VIDEO: The greatest movie of all time?

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The British magazine Sight & Sound released its 2012 Critics’ Top Ten Poll, and for the first time since 1962, Citizen Kane is not the greatest movie ever. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo now tops the list, but does it deserve that honor? And while we’re at it, did Citizen Kane deserve that honor in the first place? And is it really possible to call any movie the greatest movie of all time?

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  • kennzeichen1d

    Yep, recently saw “Vertigo” on TV and noticed
    in the first scene, where the policeman falls to his death
    and the hero hangs from the roof,
    we never see him getting down from there.
    The scene just ends with him hanging.
    Was he hanging there for half an hour till somebody came up to the roof and
    tossed him a rope?

  • Muthsarah

    The act of declaring a film “the greatest” isn’t silly or stupid or pointless, but it’s not something to be taken especially seriously either.  It’s a matter of taste, not fact.  You can have a tallest building, or a richest person, because we have objective means of measuring such things, so it’s relatively easily to come up with some sort of consensus.  Even then, though, it’s only worthwhile to those who find some personal worth in researching or measuring these matters, or in trying to create a new “greatest”.  But it’s also dry, as there’s little room for debate or argument; objectivity can be boring.  It’s a debate that can only go on so long and produce very little disagreement.  And disagreement can be good; it’s the essence of variety.

    Films are about expression, creativity, having fun making them and watching them.  No film can ever be objectively better than any other.  And for some, making lists of films, comparing them with others, and arguing over the merits and subjective worth is ALSO fun, even if there’s no real point to it other than the act of doing it.  It can also be a worthwhile exercise.  It can lead to re-examinations of things you think you’re already familiar with, taking a look at a piece of art by looking at it in direct comparison with another, which can help to look at it from a different angle than you have before, instead of just viewing the movie as an isolated work.  You don’t have to make lists to do this, but you have to have SOMETHING to build the comparison around.  Which movie has more appealing or striking visuals, which film has a better performance by the same actor, which movie tells the same basic story in a more compelling way?  If you make a Top Ten list and put one film at #2 and another at #9, then you’ve done something to compare the two films.  And your reasoning can be as unique as you are; you’re not taking a ruler to measure something, you’re using your own scale and choosing whatever dimensions you want.  Either way, the list is a tool.

    In short, the point of making lists shouldn’t be to HAVE a list, but to enjoy the act of making it, and perhaps learning and stretching your appreciation of art from it.  Who cares if you have a tool?  What matters is what you’re doing with it.

    I like the idea of some movie booting Citizen Kane out of the top spot.  Not because I think one film is better than the other (for the record, I enjoy Vertigo more, but I recognize Citizen Kane as being the more “important”), but because it now makes both movies more interesting.  Citizen Kane was the stock example of “classic movie”, which everyone has heard of, known far more for its reputation as “the greatest” than for anything artistic.  That makes it less of a movie and more of a concept.  Like Infinity: The Movie.  You can call something “The Citizen Kane of breakfast cereals” and anyone would know what you mean: the one that’s considered the greatest by a bunch of experts.

    Knocking the movie down a peg suggests that, maybe, it’s been re-examined and looked at by film buffs in some new way, that it’s not just automatically accepted as being the greatest because it’s Citizen Kane.  It sets up these two movies and their backers as “Team Orson” and “Team Alfred”, it might spur people who haven’t seen the movies to seek them out and see what all the hullabaloo is.  Then again, maybe S&S did this (consciously or not) JUST to shake things up and prompt a new round of re-examinations.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.  Citizen Kane has been accepted as the greatest by too many for too long, I think.  Nothing against the film, I don’t think it should be taken off the top just for being so popular, and I wouldn’t mind if it re-takes the spot soon, but I don’t think it’s a good thing for art to have the same consensus for too long.  It’s become stale, which is the last thing any good subjective debate should be.

  • Cristiona

    Huh.  Sound synch was off on this.

    I’m not sure I agree with your premise, though.  Some things are quantifiably better than other things.  Hell, that’s why we have reviewers.  Almost everyone has a favorite movie or a favorite song or a favorite book.  Simply having a favorite (or something you like more than something else) is ranking.  Perhaps “greatest movie of all time” is an overly broad category, but calling something the best comedy or the best drama hardly seems out of line.

    Of course, if we were to truly go with mass appeal, the greatest movie would either be Gone With The Wind or Avatar, as they have the highest box office grosses, which seems the most logical method for judging mass appeal.

    • Marozeph

      Considering how subjective humor is, i don’t think calling something the best comedy of all time makes much more sense either. Personally, i would put The Big Lebowski and The Life of Brian there, but there are lots of people who wouldn’t qualify either movie as very funny. And i can’t even say which movie is better, since both make me laugh for completely different reasons.

      • Cristiona

        Well, yes.  Personal taste mean anyone’s best -anything- is going to be different than another’s.  But it at least presents a baseline to argue from.  “Best movie” is vague, because you could mean most influential, most popular, best shot, best plot, best… anything the Oscars give an award for.  “Best comedy” on the other hand generally narrows it to “funniest”.

        We rank things all the time.  Hemming and hawing about it is just so much navel gazing.

    •  The argument is not that all films are on equal footing, but that the greatest of films cannot be ranked because there is no objective criteria by which to compare them.

      And I’d disagree with you regarding box office appeal being the same as mass appeal, but Star Wars still wins if you include all mediums. It is hands down and without question still the biggest franchise in history.

  • Necroglobule

    “Greatest Ever” lists are a funky chicken. Unless we’re talking about Muhammed Ali, taste is very subjective.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Good point regarding our collective obsession with making lists and ranking things.  I like Vertigo…but greatest of all time?  I just don’t see it.  I can see how one can argue Citizen Kane is by the reasons you mentioned but Vertigo is typical Hitchcock.  Of course “typical Hitchcock” is awesome, but why is Vertigo better than Psycho, for example?

  • Dennis_Fischer

    I think the basic idea of establishing a “greatest list” is simply establishing cultural touchstones–art that spoke to and about a culture. Obviously, there can be no definitive right answer, and answers may well change over time, especially as cultural expectations change.  (For example, I have difficulty convincing some of my students that any b&w film is worth their while).  Nevertheless, since none of us really have the time to see everything, I do think it is helpful to establish which films attracted a lot of praise and attention, were thought-provoking or highly entertaining, so we don’t let worthwhile cinematic experiences slip past our collective radars.

    I was amused that your visuals and soundtrack were just slightly out of sync, somewhat like your thinking.  Clever touch.

  • Yeah I agree. Based on the Kane criteria I always heard Star Wars would be number 2 on lists (though some might argue Jaws was the first summer blockbuster).
    Personally I think anyone’s greatest list ever should be taken with a grain of salt, especially critics polls which do seem to slide into groupthink. I mean, and especially with movies, I find I can imagine the films listed without even reading them. That can’t be true. Some critics must not rank The Godfather so highly-and I don’t mean professional ‘contrarion’ critics like Armond White just looking for controversy.
     I’m much more interested in someone’s favorite movie list.

  • Didi

    There is another objective criteria to measure one film against the other: financial success.

  • TheScottCSmith

    I’m going to be that guy on the Internet…I think it’s safe to say that “Jaws” ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster, and not “Star Wars.”