Thursday, August 23, 2012

A List Of The Top 5 Lists Of All-Time.

Over the last two decades or so, there has been a list-mania that has gone hand-in-hand with the whole multimedia explosion of everything being edited into cut-down, Tweet-ready soundbytes.  No one has the time anymore to read a ten-part analysis of anything, but they do have time to glance through a ten-point list.  Besides, lists are more fun.

Maybe it's because the tradition has some of its roots in David Letterman's signature Top 10s, or are celebrated hipster-nerd culture movies like High Fidelity &, to a lesser extent, Juno & most of the Wes Anderson movies.  But maybe it's just the inherent structure that goes all the way back to the Top 40 countdown, which was later carbon-copied by MTV & VH-1's weekly top 10 video countdowns, as well as bigger events like their annual "Greatest Videos of All-Time."

What follows is a list of what I consider to be the greatest lists that I've encountered in the modern era, including the top ten of each list (because writing about lists is like—as I believe Zappa once said about music—dancing about architecture).  I've restricted myself to film, music, & television because sports are boring, politics is too divisive, & books take too long to read.  It may be a bit skewed to my lifetime & opinions, but what good is a list that isn't a subjective reflection of your own passions?  I mean, why do we even read them?

As the man once said, "Because your kiss, your kiss is on my list."

1.  TV Guide's The 100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History (June 29, 1996)

The mother list to end all lists.  Released just on the cusp of when younger, list-heavy magazines like Entertainment Weekly was blazing the trail for older ones like Time to follow, TV Guide put out this amazing summary of a half-century of television essentials.  In the months & years that followed, TV Guide became the go-to place for lists, as they slowly worked out of their expertise (greatest TV episodes & TV commercials to greatest movies, etc.), but this was their finest one, the one that broke the mold.

There are two things that make this list such a success.  One is that it reads like an armchair primer of television history, which itself is basically a capsule of the postwar generation, as seen through the things that mattered most (presidents & wars, yes, but also Elvis & the Beatles).  Secondly, the list chose moments that were actual moments, unlike countless lists that followed in its wake.  There are no entries like "The 1968 Olympics" or "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," but rather, the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics & Mary cracking up at Chuckles the Clown's funeral on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Moments big & small, old & new, & utter surprises & things that had been in the works for years all further reinforce the point: These aren't necessarily the greatest or most important or most famous moments on television, but rather the most memorable.

Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War; Jack Benny choosing between his money & his life; Kramer declaring himself out in the "The Contest"; Jack Palace getting betrayed on Requiem for a Heavyweight; Paul Newman endearingly flubbing his speech at the end of Pride of the Yankees;  OJ Simpson's white Bronco car chase; Norton teaching Ralph how golf ("First step is to address the ball. Helllloooooo, ball!"); Clarabella speaking on the final episode of Howdy Doody, Big Bird learning about Mr. Hooper's death on Sesame Street; Sam & Diane's first kiss; Captain Kirk & Uhura in TV's first interracial kiss; Archie Bunker & Sammy Davis Jr.'s kiss; Apple's infamous "1984" ad; Nixon's bizarre, smiling "two V's for victory" wave as he left the White House in disgrace; LBJ announcing he will not run for reelection; Edward R. Murrow taking on McCarthy; Dan Rather getting punched in the stomach while covering the '68 Democratic National Convention; Michael Jackson's first moonwalk on the Motown 25 special; the Bookworm breaking his glasses on The Twilight Zone; the streaker at the '74 Oscars; Mr. Loud asking for a divorce on the proto-reality miniseries An American Family; the opening to Bonanza's first color broadcast; The Andy Griffith Show's opening sequence; Fonzie's entrance on Happy Days; Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot on live TV; JR getting shot at the season finale; Henry Blake getting shot down over the Sea of Japan; Mary Lou Retton getting a "10"; Carol Burnette wearing her drapery dress in the "Gone with the Wind" sketch.  Man, I could literally do this all day.

