Filmmaker Magazine Reconstructs “Village Voice” Poll for Film Favorites

by Mike D’Angelo
in Filmmaking
on Jan 21, 2021

Even when a global pandemic hasn’t upended everything, year-end lists and surveys often strike a faintly apologetic tone, acknowledging up front that there’s something inherently frivolous about ranking films in preferential order (whether individually or collectively). “This is kinda dumb, but enjoy!” How, then, should I further diminish a poll conducted in the name of a publication that effectively no longer exists, conducted at the conclusion of a film year that can barely be said to have happened? Movie theaters in many major cities have been dormant since last March, and the Village Voice, which established the original freewheeling critics’ poll back in 1999, went dark three years ago (though it was recently purchased by the same guy who transformed LA Weekly into a haven for sponsored content). Yet I still went ahead and solicited top ten lists from most of the writers and programmers who used to participate in the Voice poll, in my continuing effort to reconstruct what its results for Best Picture, at least, might roughly have been.

The shutdowns and lockdowns definitely took a toll. Last year, 91 people responded; this year, the number fell to 78, with several people expressly noting that they chose to abstain because they’d seen significantly fewer films than usual. Those who did submit a list had to decide for themselves what qualifies as a 2020 “release,” given that the already-fading standard—one week’s run in Los Angeles and/or New York City—would have rendered most of the year’s notable movies ineligible. (As it turned out, the film that won technically did get a standard theatrical release, just a week before everything closed.) I opted not to police this in any way, which is why you’ll see a few titles that really only had virtual-fest screenings last year (and may or may not become more widely available this year). Why arbitarily deny attention to a three-hour Romanian philosophy seminar? Making folks aware of such marketplace anomalies is arguably the whole point of year-end rankings, assuming one believes that there’s any point at all. (See? Reflex.)

Tabulation rules were once again taken straight from the Voice poll itself. Each ranked list produced 55 total points, with ten allotted to the film at #1, nine to the film at #2, and so on down the line. Those too cowardly, indecisive or “principled” to engage in strict hierarchy (sorry, I have strong feelings about this) submitted unranked lists, for which every film received five points—thereby totalling just 50, a small but not insignificant waffling penalty. Seems fair. Once all ballots had arrived, it shook out as follows: 

[parenthetical numbers = points/votes]

  1. First Cow (286/41)
  2. Lovers Rock (249/38)
  3. Nomadland (182/31)
  4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (153/27)
  5. The Assistant (149/29)
  6. Time (138/25)
  7. Dick Johnson Is Dead (128/23)
  8. Martin Eden (128/20)
  9. Bacurau (119/21)
  10. Vitalina Varela (118/18)
  11. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (108/18)
  12. Collective (103/17)
  13. Da 5 Bloods (90/14)
  14. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (81/15)
  15. City Hall (64/11)
  16. Sound of Metal (59/11)
  17. The Nest (57/11)
  18. Kajillionaire (55/8)
  19. Beanpole (53/12)
  20. Promising Young Woman (53/9)
  21. Another Round (52/9)
  22. David Byrne’s American Utopia (52/9) [tie for #21]
  23. Driveways (51/9)
  24. Fourteen (50/9)
  25. Wolfwalkers (38/7)
  26. Days (37/5)
  27. Minari (36/7)
  28. I Was at Home, but… (36/6)
  29. To the Ends of the Earth (35/5)
  30. The Grand Bizarre (34/6)
  31. The Whistlers (34/5)
  32. The Father (30/5)
  33. The Vast of Night (30/5) [tie for #32]
  34. Tenet (29/6)
  35. Shirley (27/5)
  36. Soul (26/4)
  37. Possessor (24/5)
  38. She Dies Tomorrow (24/4)
  39. Sorry We Missed You (24/4) [tie for #38]
  40. Saint Frances (24/3)
  41. Let Them All Talk (23/6)
  42. The Invisible Man (22/6)
  43. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (22/5)
  44. Mangrove (22/5) [tie for #43]
  45. A White, White Day (22/4)
  46. Malmkrog (22/3)
  47. The Painter and the Thief (22/3) [tie for #46]
  48. Swallow (21/3)
  49. An Easy Girl (20/4)
  50. Bad Education (19/5)

As usual, there are no big surprises up at the top. First Cow (#1) was named the year’s best film by the New York Film Critics Circle; Lovers Rock (#2) received that honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (jointly with the rest of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe project); Nomadland (#3) took home the National Society of Film Critics’ Best Picture prize. Throw in Never Rarely Sometimes Always and you’ve also got the exact same top four that Indiewire’s much larger poll (230+ critics) produced, albeit in a slightly different order. On the other hand, David Fincher’s Mank placed 10th among Indiewire’s voters but failed even to crack the Pseudo-Voice top 50, amassing fewer points than Rebecca Zlotowski’s comparatively unheralded An Easy Girl (#49). One Night in Miami (Indiewire #17) suffered the same fate, receiving just two votes from this crew…which liked The Assistant considerably more than their counterparts (5th place vs. 22nd place). Ammonite and News of the World got dissed in favor of borderline avant-garde works like The Grand Bizarre and I Was at Home, but… People often refer monolithically to “the critics,” but clearly it depends which critics you’re talking about, even when they’ve been amassed into groups of many dozens. 

In any case, my own interest in year-end polls has always been weighted more toward the bottom than the top. The fun lies in browsing through individual, idiosyncratic choices—the comparative orphans, beloved by only a handful, sometimes the light of just one lonely critic’s life. (See #8 on my own list.) At the very least, give us all the data, so we can CTRL-F to our heart’s content. That’s what you’ll find below.



The Beast Must Die
The Brilliant Biograph: Earliest Moving Images of Europe
Film About a Father Who
First Cow
The Giverny Document
Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies