Thoughts On The 2022 Sight & Sound List And “Jeanne Dielman”

Now that the dust has been starting to settle on the news about the 2022 Sight & Sound film poll–the once-a-decade event ranking the top 100 greatest films of all time, with particular focus on the top 10–I thought I’d share some thoughts. Because the newest list is–how to put it–a doozy.

Just in case you’ve heard of Sight & Sound (spelled with either “&” or “and”) but haven’t looked into it much, it’s a prestigious monthly film magazine that’s been published by the British Film Institute since the 1930s. In 1952 they decided to poll critics and directors about what ten films they considered the all-time greats–Battleship Potemkin (1925) nabbed the top spot. It was decided that the poll would be held every ten years to gauge the tastes of the critical consensus and to see how appreciation of great cinema might evolve. The once-a-decade nature of the poll and its knowledgeable voter base made it, in the words of Roger Ebert, “…The most respected of the countless polls of great movies–the only one most serious movie people take seriously.” (I’d keep that quote in mind for the rest of this article.)

Sight & Sound has a pretty simple and fair way of deciding how to rank the films. Each film that gets a vote gets a point, the points are tallied at the end and the films ranked by the number of points. The top 10s always cause plenty of discussion, even if–heh, especially if–you insist you “don’t like lists” and “lists don’t matter” (kind of true to a point, but nevertheless, I remain a starry-eyed fan of lists. They’re fun). If you asked me, the 2012 top ten list was darn near perfect. Look at the silents on there. How fitting. How beautiful:

  1. Vertigo (1958)
  2. Citizen Kane (1941)
  3. Tokyo Story (1953)
  4. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  7. The Searchers (1956)
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  10. 8 1/2 (1963)

A very decent selection of classics, with a nice span of the key eras. And now, ten years later, comes the new list. Are you ready for it? (Err, if you haven’t read about it yet?)

  1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
  2. Vertigo (1958)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953)
  5. In the Mood for Love (2000)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  7. Beau Travail (1999)
  8. Mulholland Drive (2001)
  9. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  10. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Something…happened here, no? I’d never heard of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, or maybe I did and the title wafted into my brain and then wafted straight back out again. It has placed on the S&S list before, but in the top 40. Yet somehow it jumped over two dozen places to be given the highest honor in movie ranking history! Uncanny. And several silents dropped out of the top 10 like sad little tears, replaced by several more recent films. Look at them. Just sitting there, smugly, where Sunrise and Metropolis could be…!

My mood.

Some digging revealed that, yes, something did indeed happen here, due to a perceived need to “shake things up.” Apparently conducting one poll every ten years has become just utterly passe–my gosh, there’s been 7 whole polls already. And, inexplicably, the polls keep featuring a lot of the same great classic films. “Who has time for this stagnant, fossilized nonsense?!” hypothetical people wailed. And thus, the previous group of 800+ critics (already larger than normal for this poll) was expanded to a whopping 1600+. Indeed, it was only practical: for how else could S&S possibly get the varied results they desired?

Maybe in 2032 S&S can ask three times as many critics–or heck, why not twenty times as many? If we start running out of critics, we can ask bloggers, too! (I’d volunteer–buckle up and get ready to see A Trip To the Moon show up on at least one list!) Maybe they can start airdropping film ballots to every man, woman and child they can find–why shouldn’t little Brayden down the street get a chance to vote for Kung Fu Panda?

My gosh. Someone already did.

There’s other odd things about the top 100 list. Some recent–suspiciously recent–films include Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and Get Out (2017), which got more votes than, oh, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz, and other such middling works. The General just barely made the top 100 (!). In my opinion the number of ’70s films is excessive (do film history classes start with the ’70s nowadays?) and curiously short shrift is given to the ’30s. And there are only nine silents that got enough votes to crack the top 100. Only nine.

Both presentism and 2022 politics seem to have influenced some critics’ choices, especially the decision to choose this kind or that kind of director lest they be Accused or Shunned or Shamed or what have you. These are familiar discussion topics that could fill a year’s worth of posts by themselves, but let’s go with the presentism angle in regards to silent films. Arguably–and I’d go to the mat for this–critics’ appreciation for silents should only be increasing. There are more silents available for instant viewing now than during the silent era itself, endless resources are available online for study, there’s plenty of excellent books, and incredible silent film festivals. The excuses for not watching silents betray more of a lack of curiosity than anything else. And that’s a strange lack indeed for anyone who professes a love of film.

