‘The Act of Killing’ and ‘Gravity’ top Sight & Sound’s 2013 critics’ poll

Less eccentric than the Cahiers du Cinema list, and more representative than the awards of individual critics” groups, the annual Sight & Sound poll is about the best monitor of international critical consensus at the year”s end – recent winners include David Fincher”s “The Social Network,” Terrence Malick”s “The Tree of Life” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” But if those choices were easily seen coming, the 100-odd critics surveyed this year have thrown a collective curveball: Sight & Sound”s top film of 2013 is “The Act of Killing.”

It”s an unusual winner, but not an entirely surprising one: Joshua Oppenheimer”s boundary-breaking documentary has inspired reverent critical superlatives from the start, and is singularly cinematic enough to escape the non-fiction compartment in year-end lists. It”s triumph here underlines its status as the year”s most lavishly acclaimed documentary – if it”s not on the Academy”s shortlist in this category (and given the branch”s past form, I wouldn”t be stunned to see it miss), expect an outcry of major proportions.

At #2 is Alfonso Cuaron”s “Gravity” – the most mainstream film on the list, its placing here again proves its rare blend of highbrow and populist appeal. It”s interesting to see the blockbuster auteur piece placing so much higher than its presumed Best Picture rival “12 Years a Slave”; I had thought Steve McQueen”s film was a likely contender for the top position, but it lands instead at #14. (The film hasn”t been extensively screened for UK critics, which may partly account for that outcome – but then again, festival-only films like Jia Zhang-ke”s “A Touch of Sin” made the top 10.) It”s enough to make me wonder if “Gravity” may take a greater share of the upcoming critics” awards than most most are currently predicting.

The joint #9 film in the S&S list, by the way, came in at #1 on venerable French journal Cahiers du Cinema”s poll earlier this week: Alain Guiradie”s sexually explicit queer thriller “Stranger by the Lake.” Three others films made both lists: “Gravity,” Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” and Jia Zhang-ke’s “A Touch of Sin.” Both lists are below, beginning with Sight & Sound’s top 30:

1. “The Act of Killing” (Joshua Oppenheimer)
2. “Gravity” (Alfonso Cuaron)
3. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (Abdellatif Kechiche)
4. “The Great Beauty” (Paolo Sorrentino)
5. “Frances Ha” (Noah Baumbach)
6. “A Touch of Sin” (Jia Zhang-ke)
=”Upstream Color” (Shane Carruth)
8. “The Selfish Giant” (Clio Barnard)
9. “Norte, the End of History” (Lav Diaz)
=”Stranger by the Lake” (Alain Guiraudie)
11. “Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater)
=”Stray Dogs” (Tsai Ming-liang)
13. “Leviathan” (Lucien Castaing and Verena Paravel)
14. ”All is Lost” (J.C. Chandor)
=”A Field in England” (Ben Wheatley)
=”12 Years a Slave” (Steve McQueen)
17. “Bastards” (Claire Denis)
=”Gloria” (Sebastian Lelio)
=”The Missing Picture” (Rithy Panh)
=”Story of My Death” (Albert Serra)
=”Under the Skin” (Jonathan Glazer)
22. “At Berkeley” (Frederick Wiseman)
=”Beyond the Hills” (Cristian Mungiu)
=”Blancanieves” (Pablo Berger) 
=”Blue Jasmine” (Woody Allen)
=”Django Unchained” (Quentin Tarantino)
=”Ida” (Pawel Pawlikowski)
=”Inside Llewyn Davis” (Joel and Ethan Coen)
=”It”s Such a Beautiful Day” (Don Hertzfeldt)
=”The Last of the Unjust” (Claude Lanzmann)

And the Cahiers top 10:

1. “Stranger by the Lake” (Alain Guiraudie)
2. “Spring Breakers” (Harmony Korine)
3. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (Abdellatif Kechiche)
4. “Gravity” (Alfonso Cuaron)
5. “A Touch of Sin” (Jia Zhang-ke)
6. “Lincoln” (Steven Spielberg)
7. “Jealousy” (Philippe Garrel)
8. “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon” (Hong Sang-soo)
9. “You and the Night” (Yann Gonzalez)
10. “La Bataille de Solferino” (Justine Triet)