DAILY | Sight & Sound “Greatest Films of All Time” Poll 2012
Hitchcock’s VERTIGO knocks CITIZEN KANE from the top spot. Of all film polls, this one’s the most anticipated, analyzed and debated. We’ll be gathering commentary as it comes in.
Let’s cut to the chase. The top ten films in the new Sight & Sound Critics Poll are:
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958).
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941).
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953).
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939).
5. Sunrise (A Song of Two Humans) (Murnau, 1927).
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968).
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956).
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928).
10. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)
Here‘s the full Top 50 from Sight & Sound, with notes on those top ten titles. And the Directors’ top ten are:
1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953).
=2 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968).
=2 Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941).
4. 8½ (Fellini, 1963).
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1980).
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979).
=7 The Godfather (Coppola, 1972).
=7 Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958).
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974).
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948).
So, two polls, both conducted only once every ten years. Starting in 1952, Sight & Sound began asking top critics from around the world to submit their lists of the top ten films of all time. In 1992, the magazine began polling directors as well. S&S editor Nick James lays out the ways in which this year’s polls differ from the previous ones:
About a year ago, the Sight & Sound team met to consider how we could best approach the poll this time. Given the dominance of electronic media, what became immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators than before. We were also keen to include among them many critics who had established their careers online rather than purely in print.
To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films.
As for the directors, there have been 358 ballots. The full results will be going out to S&S subscribers at the end of the week, but online, we won’t see all of the critics’ ballots until August 15 and the directors’ until August 22. For now, we can begin comparing and contrasting this year’s top tens with those from the previous polls, a parlor game many of us will be joining in on in the days, months, and yes, years to come: 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002 (critics and directors).
The run-up to today’s announcement has been long and loud. Back in March, Kristin Thompson, arguing the case for John Ford‘s How Green Was My Valley (1941) over Citizen Kane, put forward a modest proposal: “I think this business of polls and lists for the greatest films of all times would be much more interesting if each film could only appear once. Having gained the honor of being on the list, each title could be retired, and a whole new set concocted ten years later. The point of such lists, if there is one, is presumably to introduce people who are interested in good films to new ones they may not have seen or even known about.”
In April, Kevin B. Lee moderated a discussion of the factors that have gone into making these lists in the past and what might attribute to any shifts in this year’s polls (parts 1, 2, and 3). Also at Press Play, he’s conducted a terrific series of video interviews with critics discussing their own choices for the greatest films of all time (Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Nicole Brenez, Adrian Martin, Ekkehard Knörer and Michael Baute (about a contender, not their own personal favorite), Vadim Rizov, Molly Haskell, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and a tribute to Roger Ebert‘s top ten).
At the end of April, Criticwire‘s Matt Singer put this question to umpteen critics: “You’ve been contacted by Sight & Sound. They want you to look at the 2002 list, remove the least worthy film, and replace it with the most worthy film that’s not mentioned. What do you pick and why?” He followed up a few days later with comments on the results. Today, he offers the “Top Thirty Reasons We Love Making Lists.” Other alternative lists have been popping up all over, most recently at the House Next Door, where contributors without S&S ballots are writing up their own top tens. Brian Darr tweeted his annotated top ten today.
Some critics have posted their 2012 top tens, and the annotations have often been enlightening (see, for example, Michael J. Anderson and Steven Shaviro), but I’m with Jim Emerson: “I will discuss my 2012 list once Sight & Sound publishes it. But I think it’s bad form to do so before they’ve released the ballots. It’s their poll, after all.”
S&S has been doing some of the drum rolling on its own, of course. For the magazine, Michael Atkinson has written: “Poll lists are cultural housekeeping in a world nostril-deep in an endless ocean of marketing sewage and online distraction. It’s democratic organization for the sake of value, in the absence of which certain ideas of film and filmwatching—as well as a great many films in and of themselves—would be subsumed in the flood and lost. Disagree or disregard, by all means, but stand back: this is our tribe’s way of saying, against the tide, This Is What Matters.”
