You’ll be aware that Sight & Sound magazine, a journal I do not hesitate to call “august”, polls critics, curators, academics and filmmakers every ten years to reach a learned consensus on the Greatest Films of All Time. And if you’re aware of that, you’ll also know that Citizen Kane was finally unseated in this year’s survey – the biggest ever, with 846 critics etc. polled – by Vertigo. The poll is designed to elicit debate and dialogue, so do not think it prescriptive. I personally like Kane, and appreciate its importance in the canon, but I rate Vertigo as my favourite Hitchcock, which is why I put it into my own Top 10.
I remain, I must admit, flattered and delighted to have been able to add my own voice to the 846 this decade, to have attained a foothold on the cliff face of critical consensus. I have been a Sight & Sound subscriber since the 90s who, up to now, has had his nose pressed up against the glass. So how did I manage to break through? What changed since 2002? Did the Film Editor of Radio Times suddenly become more critically legitimate? Nah. I’m candid enough to admit that I emailed the editor of the magazine and asked if I could contribute.
Hey, I’m not too proud to beg. Indeed, it is one of the basic home truths I always try to get across to students and anyone else who asks me for career advice: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We’ll call it pester power. (It’s been established elsewhere that I asked if I could “have a go” at being a proper radio DJ when 6 Music was in its embryonic development stage, and this audacious request eventually landed me a day job at the launch of the network.) I’ve only ever written one piece for S&S, a labour of love feature about Gene Hackman, in 2005, and can you guess how I came to be commissioned to do that? Yes, by asking. Naturally, Nick, the editor, could have politely declined, and I would never have held it against him or the magazine, but I caught him at the right moment, and I achieved a long-held ambition.
So, yes, I asked if I could be asked what my Top 10 films were, and I just squeezed in as the portcullis was coming down, at the last moment. As a result of the rush, I had little time to pore over my choices, but for the record, these are they. (In the rules of the game, each choice gets the same point, so in a way, the qualitative order is for vanity only.)
APOCALYPSE NOW (Coppola, 1979)
THE GODFATHER PART II (Coppola, 1979)
RED RIVER (Hawks, Rossen, 1948)
ORDET (Dreyer, 1955)
BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (Eisenstein, 1925)
VERTIGO (Hitchcock, 1958)
WINTER LIGHT (Bergman, 1972)
STARDUST MEMORIES (Allen, 1980)
RASHOMON (Kurosawa, 1950)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Lean, 1962)
You can peruse and search and cross-reference the final results of the final poll here. You can also compare the 2012 Top 10 with those of previous years: 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992 (the first year a Directors’ Poll was included), and 2002. You can even search for every critic and point at their choices. Imagine if actual democracy was this transparent!
I am excited to know that I am “Voter 811“.
The reason I bring all this up again is partly because I was too busy, it seems, to blog about it when the results came out, and when the full thing went online. But it’s also because the BFI in London are showing the top ten films right through September. It’s a great season, and tickets are only a fiver, so if you’re in what I call “town”, have a look at the season and the dates. I’m certainly tempted to get down to the South Bank, as – tell nobody! – there are a couple of silents on there that I’ve never actually seen.
Don’t feel that the S&S poll is all about intellectual oneupmanship. It isn’t. And nor is it only about silent films or Russian films or obscure films. There are plenty more recent films further down the list. Plus, it takes time for a new film to settle into “classic” status. And critics are obviously wary of anointing a picture too early in its life. Hey, 80 years down the line, it’s far easier to say that The Passion of Joan Of Arc is one of the greatest films ever made.
I’m all for extending the debate here, of course.