Unlike movies & music, TV always had an instant quality about it, which in hindsight set the stage for the internet just as radio had set the stage for TV before it.  The result is more than just a microcosm of television culture; it's a microcosm of modern American culture, period.
  1. Neil Armstrong Walks on the Moon (July 20, 1969)
  2. Lucy in the Candy Factory (Sept. 15, 1952)
  3. John-John's Salute at JFK's funeral (Nov. 25, 1963)
  4. The Beatles First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (Feb. 9, 1964)
  5. Newhart Final Episode (May 21, 1990)
  6. The Final Episode of The Fugitive (Aug. 29, 1967)
  7. The O.J. Simpson Verdict (Oct. 3, 1995)
  8. The Wedding of Charles & Diana (July 29, 1981)
  9. Bette Midler Serenades Johnny Carson on his final episode (May 21, 1992)
  10. The Opening of Elvis's 1968 Comeback Special (Dec. 3, 1968)
TV Guide would update this list over the years — the towers falling on 9/11 has overtaken Neil Armstrong's walking on the moon — but did so in lists that were less historically-rounded & with descriptions so small they felt like captions, not summaries.  Perhaps this was only telling, as it felt as though TV Guide had fallen victim to the superficialities of the very movement it helped create.

2.  Entertainment Weekly's 100 Biggest Oscar Snubs (c. 2003)

List-making, like so many other forms of intellectual expression, often falls into a cliched, gray-area laziness.  So many magazines & books have put out their lists of the "all-time greatest" movies, television, & albums, that they all start to run together.  But every once in a while, a list comes along that is unlike any other before it, proving its worth by presenting an overlooked area in a well-rounded & succinct manner.

Such was the case when the creative folks at Entertainment Weekly put out their list of the 100 biggest Oscar snubs.  This is not a list of people who lost the Oscar — this is a list of the greatest performances that weren't even nominated in the first place.  The thrill of the list goes hand-in-hand with the shock it radiates.  But any descriptions will only blunt the impact of its top ten, which truly has to be seen to be believed:
  1. Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo 
  2. Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960)
  3. Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1941)
  4. Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (1942)
  5. Samuel L. Jackson in Jungle Fever (1991)
  6. Susan Sarandon, Bull Durham (1988)
  7. John Cazale, The Godfather, Pt. 2 (1974)
  8. Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  9. Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot (1952)
  10. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet (1986)
Yeah, you read that right.  No Ingrid Bergman for Casablanca.  No Anthony Perkins for Psycho.  & Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story was the one lead who was not nominated, despite getting top billing.  A third-billed Jimmy Stewart beat him out for Best Actor, which probably had more to do with Stewart losing in 1939 for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than it did for his performance in this film.  Just think of it is the 1940s equivalent of Al Pacino's Scent of a Woman consolation prize.  Cary Grant, meanwhile, went the Peter O'Toole route & never won a competitive Oscar.

3.  Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Albums of the Last 20 Years (September & October 1987)

Long before they came out with their much-publicized Top 500 lists for the best albums & songs of all-time, Rolling Stone made this, a much simpler — & more on target — list for their 20th anniversary.  It's lovely mix of obvious & the surprising make it a very effective list, best summed up by its top two rankings: #1 for Sgt. Pepper, 'natch, & #2 for Never Mind the Bollocks, a pretty bold middle finger to the baby-boomers for an album that has strangely fallen out of critical failure in recent years (The Clash's more family-friendly London Calling — which hit #14 here — seems to have taken its place).

