Big news in cineaste circles yesterday, as the British Film Institute's respected Sight & Sound issued its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, and for the first time in 50 years, #1 wasn't Citizen Kane:
Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" has been deposed as the top film of all time by Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" in the latest Sight and Sound poll, according to the British Film Institute. "Vertigo" beat the previous champion by 34 votes; a decade ago, when the poll was last conducted, "Kane" won by just five votes.
In the poll - which surveyed 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors - Hitchcock has risen steadily over 30 years, with "Vertigo" climbing from seventh place, to fourth in 1992, second in 2002 and now first.
Putting on my Serious Critic Hat for a moment, I'd argue that -- at a minimum -- Rear Window and Strangers on a Train are superior Hitchcock films. But of course, the real issue here is how clearly disengaged from reality the voters are. Consider this: Of the top 50 movies in the poll, not one was directed by George A. Romero. I mean, WTF, BFI?
Seriously, I may not have a vote in the Sight & Sound poll (gasp), but that won't stop me from putting my own list together. Are some of my choices obscure? Well, yes; but it's all in keeping with the spirit of the poll, while staying true to journalistic forebears of mine like George Plimpton, Stephen Glass and Jonah Lehrer. More importantly, don't let the fact you may not have heard of any of these distract you from the fundamental veracity of my choices.
1920s - Die Pelzigen Kühlschrank (1929) This relatively unknown, yet no less classic, example of Weimar German cinema is one of Georg Wilhelm Pabst's many collaborations with American actress Louise Brooks and a thinly veiled cautionary tale about the evils of unchecked militarism and laudanum addiction. Look for a young Albert Speer in the role of "Kellner #2."
1930s - The Metropolitan (1931) Charlie Chaplin followed up his venerated City Lights with this rarely seen story of a bellhop (The Tramp) enamored with a chambermaid (Clara Bow in her last role). Often overlooked in Chaplin's overall body of work, his brief pre-Hays Code enforcement buttocks baring in the "broom closet scene" is regarded as a watershed moment in cinema nudity.
1940s - All That Love Has Lost (1946) Nicholas Ray and Humphrey Bogart's first collaboration is often passed over in light of the film's convoluted plot (something to do with the plans for a supersonic jet engine) and the latter's popularity. Fun fact: any given top 10 list of movies from the '40s will likely consist of at least five that starred Bogey.
1950s - Erabutsu Akaoni Hikigaeruka (1953) Kurajimoro Nakamikado's classic nuclear allegory/Kaiju masterpiece seemed more prescient during the waning years of the Cold War, but retains a vital poignance in these uncertain times.
1960s - Шляпы, шапки Мы получили (1965) Just about every Andrey Tarkovsky film merits inclusion on an all-time greats list, but none more so than this moving tale of itinerant haberdashers finding life's meaning amidst the follies of the Crimean War.
1970s - Rue de l'Abbé-de-l'Épée (1970) Jean-Luc Godard was perhaps never more accomplished than in his film about the minor avenue running through Paris's 5th Arrondissement, though its incongruous nature belies the sinister monthly goings-on among the street's various denizens. RdlAdlE is considered the only French New Wave werewolf movie.
1980s - Heaven's Seventeen (1984) Director Michael Cimino rightfully caught a lot of hell for his 1980's terrible Heaven's Gate. How surprising was it then when his follow-up about a British synth-pop band taking up arms against the National Front earned him his first BAFTA nomination? Answer: very.
1990s - Quentin Tarantino's Wuthering Heights (1990) Pre-Pulp Fiction, there were many who doubted the young director's chops at their peril (that scene where Heathcliff kills Mr. Lockwood with a tomahawk is as harrowing today as it was during the Clinton Adminstration.)
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2000s - none Let's be honest, no great movies were released in the '00s.
2010s - Something to Break (2010) Well, the decade is young yet, but smart money for future Sight & Sound accolades is on Kim Sung-Jin's slice of life stories about love and loss amidst the horrors of the 1999 Woodstock Festival.