I love film noir. Give me a good black and white mystery from the 1940s, maybe written by Raymond Chandler, with a tough private eye and a beautiful dame, and I’m a happy guy. The popularity of color naturally pushed noir into the shadows (so to speak), but it had something of a revival in the 1970s, led by the wonderful Chinatown.
Directed by child molester Roman Polanski (he’ll never be on this list), the movie featured Jack Nicholson (Great American Things, Sept. 12, 2009) in one of his greatest performances, along with Faye Dunaway and John Huston. But the real star of the film was Robert Towne, the screenwriter. He set his mystery in the 1930s, allowing for the true noir mise-en-scene. (Pardon my French.)
Towne’s brilliant script won an Oscar, the only one the film received out of eleven nominations. In the AFI’s original 100 Years…100 Movies, Chinatown was ranked number 19. In the 10th anniversary edition, it was 21. And it was the AFI’s number 2 mystery film. Why it wasn’t number one is… a mystery.