& aside from the perennial favs like Beatles, Stones, & Dylan, you get some longtime Stone-championed stalwarts (Lennon's first solo album Plastic Ono Band; Van Morrison's cultish Astral Weeks; Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica; the original Nuggets compilation) alongside artists that have bubbled back under the swamps from they had appeared (Linda & Richard Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights; Graham Parker's Howlin' Wind; Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes' Hearts of Stone), to name a few.
  1. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  2. The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
  3. The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street (1972)
  4. John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (1970)
  5. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced (1967)
  6. David Bowie: The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars (1972)
  7. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968)
  8. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (1975)
  9. The Beatles: S/T ("The White Album") (1968)
  10. Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (1971)
In summarizing rock's story from 1967-1987, it seems to make an argument in hindsight that, even without classics from 1965 (Highway 61 Revisited, Rubber Soul) & 1966 (Pet Sounds, Revolver, Blonde on Blonde), this two-decade span may just be rock's finest era of them all — taking the story from rock's artistic breakthrough (Pepper) up through the era just before rap & grunge defined an era that was unimaginable even a few years earlier.

4. Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Music Videos of All-Time (October 1993)

It used to be that MTV & VH-1 would put up "Greatest Music Videos of All-Time" specials every few months, with usually predictable results.  Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was always #1 on both lists, until MTV bumped it off with Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" & Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," if memory serves.  But you always knew the top five would include Guns N' Roses' "November Rain," Madonna's "Vogue," & Metallica's "Enter Sandman," thus speaking more about the most popular music of the era, than the actual quality of the music videos.  With a focus on MOR junk, VH-1 pulled off the feat of being both more focused & more scattershot, as "Thriller" stayed at #1, yes, but things like Gloria Estefan & Phil Collins found their way uncomfortably near the top.  It was as though your mom & all of her friends had made their own list, & VH-1 aired it.

Enter Rolling Stone, whose list was as bold & innovative as MTV probably thought theirs was.  The list went back further (to 1967!) & included videos that were both obscure (The Art of Noise's "Close (To The Edit)"; The Replacements' "Bastards of Young") & controversial (Neil Young's "This Note's For You," which was banned from MTV before going on to win Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards).  There were no sacred cows — "Thriller" made #16, "Vogue" made #28, "Jeremy" made #36, & "November Rain" & "Enter Sandman" were nowhere to be found — making a list that was so refreshing, it didn't so much celebrate the music video canon as it did entirely remake it.

  1. Peter Gabriel: "Sledgehammer" (1986)
  2. Nirvana: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991)
  3. R.E.M.: "Losing My Religion" (1991)
  4. Neil Young: "This Note's For You" (1989)
  5. Sinead O'Connor: "Nothing Compares 2 U" (1990)
  6. Van Halen: "Right Now" (1992)
  7. Bob Dylan: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (1967)
  8. Michael Jackson: "Leave Me Alone" (1989)
  9. a-ha: "Take On Me" (1985)
  10. Madonna: "Express Yourself" (1989)
Wow, I forgot how much I freakin' love this list.  Plus, I'll always believe that Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was included as a dig to MTV's love of INXS's "I Need You Tonight/Meditate," which directly steals Dylan's placard-holding original; it goes without saying that INXS's video is nowhere on the Rolling Stone list.

That, & they're not too cool for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Smells Like Nirvana," which makes the list at #68.  Now there's a durable & innovative music video visionary you'd never find on an MTV list.

5.  Sight & Sound's Top Ten Films of All-Time (1952)

The granddaddy of all lists.  When the British film magazine Sight & Sound held the first of its once-every-decade polls, one has to wonder if they knew it was going to turn into the snob-of-all-snobs standard for polls, as Criterion-collecting hipsters everywhere wait with bated breath for the new list.  Even Roger Ebert, who things "ranking" lists are silly, included the Sight & Sound polls on the back of a definitive movie book he released in the late '90s, essentially saying, "Best-ever film lists are completely counterintuitive, but here's the one you should pay attention to, not that they're worth paying attention to, because they're not.  But here it is.
  1. Bicycle Thieves (1948) (25 mentions)
  2. City Lights (1931) (19 mentions) (tie)
  3. The Gold Rush (1925) (19 mentions) (tie)
  4. Battleship Potemkin (1925) (16 mentions)
  5. Intolerance (1916) (12 mentions) (tie)
  6. The Louisiana Story (1948) (12 mentions)
  7. Greed (1924) (11 mentions) (tie)
  8. Le Jour Se Leve [Daybreak] (1939) (11 mentions) (tie)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) (11 mentions) (tie)
  10. Brief Encounter (1945) (10 mentions) (tie)
  11. La Regle Du Jeu [The Rules of the Game] (1939) (10 mentions) (tie)
  12. Le Million (1931) (10 mentions) (tie)
I included the first list not because it's the best, but because it's the first.  It's just as interesting to see what does make it — Louisiana Story & Le Million have all but fallen off the face of the earth, while The Passion of Joan of Arc The Rules of the Game have become Sight & Sound staples.  Conspicuously absent is Citizen Kane, which shot to number one the following decade & stayed there until Vertigo kicked it off the top earlier this year.

