Sight & Sound magazine revealed the newest iteration of its greatest films list this week, and the much-awaited (by a very particular subset of people) announcement came with actual news (insofar as such things are really news): “Vertigo” has wrested the top spot from “Citizen Kane,” ending the latter film’s five-decade run in the top spot.
This year’s poll was meant to be different, with the magazine opening up the voting to a much larger pool of critics, writers, distributors and others. The list only comes out once every 10 years, giving it an added heft and seriousness lacking in the ubiquitous, forgettable end-of-the-year lists. They received 846 top 10 lists, up significantly from the 145 lists submitted for 2002′s list; you can read more about the methodology here.
These changes were, ideally, going to shake things up on the list. New voices! Fresh blood! Maybe some movies released after 1985? Instead, there was one major change (“Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” swapping spots at the top) and several relatively minor ones. Three movies were booted from the top 10: “The Godfather, Part I and II,” which came in at No. 4 in 2002, was finally viewed as two movies for this list (landing at Nos. 21 and 31, respectively); “Singin’ in the Rain” (No. 10 a decade ago, fell to No. 20); and “Battleship Potempkin” (sliding from No. 7 to No. 11). They were replaced by “The Searchers,” “Man With a Movie Camera” and “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”
(The director’s list, which has been separate since 1992, had “Taxi Driver,” “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” in the top 10. That list is topped by “Tokyo Story.”)
The top 10 list remained overwhelmingly old, with just “2001: A Space Odyssey” coming out in the last 45 years (and if just one film is going to represent quote-unquote, heavy sigh, “modern cinema,” it really could only be “2001″ or “The Godfather”). Only two movies in the top 50 came out since 2000 (Wong Kar-Wai’s “In The Mood For Love” and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.”).
I know that lists exist to be argued with and they are in no way definitive, even though this is the closest thing cinema has to a definitive list. My main issue with it is that the people voting seem unwilling to acknowledge newer works that could nudge out the older ones; based on how they voted and how the final list shook out, it feels like a refusal to put films that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants that came out decades ago. I can understand that. I just don’t particularly like it.
We’re told, in the introduction, that “The Tree of Life” narrowly missed the top 100. So maybe in a decade it will appear on the list, perhaps alongside something by Paul Thomas Anderson. And maybe, five decades from now, it will edge its way into the top 10. Hopefully, it won’t be one of the very few films arguing that the medium did really exit (and thrive) in the 21st century.