Uh oh, is it because lots of them are black and white?

Obviously silents paved the way for modern film, but they were also cinema at its purest, most artistic level. Silents always had musical accompaniment, of course–an essential part of the experience–but the moving image was the key. It demanded your full attention, immersing you fully in the story. Audiences participated in the experience of films more deeply than at any time since, their imaginations filling in the sound of characters’ voices or the bustle of busy streets or sigh of wind in the trees. Silent era cinematography was an art in and of itself. As Kevin Brownlow put it in his seminal work The Parade’s Gone By, “At their best, the photography glistened and gleamed, lights and gauzes fused with magical effect until the art of lighting reached its zenith.”

Of the great accomplishments of silent films, Mary Pickford once said: “It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkie instead of the other way around.” In my opinion, it would be more logical if silent films continued to gain appreciation the more time marches on, as it grows more and more clear what a unique and beautiful art form they were. The latest Sight & Sound poll seems to represent an unfortunate step backwards, the first time that judging the objectively great qualities of skillful films is merely one of its priorities. Will the 2032 poll be an improvement? I hope so, but I guess only the march of time will tell.

If you’re interested in my take on Jeanne Dielman in particular, read on!

Thoughts On: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

I’ve got to admit, reading about Jeanne Dielman made it very tempting to give an opinion about it without even watching it. It’s a prime example of “slow cinema,” where scenes play out in real time with few edits, hence it’s pretty easy for writers to describe most of the relevant details. The reviews would be mighty short if you didn’t. And after all, do people really need to watch all 5 1/2 hours of Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1963)? But if I was to write about this film’s sudden placement as the #1 Film of All Time, then watch it I should, and must. And thus the temptation passed, and on a recent stormy afternoon I was able to take in this lengthy and very slow-moving film (at the height of jolly Christmastime, might I add).

The film takes place over three days, revolving entirely around the middle-class Jeanne Dielman’s life of quiet, planned-and-perfected routine. She’s a widow, and when her teenaged son (a Sallow Youth if there ever was one) is at school she spends her day doing chores, errand-running, and prepping for meals, captured in long series of unedited shots. Oh, and in the afternoons she works as a prostitute, receiving a different client each day and then carefully cleaning and bathing afterwards (there’s only one scene of her with a client, keeping the film from being too voyeuristic). The first day mainly introduces us to Jeanne’s structured life, while the second introduces a disruption to the routine that throws off the rest of her day. The third day includes more of these unwelcome disruptions, and at the end Jeanne makes a sudden, shocking choice.

Jeanne Dielman‘s sudden, shocking appearance as the greatest film on Sight & Sound‘s 2022 list raised many eyebrows, to put it mildly, and articles were quick to point out it’s the first time a woman-directed film headed the list. Many of these same articles lauded it as a masterpiece of feminist film, explaining how it showcased Jeanne Dielman’s “boring” life of “meaningless drudgery.”

Familiar tunes, but somehow, they weren’t coming to mind while I took in the film myself. Strangely enough, the very reasons that some folks were using to defend the film didn’t quite jibe with what I actually saw onscreen. Perhaps it’s my perspective, or perhaps some conclusions were reached too hastily during the 3 1/2 hour endurance test of this film.

Jeanne’s actions, her calmness and sure, graceful movements, point to someone who gets satisfaction out of order and routine. She’s orderly to the point of obsession, smoothing every tiny wrinkle out of a tablecloth and scrubbing the bathtub after every bath. Reviews often put these routines in a “dull, drab existence” sort of light, explaining that they show Jeanne is “trapped” in a life of endless chores. Yet many scenes seem to show her orderliness is mainly for her own satisfaction. When she unloads her groceries onto the kitchen table she places each item in a neat row, even though they’re going to wind up in the cupboard shortly. When the doorbell rings, she takes off her reading glasses and puts it back in its case, which she sets in a precise spot–rather than simply setting the glasses on the table like most of us would. The mystery to me, admittedly, is why she would work as a prostitute when she could hardly expect every client to act according to a scrupulous routine. She seems more cut out to work as a clerk or accountant or something along those lines. (I don’t know the precise history of Belgium in the 1970s but presumably women had more job opportunities than they did in, oh, the 1910s or whichever “olden days” you prefer.)

