12. Noah Cross
Played By: John Huston
Movie: Chinatown (1974)
The most memorable movie villains are the charmers, the monsters who win over viewers with beautiful language and sick grins. From the couch or theater seat, they're enjoyable to be around, but only because the viewer doesn't have to share actual air with them.
For instance, take Noah Cross in Roman Polanski's masterful neo-noir Chinatown. In a film full of sunny sleaze, here's the larger-than-life personification of absolute power, played, of course, by John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, just to name a few. For every brief moment that Cross appears to smile and bite his way through Robert Towne's screenplay, he becomes the insatiable hunger of Hollywood, always wanting more. It's captivating.
The viewer understands he's awful, but it's only until the third-act reveal that you realize the extent of his sins. And once learned, you can't unlearn it, just as you can't keep the terrible sound of the car horn out of your brain once the film has ended. —RS