'Citizen Kane' toppled by 'Vertigo' after 50 years at the top of critics' list
The world’s cinema experts have chosen the Hitchcock classic over Welles’s major drama
CITIZEN KANE’S long reign as the official “greatest movie of all time” has come to a close after 50 years.
Last night, Sight Sound, official organ of the British Film Institute, announced the results of its poll, carried out every 10 years, to tabulate the films most admired by the world’s cinema experts.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, number two in 2002, comfortably eased past Orson Welles’s groundbreaking drama to take the big prize. Kane now occupies the runner-up spot.
The top five was completed by Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu and FW Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans.
Citizen Kane lost out for the first time in Sight Sound’s poll of top directors – carried out since 1992 – to Tokyo Story. In that chart Citizen Kane was forced to share second place with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Sight Sound poll, first instituted in 1952, has always carried significant weight with cinema observers. Critics from around the world (including, this year, Tara Brady and this writer from The Irish Times) are asked to list their 10 favourite films. Each picture mentioned, irrespective of its place on the list, receives one vote. The resulting top 10, which skews towards the serious, has helped define the cinematic canon. The first film to triumph – just four years after its release – was Vittorio De Sica’s realist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves. Citizen Kane won every subsequent poll until 2012.
This year, acknowledging the growth of online commentary, Sight Sound increased the electorate – which takes in programmers as well as critics – from 144 to 846. Any fears that dumbing down would set in proved unfounded.
Two of the three films to exit the top 10 since 2002 – The Godfather and Singin’ in the Rain – were relatively populist English-language pictures. Enthusiasts for Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 classic, will be disappointed to hear of its exclusion. But two of the new entries – Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc – turned out to be silent movies. The third addition, John Ford’s The Searchers, has always retained a passionate following among serious critics.
No film in the top 10 is less than 40 years old. Man with a Movie Camera, an experimental documentary from 1929, is the only film never previously to have appeared in the poll.
The slow triumph of Vertigo is remarkable in many ways. Released in 1958, starring Jimmy Stewart as an acrophobic ex-cop (he had a fear of heights) obsessed with a dead woman, the film underperformed at the box office and received its fair share of poor reviews.
Withdrawn from circulation by the director in 1973, it slowly garnered mystique and, by the time of its theatrical rerelease in 1983, had been established as a uniquely disturbing study of erotic obsession.
Top 10 Films: Critics' Choice
1Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
3Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
4La Règle du Jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
5Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
62001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
8Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Dreyer, 1927)
108½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Top 10 Films: Directors' Choice
1Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
22001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
2(joint second)Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
48 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
5Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
6Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
7The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
8Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
9Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974)
10Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
Donald Clarke and Tara Brady’s submissions to the Sight & Sound poll can be viewed on the Screenwriter blog at irishtimes. com/blogs/screenwriter/
What is your favourite film of all time? Join the debate on irishtimes.com.