Actually, I do know the answer to the mystery–Jeanne must be a prostitute to show her oppression. Yet in general, she doesn’t strike me as particularly bored or resigned to her life. It’s a quiet life, yes, but if you were to sit and watch me type at this laptop right now you’d probably think it pretty dull and quiet, too. She seems to enjoy making the veal cutlets, for instance, dipping them in the flour, egg and meal in a choreographed sort of way, and interacts pleasantly with shopkeepers and neighbors. The scene that’s frequently referenced as an example of the “drudgery” of household tasks–Jeanne peeling the potatoes–isn’t an example of that at all when watched in the proper context. Jeanne, having become somewhat discombobulated after serving one of her clients (we don’t see what occurred but she likely climaxed unintentionally), is thrown off her routine. She forgets the potatoes until they’ve boiled too long, sets things down in the wrong spot, and forgets to comb her mussed-up hair before her son comes home from school. While peeling new potatoes she’s clearly still preoccupied with what happened in the bedroom, not simply “bored” with a familiar task.

The next day her routine is still disrupted, this time due to more things out of her control. She finds herself waking up earlier than usual and has an extra hour of time she doesn’t know how to fill. Her favorite table in a café is already occupied. A gate is locked when it’s never been locked before. And while in bed with a client she finds her body responding again–apparently she’s tried to keep that part of her life as dispassionate as possible. Alas for Jeanne, certain things can’t be controlled so easily.

Curious to know what Akerman herself said about her film, I did find this Criterion Collection interview from 2009:

The idea for Jeanne Dielman came to me one night, and I quickly jotted down a few words. Then, starting the next day, I wrote the whole thing in two weeks…every single movement. It all came very easily, of course, because I’d seen it all around me. Of course, not prostitution…The prostitution’s sort of a metaphor anyways. But I knew all the rest firsthand. It was in my blood. I made this film to give all these actions that are typically devalued a life on film…

I grew up surrounded by women because my father had three sisters, and my mother had three aunts. And we were always at this aunt’s house or that aunt’s house. So I saw all that. It was an Eastern European way of life, I think it had to do with ritual too. Everything had been turned into a ritual, in a way to replace Jewish ritual. In Jewish ritual, practically every activity of the day is ritualized. I was surrounded by those rituals until I was eight, because my grandather lived with us. But once he died, my mother and father put an end to all that. But the actions–it’s as if [Jeanne’s] actions took the place of those rituals, abandoned rituals and ones that I believe bring a sort of peace. That’s why knowing every moment of every day, what she must do the next moment brings a sort of peace and keeps anxiety at bay.

The strength of the film, its deliberate if mind-numbing use of slow cinema and extreme realism, can also be a weakness in some ways. I started to ask myself: realistically, why would anyone live with constant flickering from a neon sign when they could just buy a thicker curtain? And if the point is that Jeanne is secretly unhappy with a life of just “serving” men, such as her son, couldn’t she just have him put his own coat away, or shine his own shoes? He seems smart enough!

Ultimately, while it probably won’t become a “go-to” classic for me, I’m not sorry I watched Jeanne Dielman. The character study aspect interested me the most, and I could see why it was considered a landmark of minimalism. But did it seem like a worthier, more influential film than 2001 or Citizen Kane? No, and I’m not too sure what Akerman herself would make of the ranking either. And so, as the long minutes of Jeanne folding clothes and brewing coffee ticked away during that cold, windy afternoon, I took breaks to make beef bourguignon (Julia Child’s recipe, minus the pearl onions). It’s a meal I’ve only made a few times, being such a rich treat and all. I chuckled to find myself chopping and mincing more gracefully than I normally would. Once Jeanne Dielman ended, the beef bourguignon was ready–the smell was maddeningly delicious–and I sat down to the satisfaction of a good meal made from scratch by my own two hands, warm in my apartment, feeling all was quite alright with the world.

28 thoughts on “Thoughts On The 2022 Sight & Sound List And “Jeanne Dielman”

  1. I get it’s snappier to make a Top 100 list, but my inclination would be to increase the spaces on the list as cinema history moves forward. There are so many great films– I see no reason why older works and more contemporary fare should not all get a chance. Give me a top 200, if you have to make lists like this at all.

