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According to Sight & Sound, “Vertigo” has Dethroned “Citizen Kane”

August 6, 2012

By John C.

Every decade since 1952, British Film Institute magazine Sight & Sound has compiled a list of what selected critics from around the world consider to be the ten best and most influential films of all time.  Since 1962, Citizen Kane has always comfortably sat in the top spot.  But the Orson Welles masterpiece was finally dethroned last week when Alfred Hitchcock’s equally great Vertigo, which has appeared on the list since 1982, snuck into first place.  Please read the full top ten list along with forty runner ups here.

Released in 1941, Citizen Kane is rightfully considered to be one of the best movies ever made, and few critics would disagree about granting it that status.  Orson Welles was only in his twenties when he made the film, forever changing the landscape of cinema with a singular achievement that was immediately recognizable in both its style and tone.  This was the work of a young director who already knew exactly what he was doing when granted the power to bring his vision to the screen, crafting a masterpiece of screenwriting that delves deep into the journalistic obsession of uncovering the meaning of a dying man’s famous last word.

I would easily list Alfred Hitchcock among my favourite directors and count his films as some of the most influential to me as both a writer and film critic.  Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, his intricately plotted 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo is a film that people have spent days studying scene by scene.  There is so much above and below the surface of what is on screen that it demands more than one viewing.  Although some audiences might list equally great films like North by Northwest and Psycho as their personal favourites of Alfred Hitchcock’s numerous classics, Vertigo is a monumentally influential achievement, both for his career and the world of filmmaking in general.  Just like Citizen Kane, it is a masterpiece.

I sympathize with the gruelling process that the 846 critics who were invited to have their opinions counted would have gone through to put together their personal ballots, because a mere ten spots simply aren’t enough to properly rank some of the best movies ever made.  Questions of whether films should be ranked for the influence they had on filmmaking in general or if technically perfect personal favourites should be allowed to slip through would and should have been brought up.  These are the main reasons why I generally prefer to list my favourite movies of any given year in alphabetical order rather than numerical, because sometimes it is impossible to compare and rate one great movie over another.

Three of the films in the top ten are silent, which is the same number of selections that are in colour.  The most recent is Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey at number six, even through there have been countless great movies since then.  I do not question the importance of any film on the list, but I do question why any of them could be considered better than the others just because of where they do or don’t rank.  If you ask me, Citizen Kane and Vertigo should both be equally remembered as influential films that forever changed the landscape of cinema.  They are both so different and important in their own ways that it seems superfluous to try and argue which one is better than the other, but any list like this is meant to inspire people to talk about and watch important classics, and for that I commend Sight & Sound for putting together these ten films.

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