Sight and Sound’s Best Documentaries of all Time

Man with a Movie Camera

Following their 2012 list of the best films of all time, British academic film magazine Sight and Sound have released the list of best documentaries of all time as chosen by critics, film programmers, and film directors. Only the top 50 have been released so far, with the full list being revealed in both the September issue of Sight and Sound, and online on 14th August 2014.

There is a very diverse range of films on the list, and 1 in 5 films were made since the millenium. The film voted as the best film of all time, Man With a Movie Camera is an absolute masterpiece, and it is wonderful to see such an old film (1929) at the top of the list as it has been so monumental in inspiring other filmmakers.


More information on the films can be found on the Sight and Sound site, but here is a basic list of the 47 films that made it at the top of the best documentaries of all time canon:

1. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, USSR 1929)

2. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, France 1985)

3. Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, France 1982)

4. Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, France 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, USA 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin, France 1961)

7. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, USA 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, France 2000)

=9. Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, USA 1967)

=9. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, USA 1975)

11. The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophüls, Switzerland 1969)

=12. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA 2005)

=12. Land Without Bread (Luis Buñuel, Spain 1933)

=12. Nostalgia For The Light (Patricio Guzmán, Chile/Spain/France/Germany/USA 2010)

=15. F For Fake (Orson Welles, France/Iran 1975)

=15. The Up Series (Paul Almond (Seven Up!) then Michael Apted, UK 1964-ongoing)

=17. Hoop Dreams (Steve James, USA 1994)

=17. West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, China 2002)

=19. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and anonymous, Denmark/Finland/UK/Germany/Netherlands/Norway/Poland/Sweden  2012)

=19. The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzmán, Chile/Cuba 1975-78)

=19. The House is Black ((Khaneh siah ast) Forough Farrokhzad, Iran 1963)

=19. Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister, UK 1942)

23. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Hara Kazuo, Japan 1987)

=24. Harlan County U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, USA 1976)

=24. Historie(s) Du Cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, France 1998)

=24. Salesman (Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, USA 1968)

27. Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, USA 1967)

=28. Capturing the Friedman’s (Andrew Jarecki, USA 2003)

=28. Gimme Shelter (Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, USA 1970)

30. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, France/UK/USA 2012)

=31. Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, Germany 1992)

=31. The Quince Tree Son (Victor Erice, Spain 1992)

=33. Night Mail (Harry Watt and Basil Wright, UK 1936)

=33. Primary (Robert Drew, USA 1960)

=35. Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, USA 1994)

=35. A Diary for Timothy (Humphrey Jennings, UK 1946)

=37. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran 1989)

=37. The Fog of War (Errol Morris, USA 2003)

=37. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, USA 2003)

=37. Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK 2007)

=37. Moi, un Noir (Jean Rouch, France 1959)

=37. Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, USA 1967)

=37. Á Propos de Nice (Jean Vigo, France 1930)

=37. Roger & Me (Michael Moore, USA 1989)

=37. Le Sang des Bêtes (Georges Franju, France 1948)

=37. The War Game (Peter Watkins, UK 1965)

=47. Culloden (Peter Watkins, UK 1964)

=47. Diaries, Notes, and Sketches: Walden (Jonas Mekas, USA 1969)

=47. D’Est (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France/Portugal 1993)

=47. Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah, UK 1986)

=47. The Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, Argentina 1968)

=47. Seasons (Artavazd Pelechian, USSR/Armenia 1975)

=47. Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, Germany 1935)

=47. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel/France/Germany/Japan/USA 2008)

=47. Welfare (Frederick Wiseman, USA 1975)

=47. Workings Leaving the Lumière Factory (Louis and Auguste Lumière, France 1895)

Visit the list on the Sight and Sound page here.


About Enchanted By Film

1st class Film uni graduate who has a love for films old and new. I write for Diegesis and Film Matters film journals. Currently saving to do a Masters and PhD in Film. My ambition is to be a University lecturer on film and write about film academically. I also wouldn't mind working for the BFI or writing for Sight and Sound :-)
This entry was posted in Bucket List, Favourites, Lists, What's On: Film and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sight and Sound’s Best Documentaries of all Time

  1. Just belatedly got this issue. A lot of my favorite docs are on this list (no disagreeing with the top choice here) but there’s also a lot I need to see!

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