Vertigo > Citizen Kane? Sight & Sound Declares the Greatest Film of All Time

Vertigo Citizen Kane Greatest Of All Time

Here comes the cinephile debate of the day: After polling 846 film experts, BFI's Sight & Sound declared Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo to be the #1 greatest film of all time, topping Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story, and classics from Renoir, Murnau, Kubrick, and more of your favorite all-timers. It's a triumph long in coming for the Hitchcock pic, which only first made Sight & Sound's once-a-decade list in 1982 and has been working its way up the ranks of critical opinion since. Does the 2012 poll finally have it right?

Culled from Top Ten lists from 846 critics, academics, writers, and programmers, Sight & Sound's GOAT survey is at its widest to date. The full ten:

The Critics’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
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 for 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)

Somewhere out there, Kim Novak is raising her fist in victory while William Friedkin - who told Movieline Citizen Kane set the bar for cinematic greatness so high, trying to match it is what keeps him going - is probably shaking his damn head.

Meanwhile, 358 filmmakers were polled for a separate director's choice, yielding some interesting differences in opinion:

The Directors’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) (tie)
4. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1980)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
7. The Godfather (Coppola, 1972) and Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) (tie)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)

It's interesting to note the divide between critics' and filmmakers' ranking of Vertigo, which is a more populist-romantic choice in ways than Citizen Kane; perhaps unsurprisingly, the directors' list is much more auteur-heavy in its leanings. But let's open this up to discussion: Is Vertigo really the best film of all time? (Is it even the best Hitchcock of all time?) Have at it in the comments below!

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  • SD says:

    Both lists seem sufficiently filled with the usual suspects that populate such lists. A few people have heard of and a few more obscure ones to remind you how much more they know about film than you. But no Truffaut? No Buñuel? Two from Coppola? Scandalous!

    They may think that they are the greatest but none of them will be my first pick on a Friday night.

    As for personal preference Vertigo is down my list of Hitchcock films. I would easily place North by Northwest or Psycho above it.

  • Jan Kubicki says:

    Laughable. Vertigo better than Andrei Rublev, Dr. Strangelove, Godfather I and II, 8 1/2, The 400 Blows, and Lawrence of Arabia? These critics are delusionable. An utter waste of time.

  • John Hyams says:

    I wouldn't even put it in the top 20.

  • kkurman says:

    I really enjoy these exercises in provocation. There can never be any justification for being snarky about them, since they are by their very nature arbitrary and subjective. There may be different schools of thought that establish rules for critical judgment, after all, there has to be some consensus of agreement to divine any degree of truth. To aid my objectivity in regard to 'bestness' I apply this devise, 'what was the filmmakers objective and how successful were they in achieving that goal?' This way I can somewhat avoid dismissing subjects or genres I don't find interesting or particularly appealing. This approach is distinct from my approach to looking at art where I tend more towards subject and/or intent transcending the medium. There is crossover, which is reflected above in the difference between critic's choices and director's.
    That said, as example, Hitchcock will always rise to the top of any list due in part, beyond his genius, to his process. I think VERTIGO and NxNW fall pretty equally into top spots, my preference between the two is NxNW. I'm sure those who voted it to the top position would be happy to explain what about VERTIGO makes it superior, but that would probably not change my mind. There would have be some kind of equation though, to convince me how VERTIGO &/or NxNW are superior to NOTORIOUS. [(V/NxNW)>Nx?] By the 50's, Hitch's style had become somewhat codified, it works in those pictures to give them their 'edginess' and to remind the viewer that they are watching a film, which is very much 'of their time' within the broader cultural context. But NOTORIOUS, while using the same basic process, manages to smooth through the timing, devises and transitions in order to draw you into the character's world and thoughts, emotions, motivations and reactions. You forget that you're watching a film and are captivated by the suspense of the moment while being seduced by the sumptuousness of the visual field. For this, I think NOTORIOUS is a superior picture, both as film and as art. So, you see, we will never agree on 'bestness'. Greatness is another matter. I'd be interested to read how this fine point is sharpened by those characters you polled. That there could have been a strong enough consensus, amongst the 800 some critics and directors, that you could come up with such a definitive top ten list is mysterious to me. But the process continues to be fun and amusing and to some extent worthwhile.
    By whatever system, I attach here, a list. Its just an off-the-top of films NOT on your top ten list that I challenge any of those playing along to defend their choice over any of these. I wouldn't call this 'My List', I would be hard pressed to come up with a top ten. One of the great things about film is its universality and broadness of vision. It's not intended to be comprehensive; I just grabbed a handful and threw them at the page. I'd just like to see how anyone would defend their choice over any of these as being better to the extent of being 'best'.

