Directed by Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is Germany’s official candidate for next year’s foreign film Oscar.
American coming-of-age story Moonlight and adult drama Elle came next in Sight & Sound’s Films of the Year poll.
Last year’s winner was The Assassin, by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
Toni Erdmann, which will be released in the UK on 3 February, is one of three films with female directors to make this year’s top five.
The others are Certain Women, a triptych of tales from US director Kelly Reichardt, and Andrea Arnold’s road movie American Honey.
Nick James, Sight & Sound’s editor, expressed delight that the poll “recognises the talent of women directors at the top of the art form”.
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which won the veteran British film-maker his second Palme d’Or at Cannes, came sixth in the poll.
Oscar-tipped Manchester by the Sea – named the National Board of Review’s best film of 2016 earlier this week – is ranked seventh.
According to the British Film Institute (BFI), publisher of Sight & Sound, the results represent “a small triumph for diversity”.
The full top 20:
- 1. Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)
- 2. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
- 3. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
- 4. Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
- 5. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)
- 6. I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach)
- 7. Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
- 8. Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Love)
- 9. Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
- 10. The Death of Louis XIV (dir. Albert Serra)
- 11= Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas)
- 11= Sieranevada (dir. Cristi Puiu)
- 13= Fire at Sea (dir. Gianfranco Rosi)
- 13= Nocturama (dir. Bertrand Bonello)
- 13= Julieta (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
- 16= La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)
- 16= Cameraperson (dir. Kirsten Johnson)
- 18. Love and Friendship (dir. Whit Stillman)
- 19. Aquarius (dir. Kleber Mendonca Filho)
- 20. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)