Forty years ago this week, Roman Polanski’s opus, the enigmatic neo-noir Chinatown, hit theaters. Polanski’s masterpiece came out in a year that featured The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, A Woman Under the Influence, Young Frankenstein, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Blazing Saddles, but 40 years later, Chinatown remains the highlight of 1974 and one of the finest achievements in American cinema.
Shooting in gorgeous wide-scope technicolor, Polanski channeled the turmoil of his life — his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in particularly grisly fashion by the Manson family several years earlier — to portray the squalid, sickening underbelly of American life. At once sunny and seedy, Polanski’s version of California saps the less fortunate so the well-off can prosper.
The mystery folds in on itself, again and again, and the final revelation — or revelations, as the film doesn’t really have one definitive climax as much as it has a series of increasingly cryptic reveals — can turn the toughest tough guy’s blood cold. Chinatown is one of the most pessimistic and unnerving Hollywood films, but at the same time, Polanski crafted a work of undeniable beauty. Since we’ve got mysteries on the brain, here are 10 of the best films in the genre, in order of release.