Actually, Citizen Kane is on the list — sort of — in the "bubbling under" category of the next closest film to the ones that made the list.

It got 9 mentions — the same number as Grand Illusion & The Grapes of Wrath.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Top 5 Myths About "The White Album."

The "White" Stuff?

1.  It's the greatest album of all-time.

There's an old urban myth in which a reporter was asking one of the Beatles (John, I believe), if Ringo was the best drummer in the world.  "Best drummer in the world?!" he shoots back. "He's not even the best drummer in the Beatles!"

The same can be said of "The White Album."  Not only is it NOT the best album ever made (despite some insistent classic-rock countdowns), it's not even the Beatles' best album.  More on that in a bit.  But in the meantime, let's just say that many believe it to be the best (whatever THAT means) because it's a rare album in which the idea about the album is so strong, it threatens to overpower the music.  A double album of bric-a-brac representing some of the best & the weirdest that the greatest band ever had to offer?  Plus, it's got that great non-title (hence the unruly quotation marks around "The White Album"), it's an early double-LP, & it plays like the ultimate cult album by the ultimate mainstream band.  Hell, after writing all of that, I like it a bit better myself.

2.  It's the Beatles' greatest album.

Yeah, sorry, it's not.  In fact, I wouldn't even put it in my Beatles Top 5.  (Which is, fer the record, probably: 1. Revolver; 2. Abbey Road; 3. Rubber Soul; 4. Sgt. Pepper; 5. Some sort of a singles collection if it is allowed — like "1," although I prefer the old American edition of The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits — & if not, A Hard Day's Night.)  This is for the simple reason that when you break it down, it's actually not one of their stronger albums.  Song-for-song, Revolver & Rubber Soul are better, but so too are A Hard Day's Night (definitely), Beatles for Sale (probably), & With The Beatles (most likely).  In fact, going song-for-song, "The White Album" is one of their weakest albums.

But what, you say — this is "THE WHITE ALBUM" — are you MAD, MAN?  Let me explain.  "The White Album" may not be the Beatles' finest album or most consistent album, but it is their best programmed album, no small feat when you (a) consider their catalogue &/or (b) how much random dreck is on this album.  The way fragments give way to masterpieces, storming rockers give way to hushed ballads, & serious songs give way to stupid songs, is less like a story than it is a stream-of-conscious survey of ideas, melodies, & emotions.  There is no reason on earth why "Blackbird" should go so seamlessly into "Piggies," other than their superficial animal motif, perhaps, but it does, just as the storming "Helter-Skelter" sits perfectly between the cool "Sexy Sadie" & the whisper of "Long Long Long."  "The White Album" is less a masterpiece of songs than it is a masterpiece of sequence, & credit must go to Lennon, McCartney, & George Martin, who spent hours & hours choosing the order.  For, as a progression of songs, their ordering is as close as rock sequencing gets to genius.

