Some 846 experts were polled for the BFI Sight and Sound magazine’s decadal list, and selected the 1958 suspense thriller about a retired police officer with a fear of heights, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, by 34 votes.
Vertigo has gradually inched up the poll in recent decades, as Hitchcock’s thriller has steadily grown in stature since its initial mixed reception.
Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane topped the list on the last five occasions but the gap was only five votes during the last poll taken 10 years ago.
Vertigo explores Hitchcock’s recurring theme of love’s destructive effect and follows a twisting storyline around the skyline of San Francisco. It is well-known for his use of a disorientating simultaneous zoom-in and pull-back of the camera to represent the vertigo suffered by Stewart’s lead character, Scotty Ferguson.
Other films in the top ten include Tokyo Story (1953), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) and Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963).
The list also includes a new addition: Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, coming in at eighth place. It is the first documentary to make the list since it was founded in 1952. All of the top 10 were made more than 40 years ago.
Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound, said this year’s results reflect transformations in the culture of film criticism. “The new cinephilia seems to be not so much about films that strive to be great art, such as Citizen Kane, and that use cinema’s entire arsenal of effects to make a grand statement, but more about works that have personal meaning to the critic,” he said.
“Vertigo is the ultimate critics’ film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soulmate.”
The critics’ top 10 greatest films of all time are:
* Vertigo: Alfred Hitchcock
* Citizen Kane: Orson Welles
* Tokyo Story: Yasujiro Ozu
* La Règle Du Jeu: Jean Renoir
* Sunrise: A Song For Two Humans: F W Murnau
* 2001: A Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick
* The Searchers: John Ford
* Man With A Movie Camera: Dziga Vertov
* The Passion Of Joan Of Arc: Carl Theodor Dreyer
n8½: Federico Fellini