When film critics play ranking games of the best Hollywood movies, the competition is fierce. Debate all you want about the Oscars and "popular movies," but the list of truly daring classics made by studios is short. You'd have to include the first two Godfathers for sure, Orson Welles's groundbreaking Citizen Kane, and something like Steven Spielberg's Jaws, the first summer blockbuster (and still the best one).
But if you're asking this critic what's on top of that list, the answer is Chinatown. The absolute zenith of 1970s Hollywood adventurousness, Roman Polanski’s majestic conspiracy thriller is the ultimate Los Angeles movie, finding shady behavior under the glare of the California sun. Starring a rascally Jack Nicholson, an absorbingly skittish Faye Dunaway and a fearsome John Huston as the evil Noah Cross, it’s a toxic masterpiece—and still the finest script ever written (by screenwriter Robert Towne, who we once interviewed).
Chinatown comes to Film Forum this Friday for a limited one-week run in a brand-new digital restoration. It's immensely worth seeing (or re-seeing), not only for the excellence of the movie, but as a reminder: This is what passed for mainstream entertainment in 1974, a witty, sexy and brainy experience, loaded with political cynicism. Demand more from Hollywood, Chinatown tells us. Our cinematic diet doesn't have to be all Marvel movies.
And if you'd like to delve further into the best thrillers of all time (Chinatown is definitely one of them), have a look at our ranked list.