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."
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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."
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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.
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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.
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