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'Sight & Sound' Top 50: Editor Nick James Talks Changes in List and Voters

Thompson on Hollywood By David Gritten | Thompson on Hollywood August 1, 2012 at 4:07PM

Finally, the citadel has been stormed. Orson Welles’s masterpiece "Citizen Kane" is no longer “The Greatest Film of All Time,” according to the latest poll from "Sight & Sound." The magazine has conducted these polls every 10 years since 1962, and "Citizen Kane" emerged at number one five times. Finally it has been dethroned...
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Kim Novak in "Vertigo"
Kim Novak in "Vertigo"

Finally, the citadel has been stormed. Orson Welles’s masterpiece "Citizen Kane" is no longer  “The Greatest Film of All Time,” according to the latest poll from the influential British magazine "Sight & Sound." The magazine has conducted these polls every 10 years since 1962, and "Citizen Kane" emerged at number one five times. Finally it has been dethroned – in favour of Alfred Hitchcock’s "Vertigo." (Full list of 50 is here; a "Vertigo" trailer with James Stewart and Kim Novak is below.)

Why the change? Why now? You could argue that the critical consensus has simply shifted slightly away from Welles. But above all, the "Sight & Sound" poll itself has changed – and broadened its reach considerably.

Announcing the result at London’s BFI Southbank film complex, S&S editor Nick James observed that the poll’s previous exclusivity seemed "no longer viable." For the 2002 poll, just 145 critics, mainly English-speaking, cast their votes in the form of Top 10 lists. This time, according to James, the net was cast wider: responses were obtained from 68 countries, critics who started their careers online were invited, as were non-critics: film curators, academics, distributors and festival programmers among them.

The magazine approached a total of 1,000 people (including this writer). “We received 846 replies,” James disclosed. “From all their Top 10 lists, there were 2,045 films.” This constituted a far larger "long list" than in any previous S&S poll.

James has made no secret of the fact he would be happy to see a new Greatest Film of All Time. Announcing the Top 10 titles in ascending order – "8 1/2," "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers,""2001: A Space Odyssey," "Sunrise," "La Regle du Jeu" and "Tokyo Story," he finally arrived at the number two selection. “It’s been toppled at last!” James shouted as an image from "Citizen Kane" appeared on the screen behind him.

This article is related to: Media, Critics' Poll, Critics


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.