The new “greatest film ever made,” and you probably don’t know it

Last week, I got very good news. Vertigo was no longer the official “greatest film ever made.” And the new “greatest film” is a masterpiece you probably don’t know.

In 1952, Sight & Sound Magazine took a poll of film critics to select the greatest films of all time. The top winner was Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (also known as The Bicycle Thief). Every decade since, the magazine polled and posted a new list. Citizen Kane won first place five times in a row. But in 2012, Vertigo came out first place (Kane came in second).

Many were delighted; I was disappointed. For many cinephiles, Vertigo isn’t just Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece; it’s the greatest film ever made. Not me. Neither the story nor most of the characters make any sense, and I don’t believe anyone’s motivations. Of course, there’s no real “greatest film in the world.” Everyone has their best, if they care about such things.

Citizen Kane/Vertigo

Don’t get me wrong. I love Alfred Hitchcock. He’s one of my favorite directors. I was elated that the 2022 list contains three worthy Hitchcock films: Psycho, Rear Window, and North by Northwest.

But then I discovered that the new, official “greatest film of all time” wasn’t a film I liked, or one I hated. It was a three-hour-plus French film I’d never even heard of! The film is called Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, but the short name is Jeanne Dielman. It was written and directed by Chantal Akerman, and opened in 1975. I watched it as soon as I had the time. And yes, it’s a great film.

It’s hard to describe this film without making it sound boring. The film follows three days in the life of the title character, a widow played brilliantly by Delphine Seyrig. The static camera shows her cooking whole dishes from start to finish. She cleans, she shops, and she talks with her teenage son. There’s little dialog, and no music except for one scene when they turn on the radio. The sound effects, however, seem to be unusually loud. The film runs more than three hours and 20 minutes. And yet, it’s fascinating.

Mother and son live in a small apartment, and the son sleeps in the living room. To make enough money to get by, she turns tricks; Jeanne
apparently has regular weekly johns. But her repetitive and demeaning life is wearing her down, creating accidents and mistakes.

You come to care very much for Jeanne, and you know that something horrible is going to happen. Even though I can’t pronounce the title of the film, I give it an A.

Why not an A+? I must see a film several times, over years, before I give that grade.

Chantal Akerman and Jeanne Dielman broke another record. This is the first time a film directed by a woman received this top prize. That’s appropriate because Jeanne Dielman is clearly and powerfully a feminist film.

You can find more about Sight & Sound at IndieWire.

2 thoughts on “The new “greatest film ever made,” and you probably don’t know it

  1. I just did a quick read of the “best” lists, going back to 1952, and I cannot understand the absence of “Casablanca”. Too sentimental? Too much a creature of the studio mill, with too many recognizable stars? Too popular, in other words?
    All I can say is, if you ask a broad range of film lovers (not critics), It is certain that Casablanca would be in top ten best films- if not the top five. Its absence in these lists says more about the polled critics than it does about the film.

  2. Every movie lover will have problems with these kinds of lists. And when hundreds of reviewers add their own views, it gets even crazier. I’m sure that if you looked at my best film list (, there would be films that you’d consider a masterpiece.

    Looking at the list, it leans very much for works by auteur directors. Note that the list notes directors–mostly famous ones–but not screenwriters, actors, etc. We’re still stuck in the auteur theory, which says that a great film is a film from a great director.

Comments are closed.