The venerable BFI publication Sight & Sound revealed an interesting difference of opinion in the just-announced results of its latest poll of critics and filmmakers to determine the current thinking on which films are the Greatest Ever. This year, for the first time, Vertigo aced out Citizen Kane to take the top spot in the critics' poll. Filmmakers, meanwhile, went for Ozu's Tokyo Story.
The other big surprise in the critics' poll is the appearance of Dziga Vertov's 1928 documentary Man with a Movie Camera in the number-8 spot, evidence of that pioneering film's increasing currency with movie-lovers.
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. The Rules of the Game (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 (Vertov, 1928)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)
1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
7. The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
7. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
The full results will be published in the September issue of Sight & Sound, which will be available in the U.K. later this week, and will show up soon in other countries. For now, the top 50 critics' picks are all listed here: www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time
The poll takes place only every 10 years, and is widely considered the most definitive of its kind, especially in terms of its international reach. When the poll was first run, in 1952, Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves reached the number-one spot. For each of the five decades since then, critics have elevated Citizen Kane to the number-one spot. The filmmakers' poll didn't begin until 1992, but they too chose Citizen Kane as the greatest film ever made every time.
This year, Sight & Sound editor Nick James said, the magazine approached "more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles." The magazine got 846 top-10 lists back by the deadline, with a total of 2,045 different films cited.
What do the results mean? That's for film buffs the world over to sort out. From my perspective, I'd say it's a matter of time as much as anything else — Citizen Kane is still as great as it ever was, but the passage of another decade may have taken movie-watchers to a place where Hitchcock's haunting Vertigo, with its indelible themes and impeccable style, simply feels more urgent and more contemporary than Welles's wunderkind debut. Vertigo also entered a new golden age with its 1996 restoration, and the ramifications of that re-issue probably weren't yet felt in full when critics voted in 2002. There were a couple of youngish films on the critics' lists, too — Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love at #24 and David Lynch's Mulholland Dr at #28.
As far as the filmmakers go, what about the new pre-eminence of Yasujiro Ozu, certainly among the most contemplative of great directors? I'll just note that its presence along the list, along with Kubrick's 2001 and Tarkovsky's Mirror, might reflect a fondness for what's sometimes known as "slow film" or "slow cinema" — reflective, deliberately paced movies that run counter to the fast-cutting rhythms generally demanded of mainstream cinema. Current film-festival and art-house faves like Alexander Sokurov, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Terence Davies are emblematic of the trend, as are more classic directors like Ozu, Kubrick, and Tarkovsky.
Another takeaway from the filmmakers' list? They love Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who are either overvalued by their peers or undervalued by the critics. (The Godfather movies dropped out of the critics' top 10 this year, probably in part because votes for the first two films had been combined in previous polls but not this time.) I couldn't find a full list of the directors that participated, but the BBC says they included Scorsese, Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, and Mike Leigh.
You can peruse the history of the poll at the BFI website: old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/polls/topten/