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Why Vertigo Beat Citizen Kane to Become Top-Rated Film

The online dating site Ashley Madison has some 15,200,000 members and a catchy slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair." Don't tell that to John "Scottie" Ferguson. He's the protagonist of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which as of last week ranks number one among the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time, the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound critics' film poll ("the only one serious movie people take seriously," according to Roger Ebert).

The BFI re-ranking bumped Citizen Kane into second place after decades in the top spot -- and everyone has something to say about it. On the Sight & Sound Directors' Top 10 list, Vertigo ranks number 7, although its worshipful fans include Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin. So why is Hichcock's magnum opus suddenly so popular that it displaced the m.o. of Orson Welles?

Vertigo is a trivia treasure trove with infinite appeal to film geeks; there's even a fascinating back story to the captivating portrait of Carlotta (the first version was painted by Italian abstract artist Manlio Sarra, but the one used in the movie is the work of John Ferren). Still, despite the legions of film geeks out there, that's not the most compelling reason for its recent dramatic rise in acclaim. Just as the internet has become, as cinema scholar Ian Christie writes in his intro to the Sight & Sound poll, "almost certainly the main channel of communication about films," the 'net is also now the worldwide relationship hub. And Vertigo is the saddest, most stunning and true-to-life love dramatization of a fear that resonates with us all, especially if we've taken a dip in the online-dating sea: fear of falling in love.