RSS
Is Vertigo the greatest film of all time?
Rosebud, Schmosebud. In a respected once-a-decade ranking of history's best films, Hitchcock's classic knocks Citizen Kane from the top spot it held for 50 years
 
Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller, Vertigo, concerns a retired police detective who falls in love with a "woman who may be a ghost, or possessed by a ghost, or pretending to be a ghost, or...brain...melting...down," says Christian Blauvelt at Entertainment Weekly.
Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller, Vertigo, concerns a retired police detective who falls in love with a "woman who may be a ghost, or possessed by a ghost, or pretending to be a ghost, or...brain...melting...down," says Christian Blauvelt at Entertainment Weekly. AP Photo/Paramount Pictures

Vertigo has just ascended a great height. British film magazine Sight & Sound, which surveyed nearly 1,000 prestigious critics, academics, and film-industry insiders to create its once-a-decade list of history's 50 best movies, just named Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo No. 1 — knocking Orson Welles' Citizen Kane out of the top spot it's held since 1962. Despite getting dismissive reviews upon its 1958 release, "Hitchcock's spiraling dream-narrative of obsessive love," in which Jimmy Stewart plays a retired detective with a fear of heights and a thing for gloomy blondes, has crept up the list over the years. But is Vertigo really a better movie than Citizen Kane?

Yes. Vertigo resonates with the millennial mindset: What's not to love about "the Master of Suspense's otherworldly Mobius-strip reverie on love, loss, and obsession," asks Christian Blauvelt at Entertainment Weekly. "Dreamlike and densely coded, with just the right mixture of romanticism and alienation for a 21st century audience, Hitchcock's film is the perfect choice for the Internet Age."
"Citizen Kane no longer tops 'Sight & Sound' poll of the greatest films ever made: What now ranks as No. 1?" 

No. Citizen Kane is better: Orson Welles' visionary epic Citizen Kane — which tracks the rise and fall of a flawed publishing tycoon modeled on William Randolph Hearst — "was the kind of revolutionary moment in art that happens once in a generation," says Ray DeRousse at WhatCulture. Welles' creation is "the equivalent of...Darwin uncovering natural selection, or the Beatles stumbling onto multi-track recording." Meanwhile, "I'm not even sure Vertigo is the best film of Alfred Hitchcock's career, let alone of all time." 
"Vertigo beats Citizen Kane as BFI's best film ever"

Hitchcock's film is benefitting from a Kane backlash: For 50 years, "venerable, venerated Citizen Kane has topped every list like a Third World President for Life," says Richard Rushfield at The Daily Beast. "Its greatness has been unquestionable by any but the most suicidal subversives." But in today's Twitter-fueled "Backlash Era," the new norm is "furious negative reaction to anything seemingly hyped or imposed." Vertigo is a great film — "quirky, subversive, surreal, and outlandish." But it's mostly benefiting from the fact that Kane has become too obligatory.
"Citizen Kane v. Vertigo: Why Kane fell in the Sight & Sound poll"

It's all subjective: There are no bad decisions here, says Damon Houx at ScreenCrave. All of the films on Sight & Sound's list are "worth seeing and appreciating." And remember, it's not as if voters conspired to push Vertigo over the top. There are too many people involved in the voting — 846 this year compared to 145 in 2002 — "to consider this a conscious decision." I, for example, "would have ranked Rules of the Game higher, but that's just me." Let's take this whole list with a grain of salt.
"Vertigo dethrones Citizen Kane in Sight & Sound's latest poll"

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week