10 Recent Movies to Watch from the Sight and Sound Poll

10 Recent Movies to Watch from the Sight and Sound Poll

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Since 1952, the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight & Sound has polled critics (and later, filmmakers) on what they consider to be the greatest films of all-time. It’s considered one of the most definitive movie lists, especially since the poll is only conducted once every 10 years. In 2022, the poll results were markedly different—with four films from the 2010s cracking the top 100, and more representation from women-directed films, including first-placer Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

The Sight & Sound list can be intimidating to go through, especially for those who aren’t experienced yet with classic cinema. So to help, we at agoodmovietowatch have put together a list of some of the more recent entries from the poll—and where you can stream them—which might serve as a good entry point to the rest of the critics’ and directors’ lists.

10. The Gleaners and I (2000)

7.9

Country

France

Director

Agnès Varda, Female director

Actors

Agnès Varda, François Wertheimer

Moods

Lighthearted, Lovely, Original

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

9. Vagabond (1985)

7.9

Country

France

Director

Agnès Varda, Female director

Actors

Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

best

8.2

Country

France

Director

Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Actors

Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras

Moods

Heart-warming, Romantic, Well-acted

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn’t approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

7. Where Is the Friend’s House?

best

8.5

Country

Iran

Director

Abbas Kiarostami

Actors

Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Biman Mouafi, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh

Abbas Kiarostami delivers a tale of towering simplicity. A young boy mistakenly takes his friend’s notebook home and, knowing the friend faces expulsion without it, goes on a journey to bring it back. He visits the neighboring town but without a clue where his friend lives must rely on the kindness of strangers and overcome the stubbornness of adults who get in his way.

This adventure is both a loose moral parable as well as a striking portrait of life in rural Iran. More than this, it’s a testament to the capacity of children’s films to communicate depth when the filmmaker respects a child’s intelligence. The earnest young actors at its heart add an emotional immediacy that underscores Kiarostami’s empathetic direction.

6. Yi Yi (2000)

best

9.0

Country

Japan, Taiwan

Director

Edward Yang

Actors

Adriene Lin, An-an Hsu, Chen Yiwen, Cheryl Yang

Moods

Slice-of-Life

Edward Yang’s masterful and lush Yi Yi follows the lives of the Jian family and their respective, middle-class worries. The father agonizes over a business deal and, at the back of his mind, an old flame. The mother struggles with emptiness, the daughter with sensuality, and the son with his burgeoning artistry. In the periphery are other family members trying to get by as best they can despite having no certain future to look forward to. The story, which is bookended with life and death, is punctuated with these lingering anxieties but also, crucially, with moments of potent, profound joys. 

The premise seems simple, but Yang weaves a breathtaking epic out of the mundane. The mise-en-scene is immersive, the dialogue delicate, and the direction effectively real. The understated elegance of each piece coming together to build a rich whole is what makes YiYi Yang’s legacy to the world of cinema.

5. A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

best

9.0

Country

South Korea, Taiwan

Director

Edward Yang

Actors

Alex Yang, Chang Chen, Chang Han, Chang Kuo-chu

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, Sunday

At nearly four hours long, A Brighter Summer Day is a sprawling, beautifully composed film that follows young Xiao Si’r and his eventual entanglements in nearly everything, from love to youth gangs to politics. While parts of the story, particularly its bone-chilling climax, are based on true events, the film is largely reconstructed from Edward Yang’s memories of the era he grew up in. As a result, the visuals feel crisp and true, tinged with just the right amount of nostalgia to balance the grittiness of its realism. 

As coming-of-age films go, A Brighter Summer Day is certainly more on the tragic side. It’s also seminal in its specificity and depth—an absolute must-watch for any and all filmgoers. 

4. Close-Up (1990)

best

9.0

Country

Iran

Director

Abbas Kiarostami

Actors

Abbas Kiarostami, Hossain Farazmand, Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf

The apex of Abbas Kiarostami’s monumental filmography, Close-Up is a testament to the late directors’ ingenuity and humanism. Kiarostami documents the real-life trial of a man who impersonated fellow Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and ingratiated himself to a family believing him to be the real deal. The courtroom drama and interviews are fascinating enough, but Kiarostami takes it one step further by having everyone involved reenact the events as they happened.

The result is an unparalleled piece of filmmaking that blurs the boundaries between documentary and narrative while posing vital questions about the exclusivity of cinema and the storytelling process. Despite its sophisticated constructions, Kiarostami’s direction is lucid and direct as it builds to a passionate and unforgettable conclusion.

3. Spirited Away (2001)

best

9.0

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akio Nakamura, Bunta Sugawara, Daveigh Chase, David Ogden Stiers

Moods

Lovely, Sunday, Sweet

Frequently considered one of the greatest animated movies of all times, and certainly the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli at their very best. It was also the first non-English animation movie to win an Oscar. On the surface, it’s a film about a Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. In a creepy spiritual world full of Shinto folklore spirits, she sees all kinds of magic and fantastic creatures, while having to find a way to save her parents and escape. In addition to the adventure, the coming-of-age theme, and the motifs of ancient Japanese lore, the film can also be understood as a critique of the Western influence on Japanese culture and the struggle for identity in the wake of the 1990s economic crisis. A deep, fast-paced, and hypnotizing journey.

2. In the Mood for Love (2000)

best

9.2

Country

China, France, Hong Kong

Director

Wong Kar-wai

Actors

Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Joe Cheung

Moods

Dramatic, Lovely, Romantic

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi’s main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

1. A Separation (2011)

best

9.7

Country

Australia, France, Iran

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Kimia Hosseini, Leila Hatami

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

Not one but two Oscars as well as a Golden Globe are among this movie’s never-ending list of accolades. It was the first Iranian film ever to get an Oscar and the first non-English film ever nominated for Best Screenplay. Originally titled The Separation of Nader from Simin in Persian, it homes in on the dissolving relationship of a middle-class couple from Teheran – and the unintended consequences of tragic events.

However, this film is so intense, well-acted, and well-written, it defies categorization. To be sure, the movie does offer a painful look at a deteriorating marriage. It’s also timely, dealing with the politics of theocracy, economic underdevelopment, and social alienation. It presents tense moral dilemmas without pointing a finger. If you’re curious to learn about the humans of Iran and, by cultural extension, the humans of the Middle East beyond the scope of global politics, A Separation is also for you.

But please don’t call it world cinema, because this is no Slumdog Millionaire. Above all, it is a searing portrayal of human conflict, relationships, and morals. It is an almost perfect depiction of how many bad people are simply good people running out of options.

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