It is no news at this point that the new “Sight & Sound”, BFI poll of the greatest films of all time was unleashed last week. You’ve got your Ten Best, your Fifty Best, the ten best lists of upwards in the 846 range of the film critics and film-makers who participated in the poll. It’s happened once a decade since 1952, and every poll since 1962 has had Citizen Kane at the top of the list. Fifty years. Well no longer. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo went to Number One and Orson Welles Citizen Kane dropped to Number Two in the 2012 poll. There has been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over not just this, but what else was on the List(s) and what else was NOT on the list, what directors had four films in the top fifty, and what directors had no titles at all in the top fifty. And what, what does all of this mean?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I am, of course, not the only person to have this idea; but that hasn’t stopped a lot of people writing about it. The internet forums, comment sections and the like are still buzzing around this honeycomb. I don’t know. Is Vertigo better than Citizen Kane? Should La Règle du jeu be the greatest? Where is Max Ophuls? He did not even make the Top Fifty. Is The Searchers just a John Wayne Western? (No. I can at least answer that one.)
It is not science. It’s a poll of 846 critics and film-makers. Each critic/director creates their list of ten films. The amount of times an individual film occurs on an individual list, is the amount of points that film has in the poll. What a critic places at number ten gets the same amount of points as what they may have at number one. All is equal in the positioning.
Here’s the top 10, with the title, director, year of release and number of votes:
1. Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (191 votes)
2. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, 1941 (157 votes)
3. Tokyo Story, Ozu Yasujiro, 1953 (107 votes)
4. La Règle du jeu / The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir, 1939 (100 votes)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, FW Murnau, 1927 (93 votes)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968 (90 votes)
7. The Searchers, John Ford, 1956 (78 votes)
8. Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929 (68 votes)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer, 1927 (65 votes)
10. 8½, Federico Fellini, 1963 (64 votes)
Well, at least I’ve heard of all of the Ten and have seen nine of them. I won’t tell you which one I haven’t seen; but it is coming up fairly soon in my Netflix queue. As for the next forty, there are more than a couple on the list that I haven’t watched and few I have never heard of. I don’t feel qualified to judge what are the GREATEST Films ever made. I can tell what I like and appreciate. Earlier, I decided to create a stream-of-consciousness 100 Favorite Films list. And I did. In pretty quick order, I put together an Excel spreadsheet list of 100 favorite films and arranged them in alphabetical order with the film’s director and date of release. But as soon as I had, I realized that 100 was too many and not enough. I had a several each of Hawks, Ford, Hitchcock and Lang and not one Robert Altman or David Lean. I had only one Scorcese, and I only had that one because I realized that at the end that I hadn’t picked one. So my hundredth pick was a Marty. The Hawks, Ford, Hitchcock, Lang films belonged there, but so did some Altman, and others too. One hundred was too limiting. Maybe a list of 500. So, instead I am going for a “Rather Arbitrary List of Ten Favorites/Greats.” This list is fluid and can change–depending on mood, temperature and what I’ve watched recently–only rule, one film per director.
Okay. There you have a list of ten. I am reasonably happy with it, except for what I could put on it. So here are an additional 15 to round it up to 25:
Well now, I feel a little better–except for what I left off. No Anthony Mann, no Scorcese, no Ophuls. no Eisenstein, no Huston, Wyler, Wellman, Truffaut, Tati, Lean, Lubitsch, Cukor, Minnelli, Coppola, Kubrick, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Lindsey Anderson, Boetticher, Capra, Arthur Penn, Curtiz–no Michael Curtiz. Oh well, as I stated earlier–all such lists are essentially meaningless.