The 2018 Shmight & Shmound Poll
By Nathan Smith
Nobody’s ever happy with a list. Any attempt to organize a series of films, books, albums, or almost anything invariably ends in fighting, fussing, and heated debate. Lists exclude as much, if not more, than they include. There are those who even say that the very concept of lists (and the canons they correspond to) should be done away with.
But we can’t get away from them, no matter how hard we try. Year-end lists are labored over by critics and hobbyists alike. Personal top ten lists can function as badges of honor, expressions of taste and personality, jokes, or even mating calls. The great lists – particularly that once in a blue decade list published by Sight & Sound – are essential texts to cinephiles; the very best serve as invaluable introductions to cinema history. Canons are a drug we just can’t seem to quit.
Two years ago I began a list of my own, a modest effort that at the time I referred to as the “Film Twitter Mock Sight & Sound Poll.” This was an attempt to replicate the best of the best with the friends and acquaintances I have encountered throughout my time in that nebulous social sphere known as “Film Twitter,” a loose assemblage of critics, filmmakers, cinephiles on Twitter. I solicited ballots made up of what people considered the ten greatest films ever made and aggregated the results, creating what I believed might be a more varied, more diverse, and ultimately more interesting alternative to the big lists. The first list was modest, but I enjoyed doing it and people seemed to respond to it well, so I decided to do it again in 2017. Doing it once a year as opposed to once a decade allows us to track the changes that occur in group taste in something approximating real time.
More people submitted lists and the whole thing began to grow. The results from the past two years can be found here and here. Each list caps out at 85 – in 2016, only 85 films received more than 1 vote. In 2017, that list of 85 included every film that received four or more votes, and I created a secondary list for all the films that received 2 and 3. In both years I published a list of every film that was mentioned on a ballot – these lists are long but might even be more interesting than the official list. Almost every kind of film you can imagine has made an appearance.
I began accepting ballots for this year’s poll in June of 2018. I had no idea how big it would get or how quickly it would snowball. By the end of the day, I had received hundreds of ballots – some from old friends, many from strangers I had never interacted with. Last year around 800 films received nominations; this year, over 1700 did. In 2016, our number one film received only 9 votes. In 2017, the number one film on the list received 20 votes. This year, our number one contender received 99 votes in total. The total size of the list has increased from 85 to 300. All 300 films received 5 votes or more.
The growth of this whole enterprise means some things have changed. Some people might be upset about this. First, I've decided to change the name from the unwieldy "Film Twitter Mock Sight & Sound Poll" to the Shmight & Shmound poll, a suggestion from a stranger whose name I have forgotten (you know who you are). Second, as the sample size grew, the list began to include more canonical and thus more “conventional” choices. But I don’t think this means we need to dismiss the results. There are still interesting changes we can track from year to year. For example, recent deaths always affect what people vote for. Rivette and Demme both exploded after their passings, but support for their films has decreased as time has gone on. I think we can see a similar phenomenon playing out with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Recent restorations or retrospectives also have a visible impact on the results, which I think might have something to do with Bergman’s rise in stock. It’s also clear that Twin Peaks: The Return has led to an almost comical increase in votes for David Lynch. Mulholland Drive and Fire Walk With Me have always done well in the past, but David Lynch has 3 films in the top 20 and numerous more in the top 300. I know some people might have my head for including Twin Peaks: The Return on this list, but the thing received 38 votes and I think that’s worth reporting.
Even if the list skews much more conventional, there are still outliers and oddities, as always happens on Film Twitter. Yes, this list may have a number of safe choices that you don’t care for, but it also has Resident Evil: Retribution, Prince of Darkness, Love Exposure, two Kiyoshi Kurosawa movies, and much more. So please remember to take these things with a grain of salt. My aggregation merely reflects the ballots I am sent. Don’t shoot the messenger.
I’ve also decided to do something new this year, at the suggestion of a number of individuals who were worried about how canonical the list might be. As an alternative (or an antidote) to the more conventional movies that appear on the list, I’ve decided to make the Shmight & Shmound Alternative 150. This is a version of the list that removes any films that appear on the Sight & Sound list, the IMDB 250, or the AFI Top 100. It should be little surprise which director claims the top 2 spots. This list is particularly interesting as it contains a number of Film Twitter's most beloved film maudits; it also includes films produced after 2012 that I'm sure will be appear on the next version of the Sight & Sound List. I'm also still planning to put together a list of all films that received a vote, so stay tuned for that.