    As for the prominence of 70s films, I find that a lot of film buffs view the 70s as the last golden age of Hollywood. They associate it with gritty crime dramas, character studies, and hardhitting political/social works that treat the audience like adults. This was an era where the controversial likes of A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Taxi Driver could be top ten grossers, before blockbusters and merchandise-friendly franchises became Hollywood’s near-exclusive output. It’s not a surprise that the period is treated with such reverence when you take that into account.

    Honestly though, I’m not going to lose sleep over this poll. I’ve never taken critics that seriously to begin with, not even the heavyweights like Kael or Ebert, let alone whoever puts together these lists. And I have to wonder if this list will really make people any more or less film literate than they already are. Despite the prominence this list might have for a portion of the cinephile community, it means nothing to casual movie watchers, who aren’t likely to pursue either Citizen Kane or Jeanne Dielman on a Friday night just because critics told them they’re great films.

    Also I don’t care what any critic or poll says– clearly, Larry Semon’s Wizard of Oz is the greatest work of art produced by the cinema.

      • Thanks, that does help. Certainly I can agree a lot of great films came from the ’70s (is it okay that my list is topped by Star Wars? Lol). But… but the ’30s…those fabulous comedies, those edgy gangster films, the screwball comedies, etc! There’s little from the ’40s too, interestingly.

  2. The number of voters almost doubled. The British Film Institute did not reject voters from 2012. Instead they sought a more diverse voter base and it makes sense. The ratio of men to women in 2012 didn’t just lean to men. It was a monumental difference. More than 3/4 of the voters were men. Not only that, the ratio of white voters to people of color was even more one-sided. Frankly it showed in the selections which tended to be films about white men directed by white men. In 2012 that made up almost 90% of the films on the list. It also showed in several questionable omissions. I noticed you used term “presentism”. “Presentism” is a defensive theory used as a way to rationalize awful behavior and actions of the past. It is a theory that is misguided at best. That is because it ascribes to everyone in the past the same beliefs and attributes of those who embraced horrible beliefs in the past while creating a false narrative that no one from the past had beliefs similar to beliefs currently in the consensus. Even if a person, as many people who rationalize using presentism, ignores the feelings and beliefs of oppressed groups, the claim of a monolithic world view for others in the past is without any foundation in reality. Instead of expressing annoyance at the 2022 list shouldn’t annoyance be expressed at a 2012 list that had only 2 films directed by women, only 1 film directed by a Black man, and few films focused primarily on women. Consider the movies now on the list – Meshes Of The Afternoon, Cleo From 5 To 7, Killer Of Sheep, Daisies, Black Girl, Celine And Julie Go Boating, Do The Right Thing – that weren’t on the 2012 list. Shouldn’t the question be how were these movies not already on the list? One of the reasons one could tell the 2012 voter body lacked diversity was that influential, groundbreaking movies such as those were missing. As for more current movies, The Gleaners And I is generally considered the finest documentary of it’s type – in which the director takes on an active role in what is occurring, Spirited Away is considered the greatest animated movie of the century, Get Out and Parasite were phenomenon’s, and Moonlight is critical movie in terms of queer Black representation. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire making the list does not mean people are saying Wizard of Oz and Lawrence of Arabia are middling. There have been hundreds of great movies after all. It simply means more people now have Portrait Of A Lady On Fire in their top 10’s. Is that a surprise considering how radical and groundbreaking it is and it’s impact on many queer and female film lovers? As for Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, I have no problem at all with it being named number 1 on a film list. It can surely claim that as well as any other film we have ever seen be called the greatest film ever made. It may just be the most important and influential feminist work of all-time. So when a group of voters is no longer dominated by white men, it is not so surprising it came in at number 1. I would have loved Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans to make the top 10 instead of barely missing. I think Sherlock Jr and City Lights should rank higher. Film does not get much better that Passion of Joan of Arc. We can believe all this without knocking a list which, for the first time, seems to reflect the wonder of many perspectives instead of what it has long appeared to be – a list with a limited view of world cinema.

    • I’m not too sure about that definition of “presentism” you’ve got there. As it’s usually used, it refers to be biased towards the present (“We’re much smarter and better than everyone in the past!”), and to seeing/interpreting the past through a current lens. It’s not a theory as much as a description of a fallacy, as I understand it.

