You know how everyone calls Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane “the greatest movie ever made”? You know how you don’t really think it’s the greatest movie ever made, even though it’s almost certain that your opinion is a reaction against its accepted position as “the greatest movie ever made”?
Well, today’s your day.
The once-a-decade poll in Sight & Sound Magazine to determine the 10 greatest movies ever made is considered the most authoritative institution devoted to maintaining a filmic canon. It was Citizen Kane‘s #1 placement in this poll for the last half-century that more or less made the film’s reputation as all-time greatest in the first place. It won in 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2002 while any number of other films jockeyed for place and show under it.
But in 2002, there were signs brewing that its reign would potentially come to an end, as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 romantically tragic thriller Vertigo came within just a few votes of toppling Welles’ giant.
On Wednesday this week, Sight & Sound Magazine announced that that momentum had finally carried Vertigo to the top in a decisive victory. By a margin of nearly 35 votes, Vertigo has become the new official “greatest movie ever made”?
Part of me suspects that the upset victory represents only a perfect storm combination of Kane backlash, fatigue over the creeping staidness of the S&S canon, and a perhaps narrow-minded acceptance of Vertigo as Hitchcock’s incontestable masterpiece, despite such incredibly worth alternatives as Rear Window, Notorious, Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt. (Of course, Welles doesn’t want for films nearly equal to Kane in greatness either. I’ll stunt for The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, F for Fake, or The Trial any day.)
But even if a number of critics cast their ballots in support of Vertigo with the agenda of supplanting Kane, I think it’s still a statement worth endorsing. It says that the canon is still the result of an ongoing conversation, and not merely a sparsely populated museum no one visits anymore.
Here are the top 10 movies in Sight & Sound’s critics’ poll:
01. Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (191 votes)
02. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, 1941 (157 votes)
03. Tokyo Story, Ozu Yasujiro, 1953 (107 votes)
04. La Règle du jeu, Jean Renoir, 1939 (100 votes)
05. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, FW Murnau, 1927 (93 votes)
06. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968 (90 votes)
07. The Searchers, John Ford, 1956 (78 votes)
08. Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1939 (68 votes)
09. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer, 1927 (65 votes)
10. 8½, Federico Fellini, 1963 (64 votes)
Sight & Sound also polls directors for their favorites, and interestingly enough, Citizen Kane was dethroned on that list as well, by an even more surprising candidate. Here were the top 10 results from that poll:
01. Tokyo Story
02. 2001: A Space Odyssey (tie)
02. Citizen Kane (tie)
05. Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese, 1976
06. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
07. The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, 1972 (tie)
07. Vertigo (tie)
09. Mirror, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974
10. Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948
Sight & Sound says they will release the full results and everyone’s individual ballots over the next few weeks.