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The greatest films of all time, according to critics? ‘Jeanne Dielman,’ ‘Vertigo,’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’ make the cut

Once a decade, the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound critics’ poll shakes up the canon, and this year’s results are in.

Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts in the 2001 film "Mulholland Drive."© 2001 - Universal Pictures - All Rights Reserved

I’m sure you’ve heard the comment that “Citizen Kane” is the greatest movie ever made. Whether you agree is a separate issue, but did you ever wonder where that idea came from originally? Its status is largely due to the results of the Sight and Sound critics’ poll.

Starting in 1952, and continuing every 10 years thereafter, the British Film Institute has published a survey of the Greatest Films of All Time in its magazine, Sight and Sound. The list is voted on by film critics from all over the world. Eighty-five critics were asked to vote in that first poll; sixty-three responded. And no, “Citizen Kane” did not top the list. That honor went to Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film “Bicycle Thieves.”


“Kane” did top the list in 1962, and it remained there in subsequent polls until 2012, when it was defeated by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” The 2012 poll reached 846 film critics, programmers, and curators — then its biggest pool — who submitted their top 10 choices. From those choices, a 100-film list was created.

James Stewart and Kim Novak star in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film "Vertigo." Universal Pictures

At the time, some prognosticators assumed the increased number of voters knocked a bit of the bloom off Orson Welles’s 1941 film debut and put it on a Hitchcock classic that had become more highly regarded over the years. But would “Vertigo” have the staying power of “Kane?” Could it repeat? Finally, we have our answer!

The BFI aimed to add even more diversity to the voting pool for the 70th anniversary edition of the poll: 1,639 critics, programmers, curators, archivists, and academics were asked to weigh in, the largest cross-section in its history. I was one of the those voters, and though I highly doubted more than two of my choices would appear in the top 10, being selected to vote was a dream come true for me.


Critics say a lot about themselves when they reveal their favorite movies. Anyone who knows me would not be surprised by my choices. They covered a cross-section of genres: Musicals! Film noir! Comedy! Melodrama! Filth and decadence!

While I’m keeping my ballot under wraps for now (Sight and Sound has asked us to wait until they publish their next edition), I will tell you one thing about it shortly. In the meantime, here’s the official top 10 from The Greatest Films of All Time poll, 2022 edition, with director, title, and year each movie was made:

1. Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975)

2. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958)

3. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” (1941)

4. Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” (1953)

5. Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (2001)

6. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

7. Claire Denis’s “Beau Travail” (1998)

8. David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” (2001)

9. Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929)

10. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” (1951)

Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts in the 2001 film "Mulholland Drive." © 2001 - Universal Pictures - All Rights Reserved

The first thing to note is that “Vertigo” is no longer atop the list. The second and more groundbreaking development is that a film directed by a woman has topped the list for the first time. “Jeanne Dielman,” as it’s more commonly known, is considered to be the late Akerman’s masterpiece, a nearly 3½-hour film about a widowed housewife going about her day.


It is avant-garde, patiently told, and, if you get on the carefully constructed wavelength Akerman creates, it is quite compelling. But, to be honest, it’s the kind of film critics love a lot more than general audiences would. Then again, so is “Citizen Kane.”

I’ve no problem with “Jeanne Dielman” being at number one, especially considering a little birdie had told me that one of my least favorite movies, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” would top the list (it was also in the top 10 in 2012). Mssr. Birdie had the wrong list! Kubrick’s space movie moved to the top of the separate Sight and Sound list reserved for directors. Somebody needs to share the good news with HAL.

Alex Hibbert in the 2016 film "Moonlight," directed by Barry Jenkins. David Bornfriend/Courtesy of A24

The current century is represented in the top 10 by the hauntingly beautiful “In the Mood for Love” and the just plain haunting “Mulholland Drive.” There were, however, several representatives in the top 100, including Jordan Peele’s 2017 film “Get Out” (tied for number 95), Barry Jenkins’s best-picture winner, 2016′s “Moonlight” (tied at 60) and 2019′s “Parasite” (tied at 90). 2019′s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Céline Sciamma’s excellent period piece, placed a very high number 30. Spike Lee is represented at number 24 with his best film, 1989′s “Do the Right Thing.”

John Turturro (left) and director Spike Lee in 1989's "Do the Right Thing."MCA/Universal Pictures/Photofest

Where are the movies many audience members consider masterpieces? Well, 1980′s “The Shining” is tied at 88. 1972′s “The Godfather” is 12 (its sequel wasn’t so lucky, falling out of the top 100). 1960′s “Psycho” tied at 31, and 1954′s “Rear Window” tied at 38 with Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic “Some Like It Hot.” At 63, 1990′s “Goodfellas” made a three-way tie with 1949′s “The Third Man” and 1942′s “Casablanca.”


Nothing gets people riled up like a list, so chime in with your own choices!

1950's "All About Eve," directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Shown foreground (from left): Anne Baxter, Bette Davis; background (from left): Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe.Photofest

Now, about that one thing I can tell you regarding my ballot: Anyone who knows me knows what my number one movie of all time is: 1950′s “All About Eve.” I quote it all the time. I own four copies of it. I drink coffee out of an “All About Eve” mug. I wrote Slant Magazine’s 60th anniversary piece on it. I consider it the greatest screenplay ever written — and yes, my often snooty critical brethren be damned, I think it deserves to be the number one movie of all time, period. It topped my ballot.

It is not on the Sight and Sound list at all.

So, let me address my fellow voters by using a quote from Joe Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning screenplay: “Everybody has a heart. Except some people!”

And, to prove I’m a good sport, here’s another quote directed squarely at me: “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent.”

"All About Eve" is film critic Odie Henderson's top film of all time.Odie Henderson/Globe staff

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic. He can be reached at odie.henderson@globe.com.