Sight and Sound’s “Greatest Films” Poll

Kim Novak in “Vertigo”

Film Friday

Every 10 years, Sight and Sound magazine polls hundred of critics and film figures around the world—846 this past year—to determine the ten most popular films. It’s cinema’s most prestigious poll and it has been around since 1952, when the groundbreaking Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves topped the list. After that, in every poll except the one this year, Citizen Kane came in at #1.

Such lists are always subjective, of course—that’s why the list changes every ten years—but they make for great debates. They also spur movie fans everywhere to reveal their own loves and make their cases.

Hitchcock’s mysterious and self-revealing Vertigo has been steadily rising in recent polls, and this year it topped the list. Of more interest to me is that, for the first time, there are no films in the top ten by the man I consider cinema’s greatest director, Akira Kurosawa, although Rashomon and The Seven Samurai both make it into the top 50. However, another Japanese film that has been doing well for a while, Yasujiro Ozu’s extraordinarily subtle Tokyo Story, has risen to its highest point at #3. My own favorite film, Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, comes in at #4.

The recent upsurge of interest in silent cinema that we witnessed with Hugo and The Artist is reflected in the list with the inclusion of three silent films: Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise, and Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (a film so intense that it burnt out actress Jeanne Faconetti so that she never acted again). I’m not sure why Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is there instead of Dr. Strangelove. Two regulars, Fellini’s autobiographical 8 ½ and John Ford’s influential The Searchers, remain.

The occasion of the poll gives me plenty to write about, and in the up-coming months I’ll be devoting a post to each of the films, both those on the Sight and Sound list and on my own. I’ve provided links to posts I’ve already written.

Here are the top ten films of the 2012 poll:

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
Yasujiro Ozu, Tokyo Story
Jean Renoir, Rules of the Game
F. W. Murnau, Sunrise
Stanley Kubrick, 2001
John Ford, The Searchers
Dziga Vertov, Man with the Movie Camera
Carl Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc
Federico Fellini, 8 ½

And here’s my own list, listed in my order of preference. Please send me your own lists:

Jean Renoir, Rules of the Game
Victor Erice, Spirit of the Beehive
Jean Cocteau, Beauty and the Beast
Akiri Kurosawa, Seven Samurai
Marcel Carné, Children of Paradise
Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove 
Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday
Andrei Tarkovsky, Andrei Rublev
Federico Fellini, La Strada
Charlie Chaplin, City Lights

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  • farida

    I’ve only watched two of these movies…the first two: Citizen Kane and Vertigo and they didn’t move me the way I expected them to… maybe someday I’ll re-watch them..but I probably should get through some of the others first.

    Robin, I have a friend who watched Red Beard (her first Kurosawa movie) a few weeks ago, and she now wants to watch everything by him. She loved it.

    I don’t really have a list…or rather it’s from years ago and I haven’t re-watched any of them recently; so not sure how I would feel about them today..but some that have stayed with me:

    Tran Anh Hung, Scent of Green of Papaya (for the colors, the stillness…)
    Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter

  • I wonder if Kurasawa just has too many good films at this point. It takes a while for one film to emerge as a particular director’s “best” the way Vertigo has. Citizen Kane had an advantage in that Wells really only got to make one movie the way he really wanted to.

    While I agree that Vertigo is terrific, arguable Hitchock’s best work, it’s one of the sickest movies I’ve ever seen.

    One thing that has been pointed out is the absence of comedies from the list. While I loved The Passion of Joan of Arc, City Lights is just as good as was Sherlock Jr. for that matter.

  • Robin Bates

    You will notice that they are not on my list, Farida. I find CK a virtuoso young man’s movie–very loud–and I agree with CB that Vertigo is a brilliantly sick movie (as is Psycho, which made it into the top 50). The way that Jimmy Stewart makes Madeleine over into his fantasy woman is akin to the way that Hitchcock molded his actresses–and then punished them for being flesh and blood. In that way it is one of his most autobiographical movies.

    I almost put Kurosawa’s Ikiru on my list, about a man learning that he has less than a year to live. Kurosawa, like Shakespeare, somehow was able to make masterpieces in multiple genres, both Samurai action films and social realism. Few directors have pulled this off.

    CB, the list struck me as a little too earnest as well. In years past Singin’ in the Rain, The General, City Lights, and Dr. Strangelove have made it on to the list. I also agree with you about Sherlock, Jr, a film I regularly teach in my “History of American Film” course and which is one of the funniest movies I know.


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