This doesn’t only apply to movies, but also books, comics, music, museums, whatever… any kind of media basically.
Very slight and meaningless spoilers.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (later Jeanne Dielman) made a surprise 34 spot rise on Sight and Sound’s poll and replaced Vertigo at number one, which in turn had replaced Citizen Kane ten years earlier, which in turn had dominated the poll for full five polls after Bicycle Thief had won the inaugural one in 1962. Now, should you watch these movies? It depends.
Sight and Sound has always encouraged the people taking part to try to vote for personal favorites, not what they feel is going to do well in the poll or do any kind of strategic voting. They wanted the people polled to reach back and find those movies they found meaningful for whatever reason. I can’t imagine how difficult this would have been in 1962, when having access to movies was very limited and you couldn’t just pull out your laptop to watch a specific movie.
What they, Sight and Sound, actually want is a canon movies for this moment in time. And I think that’s what they got. The number of female and black directors soared, and there’s a lot of interesting new movies on the list. Did the shakeup of the list go as far as they wanted? That I can’t tell you. Vertigo and Citizen Kane are still very close to the top and many of the other movies high on the list have remained there.
I have personally seen a decent number of movies on the list (87 out of 100 to be exact). Based on this experience, I would often rather recommend these movies as interesting artifacts than good movies. This is not to say that they aren’t good, I’m just saying that the quality is not necessarily the main selling point on many of them. (And yes, some of them are just very, very good.)
And this is where the trouble comes. My personal motivation to see these movies is different from other people. Sure, they are probably curious, just as I am, but I am also interested in understanding film history and people behind these movies, so I am more motivated to sit through three and a half hour movie about a middle-aged widow trying to keep her life together with a six minute unmoving shot of a woman sitting down in her living room as the ending of the movie. (Yes, Jeanne Dielman has that.)
On the other hand, the Sight and Sound list is an opinion and an opinion of critics at that (well, they group in academics, historians and so forth in the same group). That can easily mean that the list is not relevant to you, whoever you are, unless you have a specific interest in film and film history. There are also so many good movies out there, that it is actually likely that most of the people taking part in the poll haven’t even seen them.
Experiences regarding art are very personal. This means that no-one can dictate what movies are important to you. What’s important to you are the movies that encourage you to seek out new movies. It doesn’t matter if those movies made it on a list by Sight and Sound, or IMDb or AFI or Oscars or whatever (all of these have very different approaches anyhow). What these “authorities” on this subject can tell you is where to start. On Sight and Sound’s list, there are movies on female, queer and black experiences, as well as movies related to class. So, if you want to be seen by these movies as part of a group, you can probably find it on the list.
What is must-see? Hard to say, because you can only understand that through hindsight. You can’t know whether its going to be Citizen Kane or Transformers that changes your perspectives before seeing them. You can make educated guesses, though, and you can gain insight on this from critics and other opinions.
I would also hope that people learn through media, so one could argue that the movies you learn from are the important ones.