The votes are in and it’s official: Citizen Kane is no longer the greatest movie of all time. In the BFI’s esteemed Sight & Sound 2012 poll – it’s done every ten years – no fewer than 846 Filmy Types (FTs?) have decided that Hitchcock’s Vertigo now takes the number one spot, with Kane falling to number two.
So what does this mean and why should we care? Well, the list takes a pretty academic approach to filmmaking, suggesting that the Sight & Sound contributors don’t exactly have a flair for creativity. Readers may be disappointed to learn that neither dinosaurs, nor vigilante crime-fighters, nor Robert Downey Jr make appearances in the top ten; although an evil talking computer called HAL does crop up, albeit in a supporting role.
Should we care? Well, the cop-out answer is probably both yes and no. Movies like Tokyo Story and The Searchers advanced the art of filmmaking and helped us explore the way we are. Elsewhere on the list, Man with a Movie Camera (1929) is described by the Guardian’s Nick Bradshaw as “the Constructivist Soviet silent of choice”, so clearly the Sight & Sound FTs don’t have quite the same viewing priorities as your average multiplex audience.
While of course it’s a good thing to be made aware of what the academics think we should be watching, the scholarly and somewhat predictable approach to Sight & Sound’s poll inevitably undervalues the reason a lot of us go to the cinema in the first place; a sense of fun, with a reflection of the world in which we live being an added bonus. In the 2012 list only a handful of the top 50 were made after 1970, suggesting a collective frown from academia at the modern era of filmmaking.
Perhaps there’ll be change afoot when it comes to the 2022 list. Some of the FTs have admitted in the past to making bland decisions, but all they need is a little courage to shake things up a bit. Filmy Type will be sitting at her desk late at night – Jerry Maguire style – and hammering out a group email after a revelatory night of DVD movie-watching reminds her that quality cinema didn’t end in the late 60s.
“Dear Fellow Filmy Types: I’ve been reminded that cinema didn’t die a death when the 70s dawned and that greatness comes in many forms. It’s time for change. No-one will ever lose respect for the established greats, but giving the occasional concession to populism is no bad thing either. I’m not saying we have to recognise the combined works of Michael Bay, but movies are often popular for a reason.
“Aliens, dinosaurs and bullet-time photography should maybe get more recognition. I found myself in floods of tears when the little pudgy alien in ET died and then I was punching the air and hugging my housemate when he came back to life and said ‘I’ll be right here’.
“I also had a heightened emotional response – lots of jumping around – when Neo and his PVC-clad girlfriend stormed the lobby of an evil Government base in super-slow-motion in The Matrix. Ok, so the arts of performance and subtle social commentary in these movies may lack the gravitas of Fellini and Eisenstein, and maybe The Matrix is a bit of a stretch for Best Movie, but they make up for what they lack with bucket-loads of awesomeness. And the world could always use a little more awesome.
“As critics over-analysis can be our weakness. Studying Vertigo on a frame-by-frame basis may amplify its greatness. But consider: While fibreglass sharks, conversations about royales with cheese, Choosing Life over heroin addiction in mid-90s Edinburgh and time-travelling sports cars may not stand up to the same scrutiny, millions love them and so maybe the question should be: Why don’t we?
“At the moment Joe Cinema Goer might think of Sight & Sound’s FTs as being a bit stuffy, a little stodgy and eternally stuck in the past. We risk being seen as the cigar-smoking and rather dull tycoons enjoying a quiet whisky in Titanic while Jack and Rose party with the multiplex crowd below decks. I say we lighten up a bit and try not to take everything so seriously. Maybe open it up even more and have Best Kiss and Best Fight categories…? Love, Fellow Film Type.”
As the Filmy Type presses ‘Send’ she has a moment of panic. Jerry Maguire-inspired epiphanies often end in disaster, of course, but then she relaxes: do it for the aliens, do it for the dinosaurs and do it for the overlooked costumed vigilantes!