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'Vertigo' Tops New Sight and Sound Top 50 List; '2001: A Space Odyssey' Most Recent in Top Ten

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by Anne Thompson
August 1, 2012 2:23 PM
4 Comments
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James Stewart and Kim Novak in 'Vertigo'

Sight and Sound has posted the results of its latest Top 50 Films of All Time poll, voted on by more global film critics than ever before. (The full story is in the September issue.) "846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors have voted – and the 50-year reign of Kane is over. Our critics’ poll has a new number one." Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" finally supplanted Orson Welles' top-ranked "Citizen Kane," which moved to number 2. (I also voted--my list is here.)

Critics looked to the past, adding two deserving new silent films to the Top Ten list – Dziga Vertov’s "Man With a Movie Camera" at no. 8, the first documentary to make the Top Ten since 1952, and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s "The Passion of Joan of Arc," in 9th place. The most recent film in the Top Ten is Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) in 6th place.

UPDATE: The choices tend toward the serious and grim. With the exception of silent comedians Chaplin, Keaton and Tati--and Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot"--few laughs are in sight. And why has "Vertigo" become the top-ranked Hitchcock film of choice? Because it's the darkest? (I prefer "Notorious.") Also check out the conversation and reaction on Facebook.

Sight & Sound's Ian Christie explains the poll:

And the loser is – Citizen Kane. After 50 years at the top of the Sight & Sound poll, Orson Welles’s debut film has been convincingly ousted by Alfred Hitchcock’s 45th feature Vertigo – and by a whopping 34 votes, compared with the mere five that separated them a decade ago. So what does it mean? Given that Kane actually clocked over three times as many votes this year as it did last time, it hasn’t exactly been snubbed by the vastly larger number of voters taking part in this new poll, which has spread its net far wider than any of its six predecessors.

But it does mean that Hitchcock, who only entered the top ten in 1982 (two years after his death), has risen steadily in esteem over the course of 30 years, with Vertigo climbing from seventh place, to fourth in 1992, second in 2002 and now first, to make him the Old Master. Welles, uniquely, had two films (The Magnificent Ambersons as well as Kane) in the list in 1972 and 1982, but now Ambersons has slipped to 81st place in the top 100.

So does 2012 – the first poll to be conducted since the internet became almost certainly the main channel of communication about films – mark a revolution in taste, such as happened in 1962? Back then a brand-new film, Antonioni’s L’avventura, vaulted into second place. If there was going to be an equivalent today, it might have been Malick’s The Tree of Life, which only polled one vote less than the last title in the top 100. In fact the highest film from the new century is Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love, just 12 years old, now sharing joint 24th slot with Dreyer’s venerable Ordet…

Ian Christie’s full essay on changing fashions on our new poll is published in the September 2012 issue of Sight & Sound, available from 3 August on UK newsstands and as a digital edition from 7 August. See Nick James’s poll coverage introduction for details of our methodology. Texts below are quotations from our poll entries and magazine coverage of the top ten. Links are to the BFI’s Explore Film section. The full, interactive poll of 846 critics’ top-ten lists will be available online from 15 August, and the Directors’ poll (of 358 entries) a week later.

 THE TOP 50 List is below.

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4 Comments

  • Anne Thompson | August 2, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    I have seen everything on the list except the following: Yasujiro's 'Late Spring,' all three of the Tarkovsky films, Dreyer's 'Ordet' and 'Gertrud,' Chantal Akerman's 'Jeanne Dielman,' Bela Tarr's 'Satantango' and Kiarostami's 'Close-up.' Firing up my Netflix queue.

  • Knative | August 2, 2012 5:00 AMReply

    There are lots of movies people consider masterpieces post-1970s: Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Schindler's List, Brazil, Blade Runner, There Will Be Blood, Pan's Labyrinth, Do The Right Thing, Once Upon a Time in America, Raise The Red Lantern, etc. This list makes cinema seem dead.
    I also think that Cleo from 5 to 7 is as good as any movie, so there is no reason why critics can't at least include that movie in the top ten so that the top ten isn't a complete sausage fest.
    Horror movies don't get enough respect either. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, The Wicker Man, Santa Sangre, Suspiria, Cat People, The Haunting, The Exorcist, Eyes Without a Face are all great movies and classics too.

  • Anne Thompson | August 2, 2012 1:32 AMReply

    For Ford, I'd go with "Stagecoach," which was so influential, or "Rio Grande" and "My Darling Clementine." While "The Searchers" is getting dated, with funny bits that fall flat and some hammy acting, John Wayne's obsessive quest and battle between his racist rage and love for Natalie Wood is great stuff. Ford and Kurosawa both have more top films than anyone else, in my view.

    Also, the list is so dour and grim and historic...worthy films, but Bergman and Hawks are examples of directors who should not be losing stature over time, but are. And where are the comedies? Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot squeaks in, as well as the silent comedians Chaplin, Keaton and Tati. But still. Lighten up a tad.

  • Joe Beatty | August 1, 2012 11:49 PMReply

    Overall, this is a good list. However, like all lists, this one has its good and bad points. I am very glad to see Hitchcock getting his due from the critics. However, I think Bergman should have done better, and a film of his should have appeared in the top ten. I would rank "Persona" higher than number 17. Moreover, I predict that "The Searchers" will fade in the coming years. I would remove it from the top ten, and replace it with a Bergman film such as "Persona."

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