3.  It's a preview of their solo careers.

With so many of the songs sounding like little solo pieces — McCartney's cutesy "Martha My Dear" & "I Will," Lennon's brooding "Julia," Harrison's stately "Long Long Long," Ringo's horrible/awesome "Don't Pass Me By" — it is very tempting to pass the album off as the 4 Beatles going into 4 separate rooms & recording four quarters of an album.  Certainly the split pictures & packaging contributes to this idea.  But as the late, great Ian MacDonald wrote in the masterful Revolution in the Head, the finest work on "The White Album" were group efforts — McCartney's "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," which he hammered so into the ground that the others hated it by the time they recorded this, the final take, filled with seeming playfulness & spontaneity; Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," with yes, Clapton sitting in on lead, but the others doing more than their fare share — just listen to the way McCartney's bass doubles up with Harrison's guitar to push the song along in a kinetic way); & Lennon's "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," which, fer my money, may just be the finest Beatles song of them all.  The way that Lennon is able to take the song through all of its jarring twists & turns & transitions, ending with the funny/eerie title refrain, is a work of 4, not just one.  If they were falling apart & hating each other all the time through the sessions, you coulda fooled me.

4.  It's fun to listen to start-to-finish.

Three words: Revolution Number Nine.

5.  It could've been even better if the Beatles had gone along with George Martin & picked the "best" songs for a single-disc album.

The problem here is, OK, you have 40, maybe 50 minutes of space: Which half of songs are you gonna cut?  At first glance, it seems like the first disc (the "hits" side, as I think of it) is the keeper, but some of the most dynamic tracks — "Yer Blues," "Mother Nature's Son," "Sexy Sadie," "Long Long Long," "Revolution 1," & "Cry Baby Cry" — are on there.  So that's out.  Well, how about cutting all of the random stupid things like "Wild Honey Pie" & "Why Don't We Do It in the Road"?  The thing is, that only shaves off a few minutes.  Not counting "Revolution 9," of course, which although the most innovative thing on the album, would also be the first thing to go (or at least be severely edited).

By my count, the only all-around "bad" songs on the album are "Revolution 9," "Savoy Truffle," "Don't Pass Me By," & "Good Night."  After that, it's all relative.  "Piggies," "Rocky Raccoon," & "Birthday" all have their detractors to be sure, but in my experience, it's just as easy to find someone who will starchly defend these songs as it is to find someone who outright hates them.  One man's "Piggies" is another man's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," I suppose.

But more importantly, it is this range of selection that makes "The White Album" be "The White Album."  It is a sketchbook, not a finished masterpiece — open & raw in some places, closed & ready-for-manufature in others.  The whole point of the album is that you have to dig through it — & you need the good, the not-so-good, & the unfinished in order to make it what it is.  In this regard, some of the songs have to be bad for the whole thing to work.

Would I recommend it to someone who doesn't know the Beatles very well?  No.  Would I choose it for a desert island?  Not on yer life.  But would I listen to it, privately, while riding on a bus across the country & feel enlightened & fascinated?  For sure.

This is an album about journeys, not destinations.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I Learned From Watching "Dark Knight Rises."

I finally saw Dark Knight Rises last (k)night, which was much better than I was expecting; it is, along with The Avengers, not only one of the best movies so far this year, but probably the best superhero movie I've ever seen, period.  Time will tell whether I ultimately decide if The Avengers was better than it, but in the meantime, I can definitely say that Dark Knight got me thinking a lot more about a lot more.  What follows are my Dark Knight Rises lessons learned.

1.  Corporations ARE People.

Being an anti-Scalia, Stevens-loving lefty, I was always disturbed by the whole "Corporations are people" thing, & resisted it like Scalia resists making a logical sentence that includes the words "healthcare" & "broccoli."  But Dark Knight Rises has shown me the error of my ways.  One of the lead characters is a greedy, manipulative, power-hungry tyrant named Bane, who is clearly the personification of Mitt Romney's old business enterprise.  I think it's great that Romney was so cool about letting them use Bane for the film, & hope that other corporations will follow his lead.  Is it too late too see if the Man of Steel can take on "Wall-Mart" in the new Superman reboot?

