The King is Dead!

Long live the Master of Suspense!

After 50 years as the consensus ‘Greatest Film of All Time’, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has been dethroned. The top of the new Sight and Sound Poll is Alfred Hitchcock’s lyrical, disturbing Vertigo. It’s been a long time coming.

Yes, lists are kind of meaningless. But if any list had weight, it would be Sight and Sound. The poll is conducted once every 10 years (since 1952) and the contributors are the best film critics and directors in the world. Citizen Kane has held the top spot for a long time, but fresh blood can only be a good thing. Hitchcock in general, and Vertigo in particular, have been growing more popular with every successive year, both with critics and film fans around the world, so this coup isn’t exactly a surprise.

The Top Ten for 2012 is:

  1. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
  2. Citizen Kane (Welles)
  3. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
  4. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
  7. The Searchers (Ford)
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
  10. 8 1/2 (Fellini)

My thoughts? The rise of silent films is surprising (Sunrise, Man with a Movie Camera, Passion of Joan of Arc), giving us a list that skews older than usual. It seems crazy to me that the 1970s are unrepresented (the best period of American film-making by far!), but perhaps time will be the judge of that. The Sight and Sound poll changes slowly, and I like the fact that it’s not a reactionary list that suddenly declares the latest Christopher Nolan film ‘the best’ because everyone is in love with it this week. I love my Hitchcock and my Kubrick, so it’s great to see their ascent. And while the others on the list aren’t personal favourites of mine, they’re all pretty fantastic, powerful experiences. I feel I need to watch 8 1/2 again. Possibly right now.

As a counter-point, there’s also the alternative Director’s Top 10:

1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
=2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
=2. Citizen Kane (Welles)
4. 8 ½ (Fellini)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
=7. The Godfather (Coppola)
=7. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)

I prefer the variety in the Director’s List – nice to see Tarkovsky, Scorsese and Coppola on there! – but the love for Tokyo Story continues to perplex me. I suppose my tastes tend towards Kurosawa over the deliberate, understated Ozu (Seven Samurai lingers just outside of the Top Ten on both lists).

In an odd way, I think this result is good for Citizen Kane too. I think the experience of watching Kane is ruined for too many people by the expectation that it is “The Greatest”. Maybe first-timers will come to it with less baggage in the future, and enjoy it more. As they should, because Kane is freakin’ stunning.

Of course, movies aren’t Olympic athletes, and it’s a little strange to assemble them on the block and start cheering for a home team. But I love lists, and I love how they encourage debate and discussion. This one is guaranteed to keep people arguing for a while and, hopefully, compel more people to watch these fantastic films.

Plus, I just get a gleeful kick from a film as perverse as Vertigo taking the crown. Next time, David Lynch, next time…

You can find the complete Top 50 here.


49 thoughts on “The King is Dead!

  1. I was never a big fan of Vertigo, though Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors. Maybe it’s time to watch it again- alongside Citizen Kane. I’ve seen only 6 of the top ten. Happy to see two of my favorites remain. Citizen Kane and The Searchers. Gotta go to Netflix right now before I forget and see which of these other films they have. Thanks for this review of the new list and congratulations at being FP’d!

    1. Thanks! I definitely feel Vertigo is a film that gets better every time you see it. And the Searchers is fantastic, probably my favourite John Wayne performance (that or Liberty Valance)

  2. Next time, maybe Terrence Malick! Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, but Vertigo isn’t one of my favorites from him, and I think Rear Window (at least) is better than Vertigo. But that’s okay. I like lists, and I like it when they’re different from the usual.

