It’s been almost a year since Sight and Sound released their list of the greatest movies of all time. By now, I think there’s been enough space to give critics some breathing room to accurately assess the list (back then, the craze was “Citizen Kane is no longer the greatest movie of all time”). So now that most of the fuss has disappeared, let’s reexamine at Sight and Sound’s Top 50 movies.
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)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
11. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
12. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
13. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
14. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
15. Late Spring (Ozu Yasujiro, 1949)
16. Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
17. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa Akira, 1954)
17. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19. Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974)
19. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)
21. L’avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)
21. Le Mépris (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
21. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
24. Ordet (Carl Dreyer, 1955)
24. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)
26. Rashomon (Kurosawa Akira, 1950)
26. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
28. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
29. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
29. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
31. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
31. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
33. Bicycle Thieves (Vittoria De Sica, 1948)
34. The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1926)
35. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
35. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
35. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
35. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
39. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
39. La dolce vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
41. Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
42. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
42. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
42. Gertrud (Carl Dreyer, 1964)
42. Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
42. Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967)
42. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
48. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
48. Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1998)
50. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
50. Ugetsu monogatari (Mizoguchi Kenji, 1953)
50. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
Even if you just skimmed the list, you probably noticed a majority of these films were not made in the past few decades. Only two movies (Mulholland Drive and In The Mood For Love) are from the 21st century. In fact, the youngest movie of the top 10 of the list is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; that’s over forty years old.
Seeing this might make readers accuse Sight and Sound voters of stodginess, that they’re favoring past movies instead of the present. That would be making a sharp and incorrect decision. Just about everyone of these films on the list (I’m counting the ones I’ve seen) redefine or test the limits of cinema. The Searchers is a great American epic breaking out of the western genre. The Rules of the Game is a swift satire of French society. Tokyo Story completely disobeys the 180 degree rule. If anything, these movies are still as fresh as today as they were then and ahead even by contemporary standards.
The younger movies on the list have the same ambition and goals as the older ones. Take David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (a movie that would rank in my own top 5). It is in a sense a homage to multiple Hollywood movies (Sunset Boulevard and Vertigo being two of the primary examples) as well as twisting narrative story telling to a whole new extreme. It’s shocking, frightening, and thrilling. In about fifty years or so, I still suspect people will be talking about Mulholland Drive. Can we say the same for other movies like Titanic, which has faced a serious critical decline since its sweeps of the Oscars.
Of course I think there other great recent movies that could have gotten a spot in the top 50 (to name a few, A. I., No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Caché) and there are a couple of movies mentioned I don’t enjoy (I’ve never been overly enthusiastic on Battleship Potemkin), but I can’t deny the craftsmanship of the films listed.
Now let’s move on to the point I think many of you readers were waiting for: is Vertigo better than Citizen Kane? Before I begin, let me say I don’t agree that any single movie should be noted as the greatest film of all time for many different reasons. For starters, everyone has a favorite movie that they consider the greatest. But the major issue of a movie being crowned “the best film of all time” is that it hurts the picture’s reputation.
That’s what happened to Citizen Kane, which is a real shame. A majority of viewers argue that Citizen Kane is overrated because they have a different favorite movie, a completely unfair argument. Is it fair to dismiss Kane‘s incredible acting and groundbreaking direction simply because audiences didn’t like it being called the greatest film?
While some fans of Kane are crying injustice over the movie being displaced to second, I think it’s good for the film. Kane is certainly one of the greatest movies of all time (I won’t get into explanation since I have about nothing original to say about it), and certainly ranks in my top ten. Citizen Kane was called the greatest movie of all time because Sight and Sound said so and that has infuriated many moviegoers. It’s time for Kane to take a breather.
So even though I consider Kane to be a better movie than Vertigo, I think Vertigo is a worthy successor. I’m a bit surprised that Vertigo was listed as number one since Hitchcock has a diverse range of films (voters could have easily chosen Psycho or North by Northwest) while a majority of critics consider Kane to be Orson Welles’ masterpiece. Despite that Vertigo isn’t as definitive of the film form as Kane was, it’s just as groundbreaking and enthralling. The first time I saw Vertigo, I was frustrated with the movie’s abrupt conclusion, but today I think the picture is Hitchcock’s finest picture (with the other contender being Rear Window). It takes a typical Hitchcock formula and adds more suspense and mystery than any of the director’s other films. Vertigo is simply an unforgettable movie.
This is why I think Sight and Sound has made a wise decision. Like all other lists, Sight and Sound’s serves to give recommendations for movie viewers more than to say __________ was a much better movie than ________. But what do you think? Do you think Sight and Sound is elitist and that their decision to displace Kane with Vertigo incorrect?