Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
In the very first Sight & Sound poll on the greatest films ever made, conducted in 1952, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves came in at number one, only four years after its release. The unusual promptness of critics to canonize the film says a lot about just what a masterpiece this benchmark of Italian neorealism is. In the simple tale of Antonio, an impoverished husband and father in devastated postwar Rome whose job as a poster hanger is jeopardized when the bicycle he relies on is stolen, De Sica created an expression of universal struggle that moved people all over the world, and continues to do so today. Desperate to hang on to his livelihood, the man (a beautifully haunted Lamberto Maggiorani) goes in search of the thief, accompanied by his impressionable young son (Enzo Staiola). Bicycle Thieves’ ragged, heartfelt style and its minimalist storytelling, focusing on characters for whom the smallest event can have enormous consequences, influences filmmakers all over the world to this day, in places as far-flung as Iran (see Jafar Panahi), Belgium (the Dardennes), and the U.S. (Ramin Bahrani). Check out where it all began in this clip from De Sica’s film, in which Antonio first realizes his vehicle has been nabbed.