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Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman Named Greatest Film Of All Time

It’s the first female-directed film to land the BFI-backed ‘Sight and Sound’ poll’s top spot.

Jeanne Dielman topped BFI's 2022 greatest films ever poll

Every decade since 1952, Sight and Sound magazine publishes its “greatest ever film” poll — which critic Roger Ebert once described as "by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously." The six times it’s been published, three films have nabbed the top spot — Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (in 2012). This year, the list made history by awarding the number one spot to a female director, with Chantal Akerman’s 1975 minimalist Belgian drama, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, taking the top honors.

More than 1,600 international film professionals, including academics, directors, writers, critics, curators and programmers voted in the poll, which is backed by the prestigious British Film Institute. Vertigo was pushed to second place by Jeanne Dielman, which at a 3 hour and 20 minute run time dutifully follows the repetitive daily routine of a middle-aged widow (and occasional prostitute) over the course of three days. Eventually, a few interruptions to her monotonous schedule lead to dramatic changes.

The film, directed by Akerman when she was 25, received critical acclaim upon its release, being called “the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema” by Le Monde in 1976. In the last poll, conducted a decade ago, Jeanne Dielman ranked at number 36.

The top five of 2022 includes Citizen Kane (1941), Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) and Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 film In The Mood for Love. Notably, nine films from the past two decades made the list of 100 films, including Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) at 30, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) at 60, and Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite (2019) at 90. Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) was ranked 95th.

The list also includes two animated films for the first time, both by celebrated Studio Ghibli cofounder Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is tied at 72, and Spirited Away (2001) is tied at 75.

Jeanne Dielman challenged the status quo when it was released in 1975 and continues to do so today. It’s a landmark feminist film, and its position at the top of list is emblematic of better representation in the top 100 for women filmmakers,” Sight and Sound editor Mike Williams told THR. “While it’s great to see previous winners Vertigo and Citizen Kane complete the top three, Jeanne Dielman’s success reminds us that there is a world of under-seen and under-appreciated gems out there to be discovered, and that the importance of repertory cinemas and home entertainment distributors cannot be overestimated in their continued spotlighting of films that demand to be seen. What currently undervalued masterpieces might emerge in 10 years thanks to this tireless work?”

Several films also dropped out of the top 100, including Orson Welles’ films The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Touch of Evil (1958), David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II (1974), and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980).

Find the top 20 below, and head here for the full list:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)

2. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

4. Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 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 & Gene Kelly, 1951)

11. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (FW Murnau, 1927)

12. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

13. La Règle du jeu (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 & 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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