Updates: And the first commentary is coming in, but first, S&S has put out a press release with, among some of the initial observations you see Ian Christie making at the top of this page, a statement from editor Nick James: “This result reflects changes in the culture of film criticism. The new cinephilia seems to be not so much about films that strive to be great art, such as Citizen Kane, and that use cinema’s entire arsenal of effects to make a grand statement, but more about works that have personal meaning to the critic. Vertigo is the ultimate critics’ film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul mate. In that sense it’s a makeover film full of spellbinding moments of awful poignancy that show how foolish, tender and cruel we can be when we’re in love.”
And from a recent BFI interview with Kim Novak: “I remember when I played it I felt absolutely stripped naked. I felt so vulnerable. He knew exactly what he wanted. The façade was everything to him (Hitchcock)… He was obsessed with the look. It was as if he was Jimmy Stewart, making sure that she was dressed exactly the way Madeleine was. He was playing the part of Jimmy Stewart.”
“With some justification, Sight & Sound’s could be called the Olympic yardstick, the über-canon among film lists,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “[W]hat perhaps strikes most about the list, given the vast new catchment of less seasoned critical voices that has been allowed to join it, is the fact that it’s largely a reshuffle: not a massive amount has changed.”
“Vertigo is a fascinating case study in reputation,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “It wasn’t all that much liked on release, and its critical prestige accumulated only gradually…. My own theory is that Vertigo‘s rise in esteem coincides with academic critical fascination with female sexuality and the male ‘gaze.’”
New York‘s David Edelstein (who’s never been invited to submit a ballot? WTF?): “A good, safe list. You should see them all. But no consensus will ever satisfy me or anyone impatient with idea of a collectively voted canon.” As for Vertigo, Edelstein’s “own Hitchcock favorite, Notorious, never looms large in these polls, mainly I think because it’s so crisply paced, with no languid spaces on which to project. And North by Northwest is too much fun.”
Glenn Kenny‘s posted his ballot and comments: “As it happens, the four films on the list which might conceivably be seen as ‘consensus’ picks—Kane, Psycho, Singin’ in the Rain, Searchers—are also ones close to ‘my heart’ or at least the formation of my sensibility.”
The AV Club‘s Scott Tobias makes a few observations and this is one of them: “Don’t call it a comeback: The Passion of Joan of Arc, bumped from the ’02 list, has made it back onto the 2012 list. It failed to make the 1982 list after making the 1972 list, too, so the trend will indicate that Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece will bow out again in a decade.”
This Must Be the Place gathers posters for each of the top ten in the Critics Poll.
“Let’s remember that all movie lists, even this most-respected one, are ultimately meaningless,” writes Roger Ebert. “What surprised me is how little I was surprised. I believed a generational shift was taking place, and that as the critics I grew up with faded away, young blood would add new names. What has happened is the opposite. This year’s 846 voters looked further into the past.”
Luke McKernan is “pleased at the recognition silent films still receive among film critics, with three silents in the top ten and a goodly representation among the top fifty.”
“The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is… funny,” argues Jim Emerson. “[T]his decade’s consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they’re terrific motion pictures.”
Jeffrey Sconce: “In a stunning upset, the Alliance’s film critics no longer consider Trauma Ride on Energized Obliques (2164) to be the greatest film of all time. In the just released Sight & Sound poll for 2212, long-time second-place finisher, Morbot’s Folly (2091), has at last caught and surpassed Trauma Ride for top honors…. ‘Many of the alliance’s younger critics had grown weary of Trauma Ride winning decade after decade,’ observes Dandelos 5c21, film critic for New Canada’s Manhattan Chronicle. ‘The ascendancy of Morbot’s Folly is a welcome victory for the Regressivists over the aesthetic tyranny of the Velociter-7.’”
Moving Image Source reposts B. Kite and Alexander Points-Zollo‘s video essay, “Vertigo Variations.”
Ultra Culture pairs each of the top ten with a 1-star review found on the IMDb. From one of them: “Don’t be a darling of the critics—the critics to be honest don’t know crap.”
