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More Notes on the Sight & Sound Film Poll

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 30, 2012 at 3:23PM

Further thoughts on the most prestigious and most ridiculous of all top ten lists.
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"City Lights."
"City Lights."

Spending a few hours with the dozens of responses to this week's Criticwire Survey gave me plenty of time to reflect on Sight & Sound's Greatest Film Poll, that most prestigious and most ridiculous of top ten lists. There wasn't a place for my own observations in the actual survey, so please enjoy this brief epilogue. Once again here are the Top Ten Films of All-Time, as chosen by critics in 2002 (ballots for 2012's poll were due today, so the updated list should be coming soon):

1. "Citizen Kane"
2. "Vertigo"
3. "The Rules of the Game"
4. "The Godfather Parts I and II"
5. "Tokyo Story"

6. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
7. "Battleship Potemkin" (tie)
7. "Sunrise" (tie)
9. "8 1/2"
10. "Singin' in the Rain"

-In our Survey, I asked participants to remove the film they considered the least worthy one on the list and replace it with the most worthy one that was previously omitted.  Of the eleven films on the 2002 Sight & Sound poll, only two were never nominated for removal: "Citizen Kane" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."  In other words: don't expect either of those films to vanish from the 2012 poll.

-The most popular film to nominate for removal was "Singin' in the Rain," which makes a reasonable amount of sense; it was the least popular choice amongst respondents in the 2002 poll. But the second most popular films to nominate were "8 1/2" -- logical for the exact same reason -- and "Vertigo," illogical given the fact that it was ranked #2 in the 2002 poll, and there were seven other films that you might have theoretically expected to prove less resonant with audiences. Beyond generational fluctuations of taste, there's at least one possibile reason for the discrepancy: "Vertigo" was restored in 1996 and became a lightning rod for conversations about the importance and ethics of film preservation. It received high-profile VHS and DVD releases and played repertory houses around the country. In 2002, that restoration was still fresh in critics' minds.  Ten years later, "Vertigo" has faded in luster like an old VistaVision print. It's not even available on Blu-ray yet (neither, for that matter, is "Singin' in the Rain"). For this reason, I'm somewhat surprised distributors don't tailor their restorations of high profile art house classics to the timing of the Sight & Sound poll. If "Vertigo" had been remastered in HD and released on Blu-ray, say, 6 months ago, that might have changed our survey drastically. Will "Vertigo" drop out of the Sight & Sound Top Ten in 2012?  I doubt it, but I'd be surprised if it remains so highly ranked.  

-Three "most worthy omissions" received multiple votes from critics: John Ford's "The Searchers," Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights," and Jacques Tati's "Playtime." "The Searchers" appeared on the 1982 (#10) and 1992 (#5) polls -- so it may be gearing up for a return to the list (and, yes, it is available on Blu-ray). "City Lights" was runner-up to "Bicycle Thieves" in the very first poll back in 1952, but hasn't returned to the list since (too many worthy Chaplin nominees may split his votes, like a bunch of actors from one film nominated in the same category at the Oscars). "Playtime" has never made the top ten before, and I wouldn't expect to i this year either -- but it would be nice.

-Which brings me to my last note: several folks on Twitter asked what I would have picked in the survey. "Playtime" would get my vote -- though "The Searchers," or even perhaps "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," would merit consideration too -- over "Singin' in the Rain," which, I'd add, would definitely be in my top twenty all-time. The image from the film atop the survey was a clue to my own partisan leanings.

Now it's YOUR turn: what one film do you think deserves to make the 2012 Sight & Sound poll?  Leave us your pick in the comments below.

This article is related to: Sight & Sound Film Poll


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