Every ten years, the most respected and articulate of film magazines, Sight and Sound, runs a poll voted for by the directors and critics of our time for their ten favourite films.  This coalesces into a poll of fifty films and yesterday these were announced a long with a live tweet countdown of the apparent top ten greatest films of all time (at least for the next ten years).

This year marks a landmark year in the poll as, for the first time since 1962, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) has been knocked off the number one spot by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).  Much talk had gone on about the potential for Kane’s dethroning and Vertigo is a great choice to take its mantle as the BFI’s official greatest film of all time.

The poll is of course extremely interesting. Not that any film poll, from IMDB to this one, matters one jot in one’s personal enjoyment of a film but it seems this poll has thrown up some interesting surprises and is a great way to look at the changing trends in film and how technology is affecting the viewing and popularity of world and silent cinema.

It is extremely refreshing to see a poll where cinemas of all nations are voted for without bias (unlike for aforementioned IMDB which seems in the power of Christopher Nolan devotees) and this is best represented by the diversity of the top ten.  Though the usual suspects (not the film…) are here from previous polls, it’s still a joy to see films like Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) coming third.  Ozu is such a quiet and subtle director, often never given the attention he deserves, so for this to still rank so highly (and also his Late Spring (1949)) is a restorative of faith in a time when popular film debates consist of the casting choices for Grey in an adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey.

Silent film is also given the place it deserves with some great films making their way into the top fifty including F.W Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), and Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) among quite a few others.

Some criticism has been levelled online though at some of missing features from the list.  Unless counting Hitchcock’s entries (all of which were made in America with Psycho (1960) coming in at 35) not a single British film makes the top fifty.  Even The Third Man (1949) which Sight and Sound voted the greatest British film ever made doesn’t make a show.

Also the lack of animation and modern film is a point of criticism levelled at the polls for being a result of film snobbery.  Only five films made in the last twenty five years make the list though it’s hardly surprising looking at the voters.  Bela Tarr’s six hour epic, Satantango (1994) smashes its way into the list while the Noughties are represented only by David Lynch’s unnerving Mulholland Drive (2001)and Wong Kar-Wei’s beautiful In the Mood For Love (2000).

Overall though, this is a stunning list of films.  Not many surprises but a perfect place to start in looking for exciting and new films to watch.  Many of the titles here are in the university library and all of them are worthy of your time.


To see the full list of 50 films visit http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time

Adam Scovell

Images from BFI and The Guardian.