The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody parses the top 50: “Among the biggest shocks are the near-disappearance of Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, tied for 50th place), the absence of any film by Howard Hawks or D.W. Griffith, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or John Cassavetes, Jerry Lewis or Nicholas Ray, and the near-vanishing of Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, tied for 50th). Meanwhile, recent decades can’t gain traction—the newest film in the top ten is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, from 1968; in the top 20, Apocalypse Now, from 1979; the most recent film overall, Mulholland Dr., by David Lynch, from 2001, at 28. There’s something about the top-ten list that invites a whiff of the sanctimonious, and I’m not immune from it myself. I posted my submission here shortly after sending it in, and, as is clear, I am, in some small measure, also to blame for some of the list’s faults (such as: no Hawks, no Mizoguchi, no Griffith, nothing newer than King Lear, from 1987).”
For reference’s sake, let’s take another look at that top 50, starting at #11:
12. L’Atalante (Vigo, 1934).
13. Breathless (Godard, 1960).
14. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979).
15. Late Spring (Ozu, 1949).
16. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 1966).
17= Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954).
17= Persona (Bergman, 1966).
19. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974).
20. Singin’ in the Rain (Donen & Kelly, 1951).
21= L’avventura (Antonioni, 1960).
21= Le Mépris (Godard, 1963).
21= The Godfather (Coppola, 1972).
24= Ordet (Dreyer, 1955).
24= In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000).
26= Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950).
26= Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966).
28. Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001).
29= Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979).
29= Shoah (Lanzmann, 1985).
31= The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974).
31= Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976).
33. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948).
35= Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960).
35= Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman, 1975).
35= Sátántangó (Tarr, 1994).
39= The 400 Blows (Truffaut, 1959).
39= La dolce vita (Fellini, 1960).
41. Journey to Italy (Rossellini, 1954).
42= Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955).
42= Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 1959).
42= Gertrud (Dreyer, 1964).
42= Pierrot le fou (Godard, 1965).
42= Play Time (Tati, 1967).
42= Close-Up (Kiarostami, 1990).
48= The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966).
48= Histoire(s) du cinéma (Godard, 1998).
50= City Lights (Chaplin, 1931).
50= Ugetsu monogatari (Mizoguchi, 1953).
50= La Jetée (Marker, 1962).
Updates, 8/3: Jonathan Rosenbaum has been voting in the Critics Poll since 1982, and today, he gives us all four ballots, including this year’s: “I didn’t allow myself to include any titles from my previous Sight & Sound lists.” Among his comments: “‘The results are full of experimental films,’ Nicole Brenez pointed out in Facebook, and went on to cite as examples La jetée, Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jeanne Dielman, The Man with a Movie Camera, Sátántangó, ‘and of course the best sequence of 2001 and Vertigo‘s and Persona‘s special effects sequences.’ Indeed, I’d like to think that the surprising triumph of Vertov’s masterpiece—the first documentary to make the top ten since Louisiana Story in 1952—can be credited in part to the superb historiography of Yuri Tsivian on the DVD, especially the resurrection of the original musical score, which made it closer in our perception to a circus event or a Chaplin comedy than to an abstract avant-garde experiment.”
All along, it’s been “obvious” to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy that “editor Nick James was determined to knock Citizen Kane from its throne.” Otherwise, “change on the list has otherwise been glacial, as seven of the top 10 titles remained the same from 2002…. Special mention should be made, I believe, of the remarkable durability of a perennial also-ran, Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. This French masterpiece ranked 10th on Sight & Sound‘s very first list, in 1952, and has remained on board ever since, jumping to No. 3 in 1962 and holding the runner-up position behind Kane for the three subsequent decades before inching down to third place in 2002 and fourth in the new poll.”
Dan Sallitt, writing for Slate in 2002, found that “the new Top 10 is longer on familiarity than surprise.” One “convincing explanation for the aging of the canon is simply that film criticism has become institutionalized over the course of the last three decades. Film academia has been entrenched in colleges since the ’70s and ’80s; movie history now hangs over the heads of cinephiles with something of the force of the other arts’ intimidating ancestry. Perhaps film appreciation is moving out of its early period, with the inevitable side effect that the canon has become a wee bit stodgy.”
“But that argument is wrong,” replies the AV Club‘s Scott Tobias, “for two seemingly contradictory reasons: The list should be stodgy, and the list isn’t stodgy in the least. The Sight & Sound Critics Poll isn’t just a poll, it’s the poll. Citizen Kane has been called the greatest film ever made because Sight & Sound said so, whether people knew the poll was being referenced or not. In other words, it is the closest equivalent cinema has to a literary canon…. Now here’s the second point: Many of the films on this list are fucking crazy. If you can imagine yourself going back in time and seeing any of these films for the first time, nearly all of them are mini-revolutions, breaking so firmly with what people expected cinema to be that they were often misunderstood or hated.”
