The internet’s obsession with rating movies

Anghus Houvouras on Sight & Sound’s Top 100, Jeanne Dielman and the internet’s obsession with ranking movies…

Some weeks ago, Sight and sound the magazine released its most recent 100 Greatest Movies list. An honor bestowed on cinematic works once every ten years, voted on by 1169 filmmakers who were asked to rank their favorite films. Like any curated list, it could be a great reference for anyone interested in finding new work they may not have been exposed to, and for creating a dialogue between film fans as they discuss great works of art and the filmmakers responsible for their existence.

But this is the internet, so instead it becomes a huge point of contention and everyone is losing their minds over the movies that were or weren’t on the list and the associated ratings. Within an hour of release, I saw no fewer than a hundred different posts on Twitter with film critics and columnists screaming bloody murder over some film’s placement. The most sensational is that of Chantal Akerman Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels in first place.

Like many of you, this was a movie I’d never heard of. Its existence was a mystery until I saw it Sight and sound decennial list. And I think the natural instinct of any cinephile is curiosity and the need to explore and engage with undiscovered work. Unfortunately, movie listings bring out the worst in so-called movie fans, and things turn into arguments about placement and hyperbolic tribune from columnists and movie fans.

People who become hyperbolic about “Best of Lists” that don’t include their favorite movie are both highly significant and embarrassing. Outbursts of overgrown kids throwing tantrums, declaring “Why isn’t the movie I like on this list” or “Why is the movie I think best ranked higher?”, like this tweet from Head Twit Elon Musk reacting in New York Times critic AO Scott’s “Best of 2022” list:

Where does this crippling sense of entitlement come from? Why do people look at a list of subjectively chosen artistic endeavors and get upset that a movie they liked didn’t make the cut? Makes a critic who does not put Top Gun: nonconformist in their “Best of” list do they owe the reader anything other than their honest opinion? Obviously not.

At some point, movie ratings and listings became less about starting a conversation and more about starting a flame war. This moment probably occurred within ten minutes of the first one Sight and sound list to be released in 1952. No doubt when the film community discovered the list by telegram or homing pigeon, someone ran to the typewriter to furiously pound the keys to vent about the tragedy of omission Gone With the Wind and that ranking The day begins over Birth of a nation it was an affront that could never be forgiven.

To those obsessed with “Best of” lists; stop trying to make filmmaking into a competitive sport. Forget the numbers next to those movies and explore the ones you haven’t shot yet. Educate yourself in quality cinema recommended by those who have spent their lives studying it as an art. No, you don’t have to agree with every choice, and no doubt there are movies you love that may not be included.

Out of my top ten favorite movies of all time, only one made it Sight and sound Top 100 list. That doesn’t mean my taste in movies is lacking, nor should my gut reaction be to start arguing about why the movies I personally love should make a list. It’s simply a collection of different opinions that could help new people learn about great art.

The internet has allowed hyperbolic cinephiles to amplify their rage to large audiences. But the sad reality is that sulking and seething over any subjective list of artistic achievements will always be sound and rage, meaningless.

Anghus Havouras