The list is out. For a certain brand of cinephile, yours truly very much included, that can only mean one thing. Once a decade the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine polls the world’s leading film critics and directors, and compiles their list of the “Greatest Films of All Time.” This tradition started back in 1952, and has continued apace since then. Sight & Sound takes the measure of the cinematic canon every ten years so as to avoid momentary effusions and measure long-term trends. Other groups, most notably the American Film Institute, have crafted rival lists that hope to match the original for prestige and influence. The explosion of the internet has also created a surge of lists, from the venerable like They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They, to the ridiculous, such as the IMDb Top 250. But the Sight & Sound list rises above them all, and today it unleashed something of a sea-change.
For the first time since the inaugural list in 1952 (which crowned Bicycle Thieves), Orson Welles’ landmark debut feature Citizen Kane has not been voted into the top spot. Instead, Alfred Hitchcock’s lurid and mysterious Vertigo has ascended to the pinnacle, rising from a second place finish a decade ago. I’ll get to the importance of all this in just a moment, along with the myriad other interesting tidbits raised by the new Top Ten, but first the list. (Please note, I will be referring to the Critics’ List unless I note otherwise. I like and respect the Directors’ lists, but I tend to think of it as being akin to the Coaches’ Poll in college football: interesting but perhaps not as well informed.)
1. Vertigo (1958, USA, Dir: Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Citizen Kane (1941, USA, Dir: Orson Welles)
3. Tokyo Story (1953, Japan, Dir: Ozu Yasujiro)
4. La Règle du jeu (1939, France, Dir: Jean Renoir)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, USA, Dir: F.W. Murnau)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, USA/UK, Dir: Stanley Kubrick)
7. The Searchers (1956, USA, Dir: John Ford)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929, USSR, Dir: Dziga Vetov)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, France, Dir: Carl Theodore Dreyer)
10. 8 1/2 (1963, Italy, Dir: Federico Fellini)
So, Andrew, what are your thoughts on Kane being dethroned by Vertigo? Or is that not even where your thoughts landed when you saw the list?