Since the year 1952, the prestigious film magazine Sight and Sound—a publication of the London-based British Film Institute has conducted a poll for the ten greatest films of all time every decade. This year, the magazine polled 846 movie experts for the 2012 poll, the seventh in the series.
From 1952 to 2002, the greatest film voted by the critics was Citizen Kane. In this year’s poll, Vertigo emerged as the greatest film of all time, according to the film experts polled which included critics, academics, distributors, writers and programmers who considered 2,045 films overall.
A separate poll conducted among 358 film directors all over the world—including Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh—however, voted Tokyo Story as the greatest film of all time.
The two groups followed similar criteria: a) a film’s importance to film history; b) how the film represented the aesthetic pinnacle of achievement; and c) the film’s personal impact on its own view of cinema.
In a nutshell, hereunder are the two listings of the greatest films of all time:
Critics’ 10 Greatest Films
1. Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
2. Citizen Kane by Orson Welles (1941)
3. Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
4. The Rules of the Game by Jean Renoir (1939)
5. Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans by F. W. Murnau (1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kurbrick (1968)
7. The Searchers by John Ford (1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov (1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1927)
10. 8 ½ by Federico Fellini (1963)
Directors’ 10 Greatest Films
1. Tokyo Story
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
3. Citizen Kane
4. 8 ½
5. Taxi Driver by Martin Scorcese (1976)
6. Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
7. The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
9. Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky (1975)
10. The Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio de Sica (1948)
Let us go through the list film by film and read how some prominent critics describe each film as compiled in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as edited by Steven Jay Schneider.
Scripted by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor based on d’entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac and starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara del Geddes (Paramount/Universal).
Novelist Kim Newman writes about Vertigo: “Like several other Hitchcock greats (Rear Window, North by Northwest and Psycho), Vertigo has been endlessly imitated, homaged and reworked. Movies like Brian de Palma’s Obsession are feature-length footnotes to the original. Technical tricks—the simultaneous zoom-in and track-back used to convey Stewart’s vertigo—have been added to the repertoire (Steven Spielberg used it in Jaws). Clips from the film have even been used to add mood to other movies (such as Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys). In all, Vertigo Is a gorgeous, disturbing, icily romantic film, with steel gray Technicolor images, evocative moments of close-up surrealism, and an insistent, probing Bernard Herrmann score.”
2. CITIZEN KANE
Scripted by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead and Dorothy Comingore (RKO Radio Pictures/Paramount (1991 re-release)/Warner Bros.).
University of Wales film and television lecturer Mikel J. Koven writes about Citizen Kane: “The legend of Citizen Kane has partly been fueled by the fact that Welles was only 24 when he made the film, but also from the obvious comparisons between the titular character and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who moved heaven and earth to stop the picture from being made…
The film’s narrative complexity, without ever violating Classical Hollywood narrative continuity and causality, is a remarkable tour de force, responsible in large part for critic Pauline Kael’s accusation that the film’s true genius lay not in the hands of wunderkind Welles, but in those of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz.
The film’s real power, though, lies in its cinematography: Greg Toland seveloped a technique for deep-focus photography, wherein the extreme foreground, central middle-ground, and background were all in focus at the same time, allowing the eye to focus on any part of the image.”
3. TOKYO STORY
Scripted by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu and starring Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama and Setsuko Hara.
Geoff Andrew, a senior film editor of Time Out London, writes about Tokyo Story: “Here, all that happens is that the old folks leave their youngest daughter at home in the provinces to visit their other children in Tokyo; they’ve never been to the capital, but make the effort in the knowledge that time is running short. But the kids have their own families now, and shunt their parents around, barely disguising their need to get on with their busy lives in postwar Japan. Only their daughter-in-law, who lost her husband in the war, seems to have enough time for them…
All this is observed, as was Ozu’s custom, with a static camera placed a couple of feet off the ground; there is only one shot in the film that moves—and even then it tracks with inconspicuous slowness, albeit at the very moment when folks decide to go home. So how does Ozu hold our attention, when what we see or hear is so uninflected by what most viewers consider dramatic or unusual? It all comes down to the contemplative quality of his gaze, implying that any human activity, however “unimportant”, is worthy of our attention. In contrast to his own particular (and particularly illuminating) cinematic style, his characters’ experiences, emotions, and thoughts are as “universal” as anything in the movies—a paradox that has rightly enshrined this film’s reputation as one of the greatest ever made.”
(To be continued)
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