    1. Days of Heaven is my favourite Malick too, I’d love to see that break into Sight and Sound someday! Vertigo might be my favourite Hitchcock though (close with Rear Window and Psycho) – it’s not as enjoyable to sit through, but I like how daring it is, taking Hitchcock’s obsessions as a filmmaker (voyeurism, doubles) to some unsettling places. Plus the music and dream-like cinematography are amazing

  3. Then there’s my top ten which is nothing like the one above:
    1) Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (the best in the series)
    2) Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones is still my hero)
    3) The Lord of the Rings (it’s one story/movie, just split into three)
    4) It’s a Wonderful Life (everyone roots for George Bailey)
    5) Some Like It Hot (best movie with cross-dressing leads ever)
    6) Toy Story (proved that computer animated movies could have soul)
    7) Beauty & the Beast (showed the world that animated films could and should be worthy of Oscar nods)
    8) Young Frankenstein (Best parody ever)
    9) The Great Escape (inspiring, funny, brave)
    10) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Tim Burton and Paul Reuben at their best)

  4. A film major at NYU I studied all of those films but Vertigo (my personal fav over CItizen Kane) I studied in depth a whole semester filled with all the lovely subversive innuendos and attention to detail of a Hitchcock film. I had to write a paper on it matter of fact. I loved all that drama and color and intrige and beauty and music…why I ran out and bough the soundtrack. But that was in 94 and this is now. Funny how the list didn’t change much. All the films on both lists are outstanding. I would say that hands down the Searchers has to be for me a cinematography masterpiece, Ford was a master of framing a scene and he did it so well with John Wayne as his tall protagonist; at all that blue sky jumping out at you. Enjoyed your perspective…look forward to reading more.

    1. A whole semester! Wow. I did a paper on Vertigo a few years ago and also couldn’t resist buying the soundtrack! Bernard Herrmann was a brilliant composer. I feel like I need to watch The Searchers again, if only for that final shot…

  5. Wonderfully written, succinct take on this Sight & Sound shattering upset. I did a similar entry on this myself before coming across yours—similar right down to ending it with a mention of Lynch. Take a look. Again…nice job! ML

  6. I’d vote for any movie that had (1) nothing exploding. (2) people who actually resolve problems, without murder, and who know the difference between their brain and their gun (3) show people who think about things, occasionally. And that’s why Citizen Kane made top billing and stayed there. Black and white, old-fashioned techniques, overly dramatic, no bedroom scenes (euphemistically ‘love interest’). Hitchock was a very strange man, his female leads all semi-vivified shop manequins, but his cinematography endears him to many, including people who run courses in semiotics and film.

    When will Hollywood wake up: drama is not about conflict; it’s about the way people deal with intransigent problems, and how important friendships are in that process.

    1. Have you seen Tokyo Story, and did you enjoy it? I usually feel that conflict is essential to drama, but Ozu is a great example of a filmmaker who tells meaningful, personal stories about intransigent problems. I thinks there’s room for a lot of different kinds of drama though (and I confess, I like explosions and violence as long as they’re a natural part of a good story!)

  7. No offense

    I saw most of those movies lately. But I prefer this list of movies and directors at any given time.

    Sam Peckinpah The Wild Bunch, Cross of Iron, The Getaway
    Arthur Pen Bonnie and Clyde.
    William Friedkin “the Exorcist”, Sorcerer, to Live and Die in LA

    Please watch and compare.

  8. Either it’s the insecurity of our times, or people just being unable to connect with history so far bygone. Vertigo is color, and 17 years newer. It’s a very personal, strange lovely film, but it hasn’t got half the innovations in Kane. Fads and fashions do pass. My own favorite is Seven Samurai anyway, Kurosawa being the Japanese John Ford.

  9. It’s an interesting list, and I’m very surprised that the top movie changed. Typically with most lists it’s a toss up between Citizen Kane and usually The Godfather (at least among US lists) and they really don’t change much. But I do have one major issue with the list, nowhere in their top 50 do they include The Shawshank Redemption. I’ve said many times that any list of the greatest movies ever made that doesn’t include Shawshank is a flawed list.

  10. I studied Sunrise last semester at university and I loved it. It has to be the most beautiful film I have ever watched, and the use of German Expressionism was just arresting. Loved it!

