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Hitchcock’s Vertigo trumps Citizen Kane in British list of top films

The 1958 suspense thriller about a retired police officer with a fear of heights topples Orson Welles’ classic in BFI’s list.

James Stewart and Kim Novak kiss in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'.
James Stewart and Kim Novak kiss in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'.
Image: IMDB

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S 1958 film ‘Vertigo’ has climbed to the top of the British Film Institute’s poll of the greatest films ever made, dislodging ‘Citizen Kane’ for the first time in 50 years.

Some 846 experts were polled for the BFI Sight and Sound magazine’s decadal list, and selected the suspense thriller about a retired police officer with a fear of heights, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, by 34 votes.

Orson Welles’ 1941 ‘Citizen Kane’ topped the list on the last five occasions but the gap was only five votes during the last poll taken 10 years ago.

‘Vertigo’ explores Hitchcock’s recurring theme of love’s destructive effect and follows a twisting storyline around the skyline of San Francisco.

It is well-known for the director’s use of a disorientating simultaneous zoom-in and pull-back of the camera to represent the vertigo suffered by Stewart’s lead character, Scotty Ferguson.

The film received mixed reviews on release, similar to the film which it replaced at the top.

Sight and Sound editor Nick James told the BBC that the change at the top of the pile reflected “changes in the culture of film criticism”.

He argued that while in previous times critics were quicker to praise films that strove to be great art, they were now keener to opt for films which had personal meaning to them.

Other films to score in the top ten include ‘Tokyo Story’ (1953), Stanley Kubrick’s ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1927) and Fellini’s ’8½’ (1963).

‘Tokyo Story’ topped the list as chosen by directors, with ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Citizen Kane’ tying for second place, ahead of ’8½’, Martin Scorcese’s 1976 work ‘Taxi Driver’ and Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ from 1979.

Sight and Sound’s regular polls are considered among the most authoritative in the world, given the expertise of the critics the magazine polls. 846 distributors, academics, critics and writers were surveyed for the 2012 poll.

The full results will be published in Sight and Sound’s September issue.

- © AFP, 2012; additional reporting by Gavan Reilly

Do you agree – or is your ‘best ever’ film missing from the list? Let us know in the comments.

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Gavan Reilly

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