Well, it's nice to know I'm right about something. My favourite film of all time, Vertigo, has been named the best movie of all time in the list of top 50 greatest films of all time in Sight and Sound magazine, pushing Citizen Kane to number two for the first time in fifty years.
Of course, it's really absurd to choose between these films, it's obviously a very subjective thing. Vertigo is my favourite film because of how it deals with issues of identity, self control, and obsession, and I can imagine people who aren't interested in these topics could justifiably pick another movie for all time favourite. Though I agree with Roger Ebert who said, in a blog entry about the new list, he tells people who say they don't see what's so great about Citizen Kane and Vertigo that they're "insufficiently evolved as a moviegoer." I admit this is what I usually think too when people tell me they don't think these two movies are really that impressive but I'd feel like a jerk if I actually said it. But maybe it really isn't so arrogant. Is it so crazy to say one might appreciate cinema better with a greater amount of education about and/or experience with the artform?
I know I didn't really appreciate Vertigo properly until after a few viewings. That's one of the things that's so great about it--the latter portion of the film kind of comments on the first portion and changes your perspective on it. As Ebert points out, when one considers that Judy is only pretending to be unconscious while Scottie removes her clothing, it changes everything about their relationship. It seems like such a personal film for Hitchcock in that its issues of voyeurism and control are things widely associated with him, but it's a curiously personal film for a viewer because it seems to tap so intimately into the way we watch movies and the reason movies resonate so much with us, drawing frightening, fascinating insights into what interests the viewer about a movie and why. Vertigo digests issues of sexism and sexual preoccupation with unparalleled elegance that wouldn't really be widely addressed for another thirty years.
Citizen Kane is a more immediate film. One doesn't have to watch it multiple times to get the impact of a man trapped in his own personality. It's easy to point to Citizen Kane, I think, because it has so many actually objective criteria for naming it best film--so many of the things done for the first time or close to the first time in the movie became standard aspects of cinematic language--using editing to swiftly tell a story, using creative compositions in dialogue sequences, overlapping dialogue. Citizen Kane may mark the moment when film became an artform distinct from filmed plays for the first time since the silent era.
The third film on the list, and the first in the director's list, is Ozu's Tokyo Story, which is an interesting contrast to the first two which are both about analysing the fundamental psychological dysfunction of humanity. Tokyo Story is more about mono no aware, the acknowledgement of the passing of things. It is maybe the best example of a post World War II Japanese film that conveys the inevitability of death and the inadequacy of life in this way. And post World War II Japanese films were uniquely great at this--Ozu, Naruse, and Mizoguchi, not so much Kurosawa. Confronting this horrible truth without making it ugly or overblown. It's the sort of awe inspiring grace of perspective that religion has often resisted kicking and screaming.
Well, not just religion but certainly Charles Foster Kane and Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo. These are men who are driven to panic by attaining the insight that life can not ever meet their needs.