      A lot of the head-scratching reactions I’ve seen to the new S&S list stem from suspicion that some films weren’t truly being chosen on their merits but due to wanting to tick certain boxes. One poster I saw bluntly described this as: “Fierce social engineering to foster a weirdly retrograde tokenism.” (If we might bring up another “-ism.”) The box ticking seems fair purely on a surface level–no one really wants to spend their lives working on their passion only to be turned into a token.

      For now I’ll add that one issue with some of the newer films on the list is the dizzying amount of films in different niches nowadays. It seems wise to give some of the highly regarded ones time to prove themselves, and not at the expense (in a sense) of obvious influential classics…

      • I am aware of the other reactionary actions and people in a majority saying “tokenism” has occurred when diversity is a result is hardly nothing new. The latter is a classic case of concern trolling. As for “presentism” it is very much used as a defense to downplay the criticisms people have of figures and media from the past just as it a bogus notion once held up to scrutiny. As for the 2 most recent movies to make the list, Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the former took the entire world by storm while the latter is arguably the most groundbreaking movie of the century. That is along with both being fantastic movies. Only 5 movies since 2002 made the list. that is only 5 movies from 2 decades of cinema. Each was distinctive, an original film with each offering a perspective nowhere else to be seen on the list. There is not a cut off for greatness just as people should not ignore the great silent movies of the past – would have personally loved to La Roue, The Wind, Seventh Angel, The Docks Of New York, The Crowd, and others be in contention. As for Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, that is one of the most influential films regarding female gaze ever made. It may be the most influentual – the argument likely being between that, Meshes of the Afternoon and Cleo from 5 to 7. All of them are also terrific. These are films that should have always been high up there. The same with Do The Right Thing and Killer of Sheep. The former is probably the greatest and most important American movie of the last 40 years. That only Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was on the 2012 list is the true scandal and a sign BFI had to diversify their group of voters. I am a big-time silent movie fan. Your site is one of the few I have bookmarked. I love reading up on silent movies and buy pretty much every silent movie that comes out on DVD or Blu Ray. If it was released by Undercrank I have it. I was excited by the recent announcement of two Frank Borzage movies and Flicker Alley’s release of Casanova is on my Christmas wish list. Each time Criterions announces their monthly releases, I am disappointed Why Worry? has yet to get a Blu Ray release. If there has been no silent movies, I would definitely be questioning the list. However there are more silent movies on the list than films from the last 20 years. The reactionary chatter seems to therefore be misguided.

        • “If it was released by Undercrank I have it.” *Gives you a high five* Undercrank does the Lord’s work.

          I’m also right there with you about The Wind, The Crowd and La Roue in particular. La Roue in particular I’ve admired for a long time, it’s an odd film in some ways but it’s an “artsy” silent that hits the spot for me somehow.

          The descriptions of the newer films are a bit of an oversell for me… but yes, those films have their fans!

  3. A 47 year old foreign film is the greatest film ever made according to film experts? The ‘plot’ sounds like it belongs on reality TV, not at the multi-plex. Production costs were presumably rock bottom, but still, did it make a profit? Did any more than a dozen theatres in the whole world show this film? How did all these voters see the film if it was only shown in a dozen theatres 47 years ago?

    Last night I watched Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti in Dupont’s 1925 ‘Variete.’ Now THIS movie is ENTERTAINMENT! Not great enough to be one of the top 10, but it has a STORY to tell and it tells it in 95 minutes, not 3-1/2 hours! And it tells its story almost 100% WITHOUT title cards, and WITH the actors mouths shut. Like Norma Desmond said, “We had faces then” and the expressive faces of the 3 main characters in ‘Variete’ SHOW us what they’re thinking. The best silent films told their stories in PICTURES and MOVEMENT. Watching an actress sitting at the kitchen table peeling potatoes for 15 minutes is not the kind of action that film was invented for or what film makers thought their audiences wanted to watch. If silent film had more directors like Lubitsch and Dupont, silent film probably would have died off later than it did.

    I scanned the list of 100 and ‘Variete’ is not there. Neither is Griffith’s ‘Broken Blossoms,’ which absolutely deserves a place in the top 25. BUT…I was happy to see that Norma Desmond IS on this list.

    • Being a fan of Sunset Boulevard–me, too!

