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* AwardSnub:
** The film won an [[UsefulNotes/AcademyAward Oscar]] for Best Screenplay, but probably would have won a few more, perhaps even Best Picture, if not for the misfortune of being released in the same year as ''Film/TheGodfatherPartII''. A lesser example than most, because the winner is also a great film. ''Chinatown'' did beat ''The Godfather Part II'' for Best Drama at the Golden Globes.
** [[spoiler:Creator/JohnHuston]] plays one of the most chilling villains of all time, and yet was not nominated for a supporting Oscar.
** And then there's Creator/JackNicholson losing Best Actor. The award (largely seen as a sympathy Oscar) was given to Creator/ArtCarney for the forgettable fluff piece ''Film/HarryAndTonto''.
* AwesomeMusic: Music/JerryGoldsmith's beautifully evocative score, highlighted by the main title theme with its melancholy trumpet solo.
* CompleteMonster: [[BigBad Noah Cross]] is a [[FauxAffablyEvil seemingly jovial, charming]] businessman who is working to stop a drought impacting Los Angeles. In truth, however, Cross is a [[CorruptCorporateExecutive ruthless sociopath]] who is purposefully enabling the drought to work towards creating fertile land he can sell for real estate. Cross murders anyone who could stand in his way, be it random innocents or his own son-in-law, and is revealed to have ignored serious warnings about the stability of the St. Francis Dam, showing zero remorse for the hundreds left dead when the dam inevitably burst due to his Cross's own greed. The true extent of Cross's evil is put on display as his daughter Evelyn is revealed to have been [[VillainousIncest raped as a teenager by Cross]], and in the present, Cross is attempting to get his hands on Evelyn's ChildByRape, Katherine. In the end, after Evelyn is killed, Cross fakes horror at the scene before swiftly dragging Katherine away, planning to use her as Evelyn's replacement for Cross's pleasure. [[note]]She managed to escape before the sequel.[[/note]] Noah Cross has stood out for decades as one of cinema's most memorable, and depraved, villains, a reputation handily earned.
* ContinuityLockout: The chief reason ''The Two Jakes'' failed. Despite ''Chinatown's'' many ItWasHisSled moments, ''Jakes'' required a ''lot'' of knowledge of the previous film for it to have a full impact.
* FunnyAneurysmMoment: Back in the day, Creator/JohnHuston played a different, far more benevolent, Noah in 1966's ''The Bible''.
* HarsherInHindsight: [[spoiler:The sexual abuse Noah Cross commits within the movie]] could be seen in a whole new light after attention was brought to a real-life court case implicating Creator/RomanPolanski himself in something similar. [[http://www.cracked.com/article_19918_6-terrible-decisions-that-gave-us-great-movie-moments_p2.html This]] article on Website/{{Cracked}} explicitly notes the parallels between how [[spoiler:Cross]] gets off [[KarmaHoudini scott-free]] for his crimes and how Polanski himself escaped jail time by fleeing the U.S.[[note]]This is technically not quite what happened, as Polanski's tvtropes page attests. Polanski confessed to his crime, and as per a plea bargain accepted to spend time in Chino Prison as part of a psychiatric evaluation. Polanski spent 42 Days in Chino, honouring his part of the plea bargain and was released early as per the recommendation of his probation officer. It was only when Judge Rittenbrand decided to back out of the plea bargain and planned to bring fresh charges that Polanski decided to flee, an action which the prosecutor of that case admitted was a justified response. In other words, unlike Cross whose crime is never unearthed and who does not admit to his crimes, Polanski both admitted to his crime and subjected himself to the justice system[[/note]]
* HilariousInHindsight:
** After this film was released, Creator/JoanCrawford declared that Creator/FayeDunaway would be perfect to play her in a biography. [[Literature/MommieDearest Okay, stop laughing, it's true.]]
** Those who saw ''Film/WhoFramedRogerRabbit'' first will enjoy Roger's "[[GettingCrapPastTheRadar pattycake]]" scene a lot more after watching the opening scene in ''Film/{{Chinatown}}''.
** The film can become somewhat funny from the youth's point of view now, since the tragic and lost main character contrasts very much with the modern Nicholson's LargeHam roles.
** In one of the grand ironies in film history, Jack Nicholson himself found out shortly after the movie was released that [[spoiler: his "sister" was [[FamilyRelationshipSwitcheroo actually his mother]]]], which is [[LifeImitatesArt damn-near identical]] to the movie's iconic plot twist. See the Trivia tab for more details.
* ItWasHisSled: It's such a famous film that the WhamLine "[[spoiler:She's my sister and my daughter!]]" has lost its power as TheReveal to many.
* MemeticMutation:
** "Forget it, _____. It's _______"
** The "sister, daughter" slapping scene.
* MoralEventHorizon: If there was any kind of sympathy for [[spoiler:Noah Cross]], it is long gone when it's revealed that [[spoiler:he fathered a daughter [[ParentalIncest upon his own daughter,]] Mrs. Mulwray, by rape]].
* NightmareFuel: The final scene becomes quite psychedelic and very embarrassing due to a somewhat narcotic atmosphere, alienated by Catherine and the famous Jake's HeroicBSOD. A good way to do DownerEnding.
* NeutralEvil: [[spoiler:Noah Cross]] is a FauxAffablyEvil tycoon who has more money and power than he knows what to do with. Doesn't matter: he wants more.
* OneSceneWonder:
** Creator/JohnHuston, as Noah Cross, has all of two (three at a push), very brief, scenes in this very long film. And he's often remembered as [[spoiler:one of the most despicable villains in cinematic history.]]
** Creator/DianeLadd as "Mrs. Mulwray" (aka Ida Sessions), who hires Gittes in the first scene. She does turn up a couple times later, first as a voice on the phone and then [[spoiler:as a corpse]].
** [[CreatorCameo Polanski himself]], as the Man with the Knife. "You're a very nosy fella, kittycat. You know what happens to nosy fellas? No? Wanna guess?"[[note]]And Polanski wasn't supposed to be in the role himself. Circumstances forced him into doing the part himself.[[/note]]
* TrueArtIsAngsty: Richard Evans, the film's producer, wanted Roman Polanski as director because he thought Polanski, a european, would have a DarkerAndEdgier vision of the USA more suited to the script. For his part, Polanski also insisted that the script's conclusion be changed from a BittersweetEnding reminiscent of classic film noir stories to a stark and nihilistic DownerEnding, thinking that they needed to go all the way now that the Hays Code was gone and that it was necessary for Chinatown to be a truly special film and not just a cookier-cutter Hollywood movie where everything magically works out in the end.
* VindicatedByHistory: ''The Two Jakes'' is now recognized as a worthy sequel to ''Chinatown'', especially if one watches the films back-to-back, but it's not the classic [[FirstInstallmentWins the original is]].
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