    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
    Sunset Boulevard
    A Man and a Woman
    The Last Emperor
    Some Like It Hot
    La Dolce Vita
    Laurence of Arabia
    The Sound of Music
    West Side Story
    All About Eve
    Urban Cowboy
    The Big Lebowski
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    Dangerous Liaisons
    Young Frankenstein/Blazing Saddles (take your pick)
    The Godfather 2
    Cries and Whispers
    Moulin Rouge
    Last Days
    Immortal Beloved
    Natural Born Killers
    Gone With the Wind
    Rebel Without a Cause
    From Here to Eternity
    What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
    Sweet Smell of Success
    Boogie Nights

    • Jake says:

      Hahaha. You included CRASH and BABEL?!?!?!?! Those are the two most pretentious films of all time. So you did include two that would top at least one list.

      But seriously, that pretty much tells everyone that you have bad taste.

      Seriously. Hilarious. You should do comedy for a living. haha. So funny. tears in eyes...

  • maggie says:

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  • Baco Noir says:

    I know everybody loves 2001, but one of the greatest films ever made? Really? Doesn't acting have something to do with it? Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood were then (and before and after) terrible actors. Sure sure. Got it; it's not an 'actor movie.' But it is so obtuse and faux deep it so frequently fools critics and audiences alike into thinking it's a masterpiece. Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and even A Clockwork Orange are far better Kubrick films.

    The rest? I've got little issue, though I too prefer Notorious to Vertigo, but that's just me.

  • Jake says:

    I too find it strange how Vertigo and Citizen Kane have somehow risen to be listed as the top films of all time. I can think of five Kurosawa films that put those two to shame. Along with several Ford films, mainly Stagecoach and Searchers. And Ozu tends to crap all over both of those films.

    It's strange. I like those films and do think they are great, but best of all time? What about Malick's first film? It's pretty much perfect. Or some of Kubrick's films (not just 2001, but most of his films are masterpieces).

    This is basically a meaningless game. There are more than a hundred films that could all be considered the greatest film of all time. Why these ones have risen to the top, no one will ever know.

    I mean, some idiot above us listed Crash and Babel in his list of best films ever. And those are both laughably bad. Still chuckling about that.


    • kkurman says:

      ok, calm down Jakey, if this game IS basically meaningless then who gave YOU judgement rights? its just a list, not necessarily of best films ever, in fact I made a point of saying this was not MY list, its just a list, of films. You may not like them all, indeed some intended to be provocative, but to provoke discussion not schoolyard name throwing. I'm an idiot because you thought Babel was pretentious? ...and then you mention Terrance Malick? that's rich. But hey, you're right, there are hundreds of films that could, by someone's estimation, be considered great. I guess I can sleep tonight knowing that you only got your panties in a bunch over two out of the thirty or so I mentioned. How 'bout I replace Crash with Nashville, would that ease your troubled soul? I was searching for an example of a film that was experimenting with a variation on traditional narrative form,(I realize I'm leaving myself open for a bludgeoning with that) I could have dug a little deeper, but it was one that came to mind. Sorry if I upset you.

      • Jake says:

        Hahaha. Now you're defending it. Crash?!?! So funny. It's like a bad tv show. And Babel? Those silly white people! They are so dumb. Your selections tell us everything we need to know. You should watch better movies. I won't take you up on the offer to bludgeon you on choosing Crash to show narrative experimentation. Too easy.

        And you clearly haven't seen Badlands if you think it's pretentious. I didn't say all of Malick's films. Just that one. Like I said, pretty much perfect. But nice try, bad taste guy.

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