2.  Christian Bale & Tom Hardy Are the Two Greatest Actors of Their Generation.

As I've previously written, Christian Bale is amazing if only for the way he can magically turn into Clint Eastwood every time he puts on the Batsuit (All together now: "Get your hands off my Gran Torino, Commissioner Gordon!").  But in Dark Knight Rises, Bale meets his match in Tom Hardy, who magically turns into Sean Connery every time he says something as arch-rival Bane: "Catwoman talksh in her shleep."  This is truly transformative acting at its finest.  Although both are still outdone by the greatest actress of their generation — Katie Holmes — whose development from the first to second Batman film felt so complete, it was like watching an entirely different actress.

3.  It Turns Out That Overall, the Oscars Do Get It Right.

I have never been so aware of so many Oscar-winners & nominees in a single movie, all kicking ass.  Oscar-winners Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, & Marion Cotillard were each great in their roles, with Oscar-nominees Anne Hathaway & Gary Oldman proving it's just a matter of time.  Only Tom Hardy & Joseph Gordon-Levitt are completely left out of the BYOO parties, but it wouldn't surprise me if either of them didn't end up getting something in the long run.  & in the meantime...

4.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt May Be on Track of Having the Coolest Acting Resume EVER.

Well, at least of a modern actor.  Who isn't Paul Rudd.  But with 500 Days of Summer, Inception, the under-rated 50-50, Dark Knight Rises, & now the Spielberg-Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln biopic on deck, Paul Rudd better watch his back.  Plus, Gordon-Levitt gets bonus points for appearing in two episodes of Family Ties as Andrew's young classmate.  That more than makes up for his role in Angels in the Outfield in my book.

5.  21st Century America Is a Big, Fat, Messy Place.

It is impossible to watch Dark Knight Rises without thinking about America over the past dozen years.  The film plays like a dream that lingers on a nightmare culled from our collective unconscious, working through the latent fears of the 21st Century.  Can one watch all those NYC buildings explode & fall & not think of 9/11?  Can one look at Bane's wealth-punishing revolution that begins on Wall Street & not think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?  Can one hear the "terror" & "evil"-filled terminology used against Bane & not think of the War on Terror?  & of course, with all of the violence — sudden, random, & often inflicted upon people who are not expecting it — how can one not think of the Colorado shooting at the Dark Knight Rises midnight premiere?  With the latter event, the Dark Knight Rises makes its most powerful American statement, stepping outside of the film itself to unknowingly help create something very real & very evil, directly inflicted on the real America, our America.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Raising Kane Over Vertigo.

So the new Sight & Sound Poll is out fer 2012 & it's official:  After some 40-odd years, Citizen Kane is no longer The Greatest Film Of All-Time.  Taking its spot is Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Perhaps this is inevitable — after all, Vertigo has been sneaking up the charts for the last 30 years, & in 2002 was only five votes away from matching Citizen Kane.  I have friends who have informed me that Vertigo is "the most perfectly shot film of all-time" (whatever THAT means) & professors who have taught it in theory classes to illustrate idea of a film within a film — that is, watching somebody who's in turn watching someone else.

Maybe so, but if I wanted to expound on the virtues of watching-within-watching a Hitchcock film starring Jimmy Stewart, I would look no further than Rear Window, which fer my money is Hitchcock's masterpiece — it is smarter, sexier, funnier, & more suspenseful, & when Raymond Burr looks directly at Jimmy Stewart/the camera/us, it's impossible not to feel a jolt.  It's one of the most perfect scenes in all of cinema.  But then again, I'd rather watch 39 Steps (definitely), Psycho (probably), & Rebecca (usually) before sitting through Vertigo again.

But with this new poll, I most likely will in the near future. Not that my tastes always line up perfectly with the Sight & Sound Poll — I'm similarly confounded by Tokyo Story (#3 this year) & The Searchers (#7 this year), which both feel, like Vertigo, overlong & undercooked — but maybe this will change & I will see the (allegedly perfectly directed) light.