      That’s another issue with Jeanne Dielman, its impact. At least a portion of a film’s greatness can be measured by its influence and cultural impact, no? Everyone knows about Citizen Kane, for example (although not enough non-cinephiles sit down and watch it nowadays!), everyone’s familiar with images/quotes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the cultural impact of The Wizard of Oz was undeniably massive. Jeanne Dielman is familiar to very small circles of film lovers. It was kind of MEANT for smaller circles, if that makes sense, and good heavens if people think Citizen Kane is dull than Jeanne Dielman will turn them off the concept of “great cinema” entirely.

  4. Like you I’d not heard of Jeanne Dielman before this list, and like you I watched it and didn’t think I had just seen the greatest film of all time either. You can read my review on my blog and whilst I didn’t hate it, it’s a hard film to sell to anyone for me.

    As for the list, well, film snobs gonna snob. 😛 😉

  5. I had heard of the list before your post, as I am belgian and live in Belgium. Nobody here had heard of the Jeanna Dieleman but the press covered this first place quite a lot (and I am rpretty sure that 90% of the journalists writing about it did not see the film).
    For your question why she works in prostitution and not a clerck: the indication “1080 Bruxelles” in the title indicates she lives in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a very poor area of the city. Even if Ackermann wanted to show a middle class person, it is strange she located her in a such poor area. And despite being poor, it is not an area known for prostitution in Brussels. But we are also just after 1973’s petrol crisis, so disoccupation in Belgium is rising. That could also explain somehow.
    I admit I have not seen the film, so I won’t comment it.

    As you, I would have prefered more silent on the top 10 (and would even put “The last laugh” as number one). These are very important film and we cannot forget what they brought to movie industry, being Melies or Keaton, Murnau or Eisenstein, Chaplin or Hitchcock.

    Finally: if you wish to see a wonderful belgian film, I would advice you to watch “Manneken Pis” (Frank Van Passel, 1995). That’s really a great one.

    And with this I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy 2023.

    • Hello Michael, great to hear a Belgian perspective! I have some Belgian ancestry myself, a few years ago I got to visit Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and a few small towns between Bruges and the coast. I’ve been hankering to go back, and even had a European family trip planned for 2020 BUT… you can guess what happened. Interesting insights–particularly about no one over there knowing about the film!

      Thanks for the film recommendation, too. 🙂

      • I did not know you had some belgian origins but if you happen to plan a next trip to Belgium, happy to share some tips of things to do / visit :).

        Since my former comment I saw a good part of the film. It is clearly not the kind of film I am a big fan of but to keep on belgian perspective, I noted:
        First of all, a clear error: if you watch the bottle on the table when they have their meal, it is a bottle of beer and the brand is Jupiler. Now Jupiler is a very popular beer (it was the most sold at the time, it is actually number 2) but considered as very law class. In a middle class home, you would find beer but definitely not Jupiler (Stella Artois or Maes would be the appropriates one).
        It looks like a detail but that makes me thing that this film is in line with some belgian way of doing movie: Dardenne’s brothers today just will tell you they know what they are talking about (see Akerman’s interview i the post), they fell it inside themselves and then make such errors.
        As you see, my interest went more for some “minor” details but some were nice: the dishwasher soap on the sink is tipically the one that was on every sink in Belgium when I was a child (despite I was born some 9 years after the film was made). This bottle of “Dreft” was very common and almost the only brand available at the time . Made me nostalgic 🙂

        • Very interesting! I like hearing about details only a “local” would know, it opens the film up a bit more.

          Ha, I definitely had Jupiler when I visited, also Hoegaarden (which I still really like), beer from Brugse Zot, cherry kriek… and some of the Trappist ales, of course (gotta drink those pretty slowly though, ha ha). The former goes extra well with the chocolate!

  6. Wow, you’re much braver than me. I sat through last year’s 3-hour Best Picture nominee ”Drive My Car,” and was struck by how the film could have been cut to 1 hour without losing any scenes or plot points. People meet for dinner, and 20 minutes into the meal Character A says something plot relevant for Character B to hear. We meet Character C as he auditions for and lands a part in a play, but only after we witness the seven prior losing auditions. I may lack the insight and intelligence to appreciate the subtle nuances of “slow cinema,” but it troubles me when “genius” has to be diagrammed and explained, when the genius in so many other movies is staggeringly self-evident.

    • “It troubles me when ‘genius’ has to be diagrammed and explained, when the genius in so many other movies is staggeringly self-evident.” Excellent way of putting it.

