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For the First Time in 50 Years, There is a New Greatest Film of All Time

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 2, 2012 9:00PM

2012_08_02_Vertigo.jpg The terrible reign of Citizen Kane is officially over. Orson Welles' 1941 canonical juggernaut has lost its place atop the influential Sight and Sound poll of the Greatest Films of All Time after an impressive 50-year term. Wearing the crown now will be Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece, Vertigo. Long may it reign.

We say that not just because it was about time for a new champ, but because Vertigo's rise makes for a great story. The film was a critical flop that Hitchcock felt compelled enough to withdraw completely from circulation in 1973. Perhaps due to this unavailability, and definitely thanks to an ongoing critical re-appraisal of Hitchcock led by the French New Wave directors, Vertigo's star began to rise upon its re-release in 1983 and its restoration in the 1990s. By 1997, it was 61 on AFI's list of the best movies of all time and by revision of that list in 2008, it had climbed to 9. It's march up the Sight and Sound poll has been nearly as swift.

Half a century spent as shorthand for "the greatest movie ever made" ended up being a burden for Kane, with its reputation creating expectations for first time viewers that are nearly impossible to meet, and pumping the formaldehyde of meritoriousness into the veins once pulsing with bloody, vigorous fun. What started out as a delectable treat started to take on the dreaded nutritional density of the vegetable our parents are trying to get us to eat.

Any list of "the greatest" anything of all time is guaranteed to displease at least as many people as it satisfies, and movie lists are perhaps the most notoriously variable. The Sight and Sound survey of film critics (and directors, whose results are tabulated into a separate list) has been published every ten years since 1952, and its longevity gives it an outsized influence among cinephiles worldwide and ten years of debate.

That's not to say this list is going to conform to what the greatest number of people find entertaining. In fact, these movies have no shortage of haters. It certainly doesn't look much like what our own list would be. What the Sight and Sound poll captures, however frustratingly, is critical consensus over time.

In recent decades, the list has come under fire for its paucity of recent titles (the most recent title in the top 10 is 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968, and only a couple of films from the past ten years make the top ten. Whether this represents the inertia of sacred cows or the fact that votes for more recent titles just don't enjoy the same consensus (this year's survey included significantly more participants than ever before), we'll only know over the coming weeks as the BFI decided to slow their roll-out of the poll details over the course of August.

The complete list is available online, but here is the new top 10:

1. "Vertigo"
2. "Citizen Kane"
3. "Tokyo Story"
4. "The Rules of the Game"
5. "Sunrise"
6. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
7. "The Searchers"
8. "Man With a Movie Camera"
9. "The Passion of Joan of Arc"
10. "8 1/2"