. Its narrative and themes are both powerful in conveying feminist themes regarding women’s place in society, and they certainly ring poignant today.

The most compelling aspect of Jeanne Dielman is its status as a crown jewel of slow cinema. The film is 202 minutes, and a majority of that time is spent doing nothing. Jeanne peels potatoes, makes soup, cleans the house, and does various other chores almost at tedium. The repetition of these menial tasks borders on unwatchable, but after the third act, every minute detail falls into place. Jeanne Dielman is an exercise in patience and minutiae, rewarding viewers only once they’ve committed full attention and time to its aggravating experience. To some this sounds like Hell, but I believe it is the exact film that should be at the top of a 2022 “best of” list.

In the current landscape of heavily saturated cinema, a film that seemingly does nothing is a shocking exception. It exists in stark contrast to the nauseatingly busy action blockbusters that have dominated the mainstream since 2012. It’s pure cinema, using the camera as a means to explore humanity’s intricacies, not as a tool for empty entertainment. It’s art that demands the viewer pay attention, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in today’s media landscape. While there may be other better films out there, nothing quite captures the uniquely cinematic language of Jeanne Dielman, a language that we desperately need to return.

Conclusion:

Sight and Sound 2022 is a very different list than many had anticipated, but I believe that that’s a good thing. The old canon is not dead, rather evolved. The cinematic landscape is adapting to a world where anything from anyone has potential to become a revered classic, not just films from White men from the West. It does wonders in shining a light on films that would not normally be found on any other list of the greatest films of all time. Challenging cinema such as Satantango, Andrei Rublev, Daisies, and dozens more are given a wider exposure and rightfully considered as important and well-made cinema. It also recognizes the classics, neither trying to please the art crowd or mainstream crowd but opting to recognize cinema’s greatness regardless of its place in pop culture.

However, the list is not perfect in my opinion. Horror only appeared 3 times despite films like Nosferatu, House, Texas Chainsaw, The Exorcist, Kwaidan and countless others proving to have shaped the cinematic medium. Animation even more so with only 2 films represented. Studios like Pixar and Ghibli have at least 5 films each that I would deem more than worthy to stand among the greats. Not to mention other animated hits like Perfect Blue, Akira, Son of the White Mare, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Watership Down, and Fantastic Planet were all nowhere to be found. Horror and animation in particular are often delegitimized, and that seems to be the main issue with the list in my opinion. It’s able to appreciate overt artistry, but not other forms. It wouldn’t take many viewings to decree that Vertigo, Blue Velvet, and Bicycle Thieves are each artistic triumphs. That’s not to say they’re simple, far from it, they are some of the best films I’ve ever seen but they’re films whose artistry are at the forefront. Fury Road, Black Christmas, The Big Lebwoski, Rango, these seem like mainstream comedies and horrors but they’re so much more. Those 4 films, among many others, possess just as much passion, artistry, and depth as the majority of the Sight and Sound 100, the difference is the artistry lies beneath the surface.

If I were to tell you that one of the highest films on the top 100 is a deconstruction of the Western mythos that subverts genre tropes to explore a character adapting to his existence as a Western hero, you’d probably believe me. And you’d be right, that film is John Ford’s The Searchers. Now if I told you that another film examined those very same themes in a far more mature and existential manner while also balancing elements of surrealism and capitalist critique, you’d probably expect that film to be included as well, but you’d be wrong, because that film is Rango. Rango’s existence as an animated comedy bars it from being considered pure cinema while inferior films may put on a faux serious mask and be celebrated. In the next decade, I hope we can see critics begin to appreciate multi-faceted artistry opposed to the grim seriousness pushed by previous cinematic canons.

Still, this year’s Sight and Sound list was a pleasant surprise for me. I was overjoyed that some films received their proper dues (Spirited Away at 77 and The Night of the Hunter at 26), I was also perplexed by some placements, (Yi Yi at 94), and downright shocked at some films appearing at all (Daughters of the Dust is a painfully mediocre and forgettable film) but I am overall very happy. It’s not what I would make, but it isn’t my list so who cares. I think it’s a fantastic selection of films for those trying to get into film and even for well-seasoned cinephiles, there are so many phenomenal films to explore throughout. No matter if you agree or not, it’s always fun to explore new facets of cinema, and that’s what Sight and Sound has done for me, so I’ll always be a fan.










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