      IMO, Jeanne Dielman could’ve accomplished the same thing, only stronger, with shorter scenes. I know some folks would cry that the slowness and boredom is the point–but you can be sufficiently bored in 10 minutes, is 30 truly that necessary?

    • “I may lack the insight and intelligence to appreciate the subtle nuances of “slow cinema,” but it troubles me when “genius” has to be diagrammed and explained, when the genius in so many other movies is staggeringly self-evident.”

      I was thinking about this the other day when rewatching a Kubrick movie. One thing I love about Kubrick is that his greatest films can appeal to both a mainstream audience and those more inclined to “arthouse” fare. Take the one I rewatched, Eyes Wide Shut: on the surface, it’s an eerie mystery with dark comedic touches, while also being something much more complicated if you look deeper and pay attention to the little details planted in the mise en scene or in the performances. The same goes for Lawrence of Arabia, Sunset Blvd, Seven Samurai, or The Wizard of Oz, movies that can be easily enjoyed while also possessing greater depths for those willing to take the deep dive.

      Critic Imogen Smith once argued that modern movies tend to either be mindless spectacle made for the lowest common denominator or, well, fare that “has to be diagrammed and explained,” as you put it. There’s been a wider gulf between so-called low and high culture following WWII, hurting both in the long run– at least, that’s her thesis (you can read more about it in the last chapter of her book-length study of Buster Keaton). I find it interesting, though I’m not sure if it’s quite that black and white. I would have to research it further. At any rate, if this gulf does exist, then that explains why most of the more modern films on the list tend for the slower, less crowd-pleasing side, with a few exceptions (for all its social themes, Get Out was a popular sleeper hit in 2017, and the class-conscious Parasite is pretty accessible with its ample thrills and dark comedy).

      I still haven’t seen Jeanne Dielmann, though I had heard of it a few years ago through the Criterion Collection. I’m not averse to slow movies by any means and do enjoy work that challenges the audience– however, that does mean such films will have a smaller audience and therefore possibly less widespread impact. I love it best when movies can hit that sweet spot between the entertaining and the thoughtful.

  7. Just what ARE the qualities of a GREAT film? The cultural impact of a film that was influential in changing public opinion or behavior does not indicate Greatness. If it was, DeMille’s bathroom films would be considered Great.

    What standards does one use to judge the GREATNESS of a given film? Standards are mandatory so as to keep ‘Kung Fu Panda’ off the list. IMO, film critics are not qualified to judge greatness because they are TOO ‘educated’ in film theory and it’s their devotion to THEORY (currently, the diversity theory reigns supreme) that makes them the wrong people to query.

    The qualities of Greatness:
    1. Perfection in achieving the goal of the film maker. That’s why Chaplin and Keaton belong on this list.
    2. Perfection in explaining the human condition. That’s why ‘Sunrise’ ‘The Docks of New York’ and ‘Citizen Kane’ are Great.
    3. Films that ‘uplift’ the human spirit and inspire us to be brave and kind and all the other virtues. That’s why ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ belongs on this list.
    4. Films that show us the Beautiful. That’s why ‘Broken Blossoms’ belongs on this list.
    5. Films that ‘speak’ to later generations. That’s why films produced in the past 20 years do not belong on this list.
    6. Films that reached a wide audience. That’s why an art house film ignored by the public, a film that appealed only to intellectuals and film critics, automatically disqualifies the film from its claim to greatness.

    Perhaps it would be more appropriate to make film lists by:
    1. time periods – the greatest films of the 20s, 30s, 40s …
    2. type of film – comedy or drama
    3. as judged by film critics – then and now

    • I like your list of what makes a film “great,” though to play devil’s advocate (my favorite pastime it seems), I want to scrutinize numbers 3 and 4.

      What if a film isn’t uplifting necessarily? I find Bergman’s Winter Light brilliant, but it’s not terribly uplifting in its view of a man’s dark night of the soul and his loss of faith in both humanity and the divine. The ending is decidedly ambiguous, with people reading in hope or hopelessness often based on their own perspectives. I also think Taxi Driver is a great film, but it’s not exactly uplifting either in its view of a man basically driven to the edge by his own misanthropy, alienation, and simmering violence. To use an example off your list, some might even call Broken Blossoms bleak and hopeless– sure, the two main characters share loving companionship for a while, but they’re torn apart and destroyed by a xenophobic, brutal society that seems indifferent to their deaths.