Tim Grierson offers a “Very Obsessive Guide” to the results. Among the points he elaborates on: “Restored/re-released films polled well.” “Having only one masterpiece helps your Sight & Sound chances.” “The list is mostly inclusive… with a few exceptions.” “The directors’ list is pretty fun.”
The New Statesman‘s Ryan Gilbey presents his ballot: “The challenge in compiling such a list rests on the division between ‘great’ and ‘favorite,’ and I tried to bridge that chasm in my choices. Groundhog Day is a good example—the artist and director Gillian Wearing, who also put that film in her top 10, describes it as ‘the perfect mix of mainstream and arthouse cinema.’ (By the by, I love what the lists reveal about individual filmmakers: Wearing’s choice of Groundhog Day alongside other lingering mysteries like L’avventura, Last Year in Marienbad and The Exterminating Angel clearly marks her out as someone resistant to the definitive.) So Groundhog Day was an easy choice and a right one: it’s highly enjoyable (hence ‘favorite’) but also intellectually and philosophically challenging, with a storytelling format that could only exist in cinema (hence ‘great’).”
For Tom Shone, “the whole thing strikes me as a list coming from an airless parallel universe populated only by critics (Man With the Movie Camera?) but bearing zero resemblance to the fond, messy space with badly-put-up bookshelves, To Do Lists and ironing occupied by everyone else. No musicals, no comedies, no Chaplin, no Wilder, no Truffaut, no Lynch, no Spielberg, no Malick, nothing besides crummy Kubrick from the last half century of film, for crying out loud…. doh! I can’t believe I did this. I engaged. When silent scorn was almost mine.”
Ahead of S&S‘s posting them itself, the Playlist posts top tens from directors Woody Allen, Bong Joon-ho, Francis Ford Coppola, the Dardennes, Guillermo Del Toro, Sean Durkin, Asghar Farhadi, Mike Leigh, Michael Mann, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Béla Tarr, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and more.
Updates, 8/4: Richard Brody‘s got a few more thoughts: “With apologies to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the movies on the top 50 are, for the most part, cooked, not raw…. The prominence of films by of Stanley Kubrick (2001 at number six), Francis Ford Coppola and Andrei Tarkovsky (three each), and Akira Kurosawa (two); the relative absence of Italian neo-realism (Bicycle Thieves at 33, Voyage to Italy—if that counts—at 41); and, in general, the lack of movies where the strings seem looser (e.g. John Cassavetes, Elaine May) indicates that directorial control freaks have a higher standing among the voters than those whose movies reflect heads-up curiosity, spontaneity, and responsiveness to unexpected discovery.”
Chris Stults introduces three lists from curators at the Wexner Center for the Arts: his own, Dave Filipi’s and Bill Horrigan’s.
“Such is the power of the ‘greatest of all time’ list,” writes Dana Stevens: “In order to engage with it in any mode other than dismissal, you must implicitly accept the notion of its validity. It’s that feedback loop of respectability that brings out my… inner punk rocker, juvenilely anti-authoritarian as she may be.” Also in Slate, Aisha Harris offers three theories as to why Vertigo “dethroned” Kane.
“Greatness has no hierarchy,” argues Ronald Bergan. “It is as if one were to ask who is the greatest composer among Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or Wagner; or to put Giotto, Rembrandt, Goya or Picasso in order of quality.” What’s more, he proposes that “if one were to assess the greatest works in each art in categories like at Crufts, then bring the winner of each category together for the Best in Show, then I’m afraid Vertigo, whatever its many virtues, wouldn’t stand a chance against, say, Don Giovanni, The Divine Comedy, Ulysses, Hamlet or the Ninth Symphony. That may sound like a film critic complaining that The Night Watch wasn’t any good because it didn’t move, or an opera critic attacking ballet dancers for not singing—but is there really a film that can match any of the genuine masterpieces in the other arts?”
