Every ten years, Sight & Sound Magazine polls critics and directors to compile a list of the greatest films of all time. The most recent one was conducted in 2012, when Vertigo upset Citizen Kane, a perennial top choice for decades, to become the “greatest film of all time” (at least according to the folks at Sight & Sound). This week they supplimented that main poll with one dedicated just to non-fiction films; this new list of “The Greatest Documentaries Of All Time” was voted on by 340 “critics, programmers, and filmmakers” (including Paul Greengrass, James Marsh, Joshua Oppenheimer, James Benning, and many more). You’ll need to go to their site to peruse the main list and look at individual ballots, but here’s their top ten docs in history:
1. Man With A Movie Camera, (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
2. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
3. Sans Soleil, (Chris Marker, 1982)
4. Night And Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955)
5. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1989)
6. Chronicle Of A Summer (Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin, 1961)
7. Nanook Of The North (Robert Flaherty, 1922)
8. The Gleaners And I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
9. Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)
10. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
The top choice comes as little surprise; Man With A Movie Camera was the highest-ranking documentary in the 2012 Sight & Sound greatest films poll, and the only documentary in that list’s top ten. Generally, the top ten is all the usual suspects; not bad choices by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not shockers either (although I’ll confess I haven’t seen The Gleaners And I; I need to get on that). Still, it does a nice job of covering a wide range of directors and almost 80 years of non-fiction filmmaking history. I might have tried to sneak Orson Welles’ F For Fake into the top ten (it wound up at #15), and I’ve always liked Gimme Shelter best of all the Maysles’ films (it ranked #28), but let’s not quibble over fine points.
Wait, what am I saying? This is the Internet! Quibbling over fine points is its most important function! What have you got commenters? Where did the Sight & Sound contributors go right and wrong?