The BFI Greatest Films Poll 2012

Every ten years the British Film Institute (BFI) ask film critics to select what they believe to be the ten greatest films of all time – the results of this survey are then published in Sight And Sound (the BFI magazine).

Between 1962 and 2002 Citizen Kane held the number one spot, in 2012 Hitchcock’s Vertigo pushed Citizen Kane into second place.  I’ve heard a few reasons why this might have happened after so many years – for a start the BFI have widened the range of people who they asked to participate and now include film directors and academics as well as film critics.  Another reason suggested is that, partly due to the last point, the films have been nominated on an emotional response to the work than a more technical reading.

I have never really understood why Citizen Kane has been regarded so highly for so long.  Yes, there is a huge amount of fancy camera work, but much of it had already been pioneered during the silent era.  The story of one man’s drive to achieve greatness, leading to hubris and the realisation that in the end status means nothing if simple pleasures and happiness are sacrificed, is hardly revelatory.  It is still too high up the list in my opinion.  So thank goodness that a truly great film has taken the number one spot after all these years – obsession, murder, deception, dream/nightmare, fear, loss, longing and illusion – there is so much more to get your teeth into!

So – Which films would you pick as your top ten?

How many from the list have you seen and how many would you like to see?

And are there any films missing which should be on the list, and ones that definitely should not?

Have a look – agree, disagree, debate.  All two hundered and fifty films are listed Here:- The Greatest Films Poll 2012

If you want to see this year’s top ten broken down in various ways or want to have a look at any previous top ten, try here:- The Top Ten

Or for another BFI page including comments from around the Web (they do like spreading it about a bit, don’t they!), try here:- More on the Poll


6 comments on “The BFI Greatest Films Poll 2012

  1. Vertigo is one of my favourite films and I am a huge fan of both Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart .

    • Thanks for your comment A Grumpy Young Woman (Loves and Hates)! Vertigo is one of my favourites too, as is Hitchcock – if you hadn’t guessed! 🙂 So many truely great films from one director, spanning a huge chunk of twentieth century cinema – quite incredible!

  2. nymith says:

    Fabulous! Someone agrees with me about Citizen Kane! A good film, but not a great one. The plot of it is extremely…not “unoriginal,” as that doesn’t have to be a criticism, but rather simplistic. Pathetically, I’ve only seen sixteen of the films on the list so I am definitely going to bookmark it.

    My vote for the best film of all time would be The Third Man. It has a compelling plot that plays with and defies expectations, exceptional camerawork, an unforgettable score, a cast with which even the minor characters stand out, a literate script, etc,etc. I’m partial to film-noir anyway, and for me that is the most flawless example. What would fill out my top ten is harder to say…. Possibly The Lord of the Rings would make the cut. Other than that, I’d have to seriously consider.

    There is a lot of stuff on the BFI that I’d like to see though. Refreshingly non-Hollywoodcentric. Even a couple modern films – these film compilers seem to have a chronic lack of faith in modern cinema, for some reason.

    Meet Me In St. Louis, however, has no place on “greatest film” lists. I think My Fair Lady would have made better sense. Even so, it’s a fascinating list. Thanks for posting about it.

  3. I’ve just counted up and I can’t believe that I’ve actually seen seventy of the two hundered and fifty films on the full list! I really don’t have a life, do I 🙂

    It’s good to hear that I’m not alone in the ‘what’s so special about Citizen Kane’ camp! The Third Man is good, but I really can’t pin down my favourite of all time – Lawrence of Arabia, Rushmore, Black Narcissus, even Passport To Pimlico…

    I also love Film Noir – my perfect example has to be the Humphry Bogart, Nicholas Ray directed ‘In A Lonely Place’. If you haven’t seen it you really must. If anything typifies Film Noir for me it’s the way the characters seem compelled to follow their doomed path to the end of the film, usually triggered by a small event or petty crime – and this film really is in a lonely place…

    You mentioned the non-Hollywood centric nature of the list well I’ve recently got into late silent era films and (although it was made in America it was directed by the German F.W. Murnau) Sunrise (it’s No. 5 on the list) is absolutely stunning. I watched it the first time and thought it was ok (I think I was getting used to the silent mode of storytelling) but I soon watched it again and it almost had me in tears – you really must see it. I’ve also been meaning to get into Japanese films – I saw most of a really good film on TV the other day called ‘The Outrage’ (1964) which was based on Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950) (which is No. 24 on the list) and it has made me want to start exploring.

    By the way, I agree with you on Meet Me In St. Louis 🙂

    Thanks for your comments – always appreciated!

    • nymith says:

      Thanks for the reply!

      Another masterpiece of film noir for me is Out of the Past. That one has all the trappings of the genre and yet also stays within the realm of plausibility, unlike the wonderful but daftly convoluted Big Sleep.

      Silent films give me some trouble, particularly in the realm of drama. The old comedies are wonderful – Safety Last and The General being the best of what I’ve seen. On the other hand, I think it’s telling that it took three tries for me to even begin to comprehend expressionist filmmaking – Golem is the one that finally did it. I was as nonplussed by the first half of it as I’d been through The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Faust but then I suddenly found myself riveted. Metropolis is one I’m looking forward to now….

      Actually, the past three years I’ve hardly been watching anything at all. I’m only just getting back into films after my hiatus, hardly knowing where to begin. I’ll be tracking down the films you’ve recommended, of course. 🙂

  4. Yes, Out Of The Past is another great one – of course it’s directed by Jacques Tourneur who did a number of great films (including the best Val Lweton ones – The Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie).

    Safety Last is great, I’ve yet to see The General though, I haven’t really got into Buster Keaton yet. I find it fascinating how our perception of silent film has changed in the last few years with all the great quality releases that have been fully restored and actually play the films at the right speed so they don’t all look comic! Dramas like Sunrise (and Piccadilly is quite good too) show that the early films had just as much drama and storytelling power as any sound film, and it’s fascinating to see cinema evolving and the things we take for granted being tried out.

    Metropolis is impressive due to the sheer scope and technical expertise on display if nothing esle, and the newly found footage has really fleshed out the story. It’s certainly a milestone in movie history, whether it’s a ‘great’ film or not is debatable – it’s certainly a spectacle, and what’s wrong with that! 🙂

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