Also at the Arts Desk, Emma Simmonds: “Vertigo is one of the films most cited as evidence of Hitchcock’s misogyny, yet it unmasks the detrimental dominance of the male gaze. Though we spend much of the film aligned to the male protagonist Scottie, frequently sharing his point-of-view, 94 minutes into its two-hour plus duration the tormented Judy looks beseechingly to us, throwing herself on our mercy with a confession and, sensationally, our allegiance shifts from the male to female lead. We may start the film following in the footsteps of the mighty Stewart but in the end our heart belongs to the magnificent Novak.”
Updates, 8/5: The Observer‘s Philip French outlines a brief but essential history of Sight & Sound and its poll—seriously, a recommended read. Then: “I first voted in 1972 when I was in my late 30s. My 10 films included Citizen Kane, La Règle du jeu and Battleship Potemkin, which all made the top 10 list that year, unlike my other choices, which were Buster Keaton’s The General, Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano, Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Ford’s Stagecoach, Kelly and Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain and Bergman’s Winter Light. This year (which even an apprentice actuary would tell you is likely to be my last) I decided to make a defiantly different choice of current favorites. They are (in alphabetical order) Au Revoir les enfants, La Grande illusion, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Leopard, Meet Me in St. Louis, Pather Panchali, Seven Samurai, Stagecoach, Vertigo, Wild Strawberries. Only Stagecoach was on my 1972 list, and only Vertigo also appears in the latest top 10. On reflection, I find it much easier to list my 100 favorite westerns or 10 best films featuring dogs than to pick the 10 all-time best pictures.”
S&S now has a page for the directors’ top ten with a sample comment for each film (e.g., Gaspar Noé on 2001, Alexei Popogrebsky on Mirror, etc.).
Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais of One+One Filmmakers Journal respond to the polls with a top ten of their own, “not necessarily a list of the best films ever made, maybe not even a list of our favorite films but a list of the first 10 films that came to mind that have excited and inspired us.” Making that list are George Kuchar, Jeff Keen, Shuji Terayama… you get the idea.
Update, 8/6: Tom Shone again: “Like James Wolcott, I was pleased with Tarantino’s list, in particular His Girl Friday, Jaws, and Dazed & Confused—a wonderful meeting of equals. But [Michael] Mann really excelled himself with this mixture of technological mould-breakers, old and new…. Mann’s choices leave his own films looking and feeling great. Thief gets a soul-to-soul transplant from The Passion of Joan of Arc. Heat‘s set pieces have Potemkin‘s dazzle. Maybe it’s because of all of them—Allen, Coppola, Scorsese—Mann is the closest to his filmmaking prime: he’s still in the market for genuine inspiration.”
Updates, 8/9: “While one domain of film culture is engaged in energetic conversation around this poll, another remains more or less silent. I refer to the film studies discipline.” Girish Shambu outlines a few possible reasons for academics’ shying away from canons over the past several years and asks, “Is there value in a film studies canon building effort?” He also recommends dipping into a poll that Screening the Past conducted five years ago, the scope of which “included not just films but also the discourse surrounding films: books, essays, websites, DVD supplemental material, etc. It makes for fascinating reading.” And to top it all off, he posts his own S&S ballot.
“The first S&S poll, everyone will tell you, was held in 1952,” writes Henry K. Miller for the magazine. “Everyone is quite right, but the exercise was not entirely without precedent. The magazine first canvassed contributors and readers on the question of the ‘Ten Classics’ ten years earlier, at the height of the Second World War. And while the results were not tabulated, nor, so far as one can tell, widely discussed, Hitchcock did not do too badly at all.”
At In Contention, Guy Lodge talks us through the process he went through writing up his ballot (“From there on, my gut took over”); and the Film/Video staff at the Walker Art Center posts a selection of top tens.
“Canonical number ones must be more than the best. Their responsibility to the culture is greater than that. They need to, after withstanding merciless skepticism, have enough remaining heft to stay proud and standing.” At NPR, Tomas Hachard wonders if Vertigo‘s up to it. Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman is afraid it can’t.
Noting that 25 “Criterion titles” have made the top 50, Current launches a series, beginning with Tokyo Story.
Update, 8/10: “After struggling with a ten best list for quite a while, I have decided that for me it is an impossible task.” Peter Bogdanovich explains in a piece he’s submitted to the magazine.
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