Sight & Sound’s 50 greatest films of all time

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 03, 2012

Every decade since 1952, Sight & Sound has polled film professionals to determine the greatest films of all time. Citizen Kane is always the winner, except for the first year. This year, however, S&S expanded the number of contributors dramatically and included online critics as well resulting in Citizen Kane’s unseating. They’ve released the list of top 50 films now, and will release a top 100 in about a month.

About a year ago, the Sight & Sound team met to consider how we could best approach the poll this time. Given the dominance of electronic media, what became immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators than before. We were also keen to include among them many critics who had established their careers online rather than purely in print.

To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films.

I (Aaron) have seen 4 of the movies in the top 50 because I am, apparently, a Luddite philistine. Topping the list this year is Vertigo.

After half a century of monopolising the top spot, Citizen Kane was beginning to look smugly inviolable. Call it Schadenfreude, but let’s rejoice that this now conventional and ritualised symbol of ‘the greatest’ has finally been taken down a peg. The accession of Vertigo is hardly in the nature of a coup d’etat. Tying for 11th place in 1972, Hitchcock’s masterpiece steadily inched up the poll over the next three decades, and by 2002 was clearly the heir apparent. Still, even ardent Wellesians should feel gratified at the modest revolution - if only for the proof that film canons (and the versions of history they legitimate) are not completely fossilised.

There’s also a directors’ list of top 10 films. (via @chrissandoval)