Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, Blah, Blah, Greatest Film, ‘Citizen Kane’ #2


James Stewart in Vertigo

James Stewart in Vertigo
Photo: Paramount Pictures

I think the only thing to really say about today’s unveiling of Sight & Sound‘s latest installment in their decennial list of the 50 greatest films of all time is to acknowledge it as a list of truly great films. The hubbub over the ordering is a little like pissing in the wind as the major headline is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo capsizing the 50 year reign of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which has been the number one film on the list since it began in 1952.

So Vertigo sits at number one, climbing steadily in the eyes of the participants of the every-ten-year poll made up of 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors.

A secondary poll of 358 film directors from all over the world — including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh — and they didn’t go with Kane either, or Vertigo for that matter. Nope, Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 feature Tokyo Story was named the greatest of all-time followed by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and then Citizen Kane in third while Vertigo lags behind in eighth.

As pointed out by The Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound doesn’t attempt to define what makes the “greatest” film and simply asks participants to interpret “greatest” in any way they choose.

When it comes to my personal interpretation of the list, I appreciate its existence if only to help me further my knowledge of films I may otherwise not see. Yet, the idea of a “greatest” film of all-time bothers me to some degree especially when it comes to lists such as this, coming from an outlet many look on as the Bible of today’s cinema.

For so long Citizen Kane has reigned at the top of not only the Sight & Sound list, but also the AFI Top 100. For just as long people have used such distinctions to refer to Kane as the greatest film of all-time. What now?

I guess in this sense the Sight & Sound list does achieve one major accomplishment, with Vertigo taking over #1 from Kane and Tokyo Story taking the top spot on the director’s list, the existence of three separate films declared #1 from three separate lists (I’m including the AFI list), it maintains the focus on the movies rather than their placement. This, in an age where the Internet sets out to determine best and worst as if there were no grey in-between, is a step forward, but yet there is something I would almost prefer to see more at this juncture…

What are these people’s favorite films?

So often these lists ask people to set aside their preferences and instead look at films in a way I don’t believe the majority of society interpret them, which is to ask which is the best rather than which is your favorite?

Looking over this list of films there aren’t any surprises. It’s a list of all the same films we’ve seen for countless number of years as the most recent films on the list are Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001). So to tell me this group of voters has the same opinion on movies as so many of the voters before them tells me nothing really. Vertigo got 191 votes to Kane‘s 157… big whoop. Both are still great right? Something that’s been said for countless years.

However, if we put aside the pretense and let our hearts do a little more talking, I wonder what this list would look like then. There’s no doubt many of these films would remain and perhaps many of them in the same order, but I think we might be able to shake things up a little more if we were to ask the same group to list their favorite films over those they believed were the “greatest.” Neither are scientific, but one is a little more fun.

Below is the complete top 50 with some ties followed by the directors’ top ten. You can get more information on the list here.

A few of my personal favorites fall at numbers 6, 8, 13, 17 (both), 21, 28, 31, 33, 34, 35 (Metropolis and Psycho), 39 (both), 42 (Some Like it Hot) and 48 (The Battle of Algiers).

  1. Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles)
  3. Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
  4. La Regle du jeu (dir. Jean Renoir)
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (dir. FW Murnau)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
  7. The Searchers (dir. John Ford)
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Dziga Vertov)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  10. 8 1/2 (dir. Federico Fellini)
  11. Battleship Potemkin (dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
  12. L’Atalante (dir. Jean Vigo)
  13. Breathless (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  14. Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  15. Late Spring (dir. Ozu Yasujiro)
  16. Au hasard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson)
  17. Seven Samurai (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  18. Persona (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  19. Mirror (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  20. Singin’ in the Rain (dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)
  21. L’avventura (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)
  22. Le Mepris (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  23. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  24. Ordet (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  25. In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
  26. Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  27. Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  28. Mulholland Dr. (dir. David Lynch)
  29. Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  30. Shoah (dir. Claude Lanzmann)
  31. The Godfather Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  32. Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
  33. Bicycle Thieves (dir. Vittoria De Sica)
  34. The General (dir. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman)
  35. Metropolis (dir. Fritz Lang)
  36. Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  37. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (dir. Chantal Akerman)
  38. Satantango (dir. Bela Tarr)
  39. The 400 Blows (dir. Francois Truffaut)
  40. La dolce vita (dir. Federico Fellini)
  41. Journey to Italy (dir. Roberto Rossellini)
  42. Pather Panchali (dir. Satyajit Ray)
  43. Some Like It Hot (dir. Billy Wilder)
  44. Gertrud (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  45. Pierrot le fou (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  46. Play Time (dir. Jacques Tati)
  47. Close-Up (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
  48. The Battle of Algiers (dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)
  49. Histoire(s) du cinema (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  50. City Lights (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
  51. Ugetsu monogatari (dir. Mizoguchi Kenji)
  52. La Jetee (dir. Chris Marker)


  1. Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
  3. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles)
  4. 8 1/2 (dir. Federico Fellini)
  5. Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
  6. Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  7. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  8. Vertigo (dir. AAlfred Hitchcock)
  9. Mirror (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  10. Bicycle Thieves (dir. Vittoria De Sica)

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