Sight & Sound’s once-a-decade poll of the greatest films of all time


Tonight in London, film magazine Sight & Sound (published by the British Film Institute) announces its once-in-a-decade poll of the greatest films of all time, “perhaps the most recognized poll of its kind in the world.” The poll was first conducted in 1952. Earlier this year they asked about 800 critics, programmers, academics and curators from around the world to make submissions, including yours truly. Below I’ve copied the list I sent in along with my motivations. And yes I included one film with a sports theme. I think probably one or two of my selections made it to the final rankings. I would love to hear your opinions.

My ten films (in no particular order) are:

1. Battle of Algiers

2. In the Year of the Pig

3. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

4. Raging Bull

5. Casablanca

6. Do The Right Thing

7. Borom Sarret

8. The Godfather

9. Mapantsula

10. The Birds

I chose these ten films as they have had the biggest impact on my own view of cinema. Battle of Algiers stands alone as a piece of fictional documentary. I like both Emile de Antonio’s 1968 documentary “In The Year of the Pig” (1968) and Peter Davis’s “Hearts and Minds” as definitive pieces of work on Vietnam (I think Davis used some of de Antonio’s footage). Filmmakers as diverse as Michael Moore and Errol Morris swear by “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” about a Japanese World War II veteran. “Casablanca” (a film set in Africa with hardly any Africans in it), Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “The Godfather (I)” and “Raging Bull” are all classic films. Finally, I picked two African films knowing full well those won’t probably make it far in the poll, but I feel strongly about their value as cinema. “Borom Sarret” (The Wagoner), an 18-minute film set in newly independent Senegal by Ousmane Sembene. The film is considered the first directed by a black African in 1966. And finally, I decided on including “Mapantsula,” a 1988 film about a gangster-activist made by the black-white South Africa duo of Thomas Mogotlane and Oliver Schmitz and which I consider the definitive film on Apartheid.

Africa is a Country is taking a break from blogging during August. We’ll be back in September. Till then, follow us on Twitter or keep up to date via Facebook.

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12 thoughts on “Sight & Sound’s once-a-decade poll of the greatest films of all time

  1. I’ve seen 6 of your 10, (haven’t seen 1 [I know], 2, 3, nor 7) but some when I was maybe too young. Of your 10, Do the Right Thing gets a definite vote from me. Raging Bull a possible vote – it’s a great film, definitely. It’s certainly in my top 40. I’ve recently re-watched Godfather 1 and 2 – I’m now starting to wonder whether maybe – maybe – they are not over-rated.

    I need to watch Mapantsula again. I remember I liked it very much, but I was not yet 30 when I saw it.

  2. awesome list – though i’ve never heard of Borom Sarret or Mapantsula.

    i do think the list is a reflection of your heart as well as cinematic aesthetics – which is commendable, i believe.

    i probably would have squeezed in Jules et Jim and the original Charulata.

    i’m fascinated that you’ve got no films of the french nouvelle vague period.

  3. not a single word on your blog regarding yesterday”s historical gold medal for South Africa..
    ah.. yes, of course.. the gold medalist is white…

  4. I am not sure this blog is used to announce individual olympics medal winners … but before you cry wolf, check out @africasacountry on twitter … i think your fears are unfounded; white power in RSA is not under attack …yet!

      • oh shush … i am regretting ever engaging you truthfully as you seem to lack logic or reason … and are just intent on bloody screaming “wolf”. I looked in that sports section and there are no articles about any African winning olympics anything (like i said to you, go check out the twitter and fb posts) … This is neither a South African blog nor a white South African blog. If you feel strongly about it, write an article on the gold won and submit to various blogs for publication rather than trolling. What do you gain by what you are doing here? Alas, I know i just wasted bits by writing this … but what to do…

  5. Brilliant list Sean. I think Sukhdev Sandhu tweeted a pretty clear tweet crit of the final 50:

    “(Mostly) MIA from #sightandsound list: Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, women, comedy, documentaries, the avant garde, post-1980 film”

  6. Interesting list. I will look out for the ones I have not seen.
    I know it is a very personal list but …
    Why Casablanca? Its just a dated weepie with a backdrop of dubious history and politics.
    Why not Boys in the Hood ?
    My personal list would include Veuve de St Pierre, City of God, The Experiment,
    Battle of Algiers is the best film, ever.

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