  11. Well, that’s an amazing list! I’ve gotta “Hitch” myself a bit, if ya know what I’m sayin’ but my Orson Welles first time, which was my Citizien Kane first time, it was grand! I faced that without any awe and it just went by. And you said David Lynch, man! And I don’t forget that…

  12. I never really liked this “best of all time” kind of stuff. To me it all sounds like marketing. All the movies in the list were good in their own way and not all of them look good in nowadays standards.

    The feeling someone had when the movie was released and how far better than anything it was then is really difficult to feel or replicate now.

    BTW, i have some stuff from Felini in my blog: but i never saw any movie :/

  13. Nice to see that “Vertigo” tops the list now (although I find “Psycho” to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece). Still, there are hundreds of “greatest” films ever made, from my perspective. “Greatest”, “best”, all subjective, relative terms. In short, there’s no such thing as the “greatest” or the “best” of anything. And I agree, David Lynch’s films are never even mentioned in such lists–yet to me, they’re superb. My favorite is “Lost Highway”. What is it about us humans that drives us to compare and contrast so much, not to mention compete? Guess it’s evolutionary.

  14. I’ve only seen a few of the movies in the list so maybe I’m not qualified to comment but here goes.

    I liked Vertigo, enjoy almost anything from Hitchcock and adore Kim Novak. Pretty sure I’ve seen Citizen Kane but it’s been a LONG time. I find a lot of the B&W films of that era enjoyable.

    And finally…my apologies to fans of the movie, but I struggle to understand 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve tried watching it multiple times but just can’t get into it. It’s so painfully boring and the beginning is so abstract. I get that it’s supposed to be suspenseful but it doesn’t work for me. It’s only redeeming qualities have to be the furniture, the camera work and the interpretation of life in space. Yes, it’s interesting but hardly worthy of a “best of” list. Sorry.

  15. I`m very surprised about the rise of the silent movies (“The Artist” phenomenon, perhaps?) and in my particular list must be The Goodfather (I and II) in top ten, also Some like hot (Billy Wilder: genious!) but don`t disappoint about Vertigo in top, is one of my favourites. Where is Casablanca?? I think it must be in the top ten list!

  16. It;s good to see “Apocalypse Now” getting some love back. I have to ask though – is that “Apocalypse Now” (pure) or the “Redux” version they rate?

  17. The cinematography in Citizen Kane is great, especially in the context of the time the film as made, but I’ve always thought the sorely lacking. For starters, no one was in the room to hear him say “Rosebud!”

  18. I’ve still never seen Tokyo Story, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Apocalypse Now, or Mirror.

    I find it hard to create a top ten, but here are likely candidates:

    Citizen Kane
    Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
    Barry Lyndon
    The Shining
    2001: A Space Odyssey
    Ghost World
    Donnie Darko
    King Lear (Godard)
    Tout va Bien
    Pierrot le Fou
    The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
    Brand Upon the Brain!
    The Hidan of Maukbeiangjow
    The Carrier

    As you can see it starts to get to the point where I’m listing favorite films by favorite directors and some propaganda votes for films few have ever heard of. I do love Vertigo and it would be in my Top 100, but probably not my Top 20. for me, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good is a good adventure film, but my list would have to be damn long before I’d ever include it in a general list of best films ever.

  19. Big Hitchcock fan here. Love Vertigo, although Notorious is my favorite. Never cared for Citizen Kane, and that’s probably because just as you stated, it was labeled the best and never lived up to it in my eyes. Thanks for the good read.

  20. Honestly, it is pretty unnecessary for one entity to declare one movie “the best.” Tastes and styles and what people prefer vary dramatically. Of course, movies like Gigli shouldn’t be even touch lists like these, but excellent films should not be decided upon one group. But if you would like to see an interesting list-some of the greatest tips from some of the greatest directors-check it out here: But still, I hope most people don’t take these Sound and Sight polls to heart-film should be interpretive, not dependent upon a list.

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