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Best Films - 1974

Chinatown Jack Nicholson
Chinatown with Jack Nicholson.

“You may think you know what you’re dealing with,” one character admonishes sleazy private detective Jake Gittes, “but believe me, you don’t.” Released shortly after the end of the Watergate hearings, Chinatown is Roman Polanski’s masterpiece and arguably the best mystery thriller ever filmed, a ruthless amorality tale about a putrid society in which corruption, violence, and degradation lurk under a veneer of wealth and respectability. Jack Nicholson, hardly the most subtle of actors, underplays his part-jaded, part-naive private eye to the low-key point of sedate grandeur. Forget Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Warren William, William Powell, and all other trench-coated gumshoes. Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is the apex of movie sleuthdom. And if John Huston (director of one of the first film noirs, the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon) overacts and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Network) does the usual Faye Dunaway bit, those are mere scratches in the thriller’s overall brilliance. The hopeful ending of Robert Towne’s screenplay was changed by Polanski, who felt the movie deserved a downbeat finale on a par with the story itself – and with the world out there. Towne wasn’t pleased, but I ardently side with Polanski. Chinatown with a “happy” ending would not have been Chinatown, but that other corrupt, dishonest, debased Everywhereland, Hollywood. A sort-of sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), written by Robert Towne and directed by Nicholson himself, sank without a trace.

FILM
Chinatown
The Conversation
The Godfather: Part II
Harry and Tonto
Phantom of the Paradise
Young Frankenstein

NON-FICTION
Hearts and Minds (d: Peter Davis)

DIRECTOR
Roman Polanski (Chinatown)
Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation)
Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather: Part II)
Brian DePalma (Phantom of the Paradise)
Paul Mazursky (Harry and Tonto)
Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express)
Luchino Visconti (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece)

ACTOR
Jack Nicholson (Chinatown)
Dirk Bogarde (Il Portiere di notte / The Night Porter)
Jeff Bridges (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot)
Art Carney (Harry and Tonto)
Gene Hackman (The Conversation)
Dustin Hoffman (Lenny)
Burt Lancaster (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece)
Alessandro Momo (Profumo di donna / Scent of a Woman)
Al Pacino (The Godfather: Part II)

ACTRESS
Brigitte Mira (Angst essen Seele auf / Fear Eats the Soul)
Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)
Goldie Hawn (The Sugarland Express)
Elizabeth Montgomery (A Case of Rape)
Charlotte Rampling (Il Portiere di notte / The Night Porter)

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein)
Dom DeLuise (Blazing Saddles)
Allen Garfield (The Conversation)
Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Geraldine Fitzgerald (Harry and Tonto)
Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise)
Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles)
Madeline Kahn (Young Frankenstein)
Valerie Perrine (Lenny)
Diane Ladd (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)
Elizabeth McRae (The Conversation)
Silvana Mangano (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece)
Miou Miou (Les Valseuses / Going Places)

SCREENPLAY
Robert Towne (Chinatown)
Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation)
Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo (The Godfather: Part II)
Brian DePalma (Phantom of the Paradise)
Paul Mazursky & Josh Greenfield (Harry and Tonto)
Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi D’Amico & Enrico Medioli (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece)
Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein)

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Larry Pizer (Phantom of the Paradise)
John A. Alonzo (Conrack)
Mitchell Breit (A Woman Under the Influence)
Pasqualino De Santis (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno / Conversation Piece)
Ennio Guarnieri (Il Viaggio / The Voyage)
Mario Tosi (Buster and Billie)
János Tóth (Macskajáték / Cat’s Play)
Geoffrey Unsworth (Murder on the Orient Express)
Kent L. Wakeford (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)
Gordon Willis (The Parallax View)

ORIGINAL SCORE
David Shire (The Conversation)
Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown)
Nino Rota (The Godfather: Part II)
Armando Trovajoli (Profumo di donna / Scent of a Woman)

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