Alfred Hitchcock has been dead for 32 years. The last film he made, Family Plot, was released in 1976 yet his popularity among movie fans and cineastes alike has never seemed to wane. To put it bluntly, Hitch has never been hotter. This week proof of that was offered by the ascension of his 1958 classic Vertigo to the No. 1 spot on the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound survey of the so-called 50 Greatest Films Of All Time as selected this year by 846 critics, film scholars and historians, the largest sampling ever in the once a decade list that has been compiled every 10 years since 1962. Ever since the inception of the esteemed poll the British international film journal has named Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane as the Number 1 greatest film of all time — until 2012 when suddenly Hitchcock vaulted to the top after a slow, steady ascent since first appearing on the list of the Top 10 films in 1982. It is certainly interesting that this particular Hitchcock film starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, not even a huge hit in 1958 and recipient of only two minor Oscar nominations, for Color Art Direction and Sound, has become the master’s masterpiece in the eyes of the world’s top film writers and scholars. The only other Hitchcock film on the list is Psycho at number 35, although I personally count numerous others including North By Northwest, Rear Window, Notorious, even The Birds as equally deserving. I’m not at all sure Vertigo, great as it is, is the greatest of all time. Really? David Lean who directed such immortal greats as Lawrence Of Arabia and The Bridge On The River Kwai doesn’t have a single film in the top 50 and you could argue all day about other omissions and inclusions (there’s no DAVID Lean but there is DAVID Lynch at No. 28 with Mulholland Drive. Hmmm). And I have never gotten what is so brilliant about Carl Dreyer’s 1927 The Passion of Joan Of Arc yet there it is perched at No. 9 with these film nerds waxing poetic about its endless use of closeups. Spare me. But the arguments about what constitutes a truly great film is what makes it all fun. I do wish the Sight & Sounders took comedy a lot more seriously, but in the egregious omission of so many fine comic masterpieces they are just like their brethren at the Oscars. The highest ranking pure comedy is way down at number 34 for Buster Keaton’s The General, although the 1952 musical Singin’ In The Rain is No. 20, the only musical on the entire list.
Nevertheless the list only confirms the lasting impact of Hitchcock who suddenly seems to be everywhere and now could figure heavily in upcoming Oscar and Emmy contests. Just this week as detailed on Deadline, Tippi Hedren, star of the director’s The Birds and Marnie, appeared at TCA to promote The Girl, an upcoming HBO film premiering in October starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Hedren as it details the making of The Birds and the true-life horror Hedren claims was inflicted on her by the director. “He ruined my career but he didn’t ruin my life,” she told the press. “He was evil, deviant, almost to the point of dangerous.” Wow. Hedren knows how to make waves. And so does Hitchcock even though he’s not here to defend himself over these charges largely dealing with sexual harassment. He is also not here to weigh in on a planned 3D remake of The Birds (ugh) or even Gus Van Sant’s ill-fated 1998 shot-by-shot remake of Psycho.
In addition to the small screen film The Girl, Fox Searchlight has one for the big screen that is currently in post-production. Based on Stephen Rebello’s 1990 non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho, the similarly-titled film version stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh who co-starred in Psycho and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Although it is set around the making of the 1960 classic (Hitch was nominated for the Best director Oscar but lost, and in fact never won), it is mostly about the relationship between the director and his wife. Should Searchlight decide to make a run for it the movie could conceivably become a last-minute entry in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. There are reasons for and against the move and they might also include wanting to keep some distance from HBO’s aforementioned October telefilm The Girl. which presents a much more negative portrait of the director. Yet Hopkins, Mirren and Johansson are all thought to be strong Oscar fodder and that might be irresistible for Searchlight if the film can be readied in time.
Before beginning Friday night’s opening panel (which I moderated) of Edit Fest coincidentally held at the Hitchcock Theatre at Universal Studios, Pamela Martin (The Fighter, Little Miss Sunshine), who is editing the film, told me it is currently undetermined whether Searchlight will try for a late 2012 Oscar-qualifying release. She says they are still doing the director’s cut and if they decide to get it out this year it will mean a big rush to get it ready in time. She has nothing but praise for the performances and singled out Johansson. Wouldn’t it be something if Johansson were to be nominated for playing Janet Leigh playing Marion Crane in the same category Janet Leigh was a nominee 1960? And if she were to win that could become one of Oscar’s greatest ironies ever.