For the last five decades, Sight and Sound magazine’s every-ten-year-poll of film critics and filmmakers has always reached the same consensus – That Orson Welles’s 1941 film Citizen Kane was the greatest film of all time.
But the pillars of cinematic heaven were shaken today when Sight and Sound released the results of their latest poll which states that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo has taken the top spot, bumping Citizen Kane down to number two. Vertigo first made it onto the poll in 1972 where it tied at #11. By 1982 it was able to claw its way up to #7. In 1992 it had jumped to #4, and in 2002 it jumped again to #2.
Sight and Sound polled over 800 “film critics, academics, distributors, writers and programmers from all corners of the globe” in order to achieve the rankings announced today. (Disclosure – I was not asked to participate. The nerve.)
Here is the poll’s Top Ten –
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
You can read all of Sight And Sound‘s coverage of their annual poll here.
I have to admit that I am a bit surprised by this turn of events. Not so much that the critical group-think has shifted somewhat. That was bound to happen over time. I’m just mildly surprised that the film to unseat Welles’s masterpiece was Vertigo as I frankly don’t think it is his best work. Sure, I would put it in his top five, where it would be sharing space with Strangers On A Train, Notorious, Psycho and North By Northwest. Granted these are based on personal preference, but in a way, aren’t all these lists?
Vertigo certainly wasn’t a big hit with critics when it was first released and even when the critical move to re-evaluate Hitchcock as an artist rather than as a showman started in the 1960s, the film was not one that would be part of those discussions. But Vertigo was one of five of Hitchcock’s films that were taken out of circulation in 1973 and I am forced to wonder if its reemergence to public view ten years later led critics to embrace it a bit more enthusiastically due to its renewed availability.