Chinatown: the best film of all time

Roman Polanski's 'neo-noir' starring Jack Nicholson and a killer last line takes first place in poll of Guardian and Observer critics
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It's the film that cemented Jack Nicholson's reputation as the best American actor of his generation, and it was the last film Roman Polanski would make in the US before he fled the country in disgrace. Now, almost 40 years later, their 1974 release Chinatown has now been named the greatest film ever made.

The Chandleresque "neo-noir", with an Oscar-winning script by Robert Towne and a superlative performance by Nicholson as detective JJ Gittes, was voted into first place by a panel of Guardian and Observer critics.

Chinatown beat six other films in a shortlist drawn from the top-named films in the recently-published seven-part series of the 25 greatest films in seven genres, which concluded today. In joint-second place were Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (from the Horror section) and Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (the leading film in the Arthouse section).

The Guardian's film critic, Peter Bradshaw, said: "Chinatown is such a powerful piece of myth-making, a brilliant evocation of Los Angeles as a spiritual desert." The Observer's Philip French considers it a movie of "near perfection", ending "unforgettably with the line 'Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown!'".

Alongside Nicholson, Chinatown features career-best performances from Faye Dunaway – who notoriously clashed on set with director Polanski – and legendary film-maker John Huston, who played sinister landowner Noah Cross. Polanski himself had a cameo as a stiletto-wielding hoodlum who slices Nicholson's nose open.

Originally titled Water and Power, Chinatown was intended by scriptwriter Robert Towne to be the first of a trilogy examining the corrupting effects of Los Angeles's natural resources on the development of the city. But production of the second film, The Two Jakes, was much delayed and only emerged in 1990, with Nicholson himself as director. The disappointing critical and commercial reaction meant the third film, Gittes Vs Gittes, was never made.

The full result:

1) Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

=2) Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

=2) Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

4) Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1976)

5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

6) Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

7) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

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