Two weeks ago, Alfred Hitchcock got a little help from bleary-eyed, worldwide critics to stare down Orson Welles. "King Kane dethroned," this page headlined the news that Vertigo finally unseated Citizen Kane, the champion of the past 50 years, to take the top spot in a once-every-10-year poll to find the Greatest Films of All Time. Such cinephilic pursuit, done by sedentary experts, is not remotely as stimulating as Bolt's or Phelps's photo-finish performances of recent memories, but greatness, like election, has to be justified at an appropriate interval, for public benefit. The canon needs to be reinforced, and here we're lulled into the land of the list.
This year the famous poll, conducted by British Film Institute and Sight & Sound magazine and starting in 1952, asked 846 critics, academics, writers and distributors to list their top 10 movies. On Wednesday the BFI's website published the complete poll _ all 846 entries.
I was one of the voters and my list is up there, so allow me to take this opportunity to say something about it so that I won't feel obliged to think about the endlessly debatable list again until 2022 (if I'm still around, if movies are still around). I'd been asked several times before about my top 10 films _ why not 13 or 17 or 25, I'm not sure _ and I believe every time my answer varied depending on... what? I'm really not sure, maybe hormone level, the devious haze in the brain, my age at that time, or the phase of the moon. But of course, this is a respectable list by a respectable institute _ this is the list, no matter how lists are meaningless _ and I agonised for a week as I jotted down 20, 30, maybe 50 titles that swam like metaphysical sharks in my head. The BFI allows each voter to define "great" by himself, and perhaps that's the most difficult dimension of this endeavour.
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