Is Vertigo the best film ever?

Sight & Sound, the British film magazine, is known for the top ten list they assemble every ten years after polling the critics. There have been major changes over the decades, but from 1962-2002, the #1 film was always Citizen Kane. And now it’s been the displaced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

I’m linking to Aintitcoolnews’s write-up of this, because Sight & Sound is dealing with a lot of new traffic right now. The critics top ten list is…
1. VERTIGO (d. Alfred Hitchcock)
2. CITIZEN KANE (d. Orson Welles)
3. TOKYO STORY (d. Yasujiro Ozu)
4. THE RULES OF THE GAME (d. Jean Renoir)
5. SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (d. F.W. Murnau)
6. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (d. Stanley Kubrick)
7. THE SEARCHERS (d. John Ford)
8. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (d. Dziga Vertov)
9. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (d. Carl Theodor Dreyer)
10. 8 1/2 (d. Federico Fellini)

They also polled directors who had a slightly different list…
1. TOKYO STORY
2. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
3. CITIZEN KANE
4. 8 1/2
5. TAXI DRIVER (d. Martin Scorsese)
6. APOCALYPSE NOW (d. Francis Ford Coppola)
7. (tie) THE GODFATHER and VERTIGO
9. MIRROR (d. Andrei Tarkovsky)
10. BICYCLE THIEVES (d. Vittorio de Sica)

James Stewart is my favorite actor, so I’m happy to see him one of his films at #1, though I prefer It’s a Wonderful Life. And frankly, I prefer Citizen Kane to Vertigo, although there are a few films I would rank of Welles’s masterpiece, including Casablanca, The Godfather and the Passion of Joan of Arc.

Critics have really taken to Vertigo in the last decade. It jumped from #61 on AFI’s 1997 Top 100 list to #9 in the 2007 list. I think they love the story behind the film with Hitchcock’s obsession with Kim Novaks and Grace Kelly, and the opportunity it grants them to psychoanalyze the Master of Suspense. To be fair, the story behind Citizen Kane, with Orson Welles’s clash against William Randolph Hearst, played a role in that film’s mystique as well.

The only film in the two top ten lists that I haven’t seen is Mirror. The Man With a Movie Camera is the most unusual selection, due to the lack of any conventional narrative. The most surprising film to make any of the Sight & Sound Top Ten lists was Louisiana Story, which was tied for fifth-place in the 1952 list. It’s much more obscure now, having fallen into the public domain. Director Robert Joseph Flaherty had just died, so that was one way to honor his achievements.

Part of the fun of looking at these lists, beyond learning about interesting films that have somehow escaped my notice, is determining what it means about the state of film criticism right now. It’s a postmodern approach, which demonstrates how these type of rankings no longer appear definitive. That was pretty much impossible once it became obvious opinions about these things change over time.

So Vertigo probably isn’t the best film ever. It says something interesting about the critics that they rank it so high.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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