But in the meantime, I'm gonna post this list:

The Top 5 Reasons Why Citizen Kane Is Better Than Vertigo.

1.  It's in black & white.

Roger Ebert got it right — it's no coincidence that the vast majority of great films are in black & white (even latter-day ones like Raging Bull, Schindler's List, & Ed Wood), despite what you would think, black & white is more expressive than color.  It's also more timeless.  & maybe I'm a film snob, but I think it often makes it better.  Of the Sight & Sound Poll, only two other films besides Vertigo are in color (#6: 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the most beautiful of all color films, & #7: The Searchers).  What're the chances that, with 7/10ths of the films being black & white, a color one is number one?  Pretty good, it turns out.

2.  It's actually about something.

Hell, it's practically about everything!  The American Dream, power, money, social status, media, love, & death, all wrapped up in a mystery about childhood & true value.  Vertigo, on the other hand, is sort of about nothing — yes, yes, it's got the guy watching that we're watching whatever thing, but beyond that, it really feels like they just made it up as they went along.  There seems to be no shape to the film, & this doesn't seem to be done intentionally, like Psycho, where the first 1/3 completely throws you off as to the rest of the film, on purpose.  It's just sort of a maybe-mystery that unravels to reveal that it isn't quite what you thought & then this weird obsessiony stuff.  In a word, huh?

3.  It's not boring.

Sorry, but Vertigo is boring.  The shots of Jimmy Stewart on the rooftops aren't just innovative, they're the only interesting thing in the movie.  If I wanted to watch an old guy obsessively follow around a girl that he ends up weirdly in love with, well, shoot, I don't know what I'd watch.  Because that sounds pretty boring.  Citizen Kane is never boring.  It moves super-fast, & is chockful of interesting parts & performances.  Which brings me to the next point:

4.  It has a full—what's that called?—oh yeah, cast.

This dovetails with the whole "boring" thing, but it feels just separate enough to make a new point.  Basically, yer just watching Jimmy Stewart & the girl fer the whole movie.  I guess that's the point, but it feels just as insightful about human life & social interactions as The Girl Can't Help It works as an accurate depiction of rock & roll.  In this way, Kane puts it to shame.  You got Wells, Joseph Cotton, the singing girl who can't sing, Agnes Moorehead, the guy who talks about seeing the girl from the boat, the snooty butler guy at the end — a true ensemble cast worthy of, I don't know, American Graffiti or Royal Tenenbaums or Dazed & Confused.  Plus, they're actually given something to do.

5.  It isn't as "great."

Okay, I'll admit that this one is being kinda old & stuck-in-my-ways or whatev, but Citizen Kane is about as good of a pick fer The Greatest Movie of All-Time that you could find — innovative & recognized as a masterpiece (even if it wasn't a big hit), that got the shaft at the Oscars (How Green Was My Valley, you'll rue the day!) but was rewarded by history.  It always makes the top of the AFI list & it is a great example of an actor/writer/director taken one step beyond the greats before him like Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton.  Vertigo, on the other hand, split the critics & didn't get up for much of anything (when Entertainment Weekly was doing their list of Oscar's Biggest Snubs — that is, not people who lost the Oscar but rather, who weren't nominated in the first place, Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo was #1), & still feels like a chore to me, whereas Kane, to paraphrase the late, great, Pauline Kael, manages to be great & important & fun.  Even though it was made over a decade later, Vertigo feels creakier & more wooden, & not the kind of thing that I would choose to watch if I had a free evening ahead of me.  Which I have done with Kane at least half a dozen times.

So now Kane is in a position not unlike a former president, a George H.W. Bush or a Bill Clinton.  In my mind's eye, I see it hanging around the club with Bicycle Theives (the 1942 Sight & Sound winner), asking, "It gets better, right?"

Hopefully, I'll find Vertigo gets better too, but I still don't think I'll ever consider it The Greatest Film of All-Time.  Especially when there's films like Citizen Kane around.