      Also, what exactly is “the Beautiful”? How would we define this?

      Or perhaps you’re saying a great film need not necessarily check all of these boxes? Maybe a great film can be perfect in achieving its goals and wide-reaching without necessarily being uplifting?

      (None of this is meant as a diss by the way– just as a way of prompting further discussion on a topic I find very interesting with fellow passionate movie-lovers.)

  8. I’ll just say, this topic has generated some interesting discussions about how to define “greatness” or “importance.” I actually like that there’s diversity of opinion here and everyone has made good points, even if I don’t agree with everything.

    • I think that if you ask 1000 people what is their definition of a great film, you won’t have twice the same reply. Maybe it is a question of feeling / Personal experience.

      Following the post, another debate that could have been interesting is the role of the critic: in my view a critic should watch a film and then inform me why I should -or should not- see this film. And often public do not watch movies loved by critics and some very popular films (or actors) are hated by critics.

      • I have such a fraught relationship to critics. I find they often punish anything genuinely creative or different, hence why so many classic films have a history of being dismissed upon initial release (not to mention classic books or music or video games or paintings, etc etc). They have preconceived notions of what greatness is and therefore when an artist does something different from the norm, their knee-jerk reaction is “this is bad.” (Once again, look at reviews of celebrated films like The General, Citizen Kane, 2001, etc. and this is often the case when they first come out.)

        However, I also think the role of a critic regarding recently released films is a bit hopeless because in my experience (and contrary to what Pauline Kael had to say) you cannot totally get a film on the first watch. The first viewing is going to be taken up with you reacting; the second will have you noticing how it’s all put together. I often find movies I disliked or didn’t totally get on the first watch improve on the second (or at the very least, I now get just why I didn’t like them). A recent example: rewatching Eyes Wide Shut the other day, I went from my initial dismissal of Tom Cruise’s seemingly bland performance to realizing his performance is perfect for his character. He’s a successful, arrogant doctor who’s actually terrified of the darker truths behind relationships (particularly his marriage), society, and his own ego. He puts on a professional manner in almost every situation until his final breakdown, when he can’t lie to himself or his wife anymore. This was always there– I was just too preoccupied with other elements of the film on the first watch and could not see these things until a second viewing.

        Critics reviewing new releases do not have this luxury. They can only give you their initial reaction. In this case, it’s best to find a critic whose tastes generally line up with yours if for you a critic is someone who gives you a good idea of what to seek out. I am not criticizing this idea at all– I get a lot of items on my watchlist from my favorite critic, Tim Brayton, because his tastes line up with mine 8 times out of 10.

        However, critics have another function, but it’s one that can only be accomplished when they are familiar with the object being criticized, and that’s to show you how a piece of art operates– or at least, how they think it operates. At any rate, I find this function way more useful. It can really open up a film for you if the critic is astute and sensitive. That’s why I’ve always liked Ebert’s Greatest Films books more than his usual reviews– he was good at explaining why certain classics were well-regarded without becoming too academic or dry.

        It’s interesting how the field of “criticism” has expanded with the coming of the internet. Now the people in print are not the only game in town, so that expands just who gets to be considered a critic– both professional journalists and ordinary people with webcams. But that’s a whole other topic.

  9. In my movie-going years, any film advertised as a “dark night of the soul” was a film I never saw. And the only Bergman I’ve seen on the screen is Ingrid.

    A GREAT film won’t have ALL the qualities listed. Just one will suffice.

    How to define ‘the Beautiful?’ The Beautiful is NOT Bardot in a bikini. Beautiful has a spiritual dimension. It’s connected to Love. In ‘Broken Blossoms’ both the Chinaman and Lucy live in poverty, but the Chinaman has created a home of peace, a refuge of order and ritual, that support him in the grim present. In contrast, the child, Lucy, lives in fear, violence, disorder, and no expectation of a better future. And then love – idealized love – enters and their lives are transformed into the Beautiful. The savage cruelty and the deaths do not have, ultimately, the power to destroy the Beautiful.

    And then there’s ‘City Lights.’ The last scene, thanks to the artistry of Chaplin, transcends the sentimental and becomes Beautiful. If only for this one scene, ‘City Lights’ deserves its place among the GREAT films.

  10. Hmmm. Cinematic greatness in the form of a long, boring film about a prostitute. Did we suddenly tumble back into the bad part of the 1960s?

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