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1
The 50 Greatest Movie Endings of All Time

2. Chinatown (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriter: Robert Towne

The last line in Chinatown is perhaps one of the most famous—and debated—final sentiments. The brilliantly twisty neo-noir, deftly directed by Roman Polanski from a whip-smart script by Robert Towne, is based on the real-life California Water Wars that raged between the city of Los Angeles and the people of Owens Valley, a farming community some 250 miles east, when the mayor realized he could build and aqueduct to supply more water to the growing City of Angels.

In the film, fictional P.I. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is (in a roundabout way) hired to investigate the death of one of the reservoir project's chief engineers, causing him to be drawn deeper into the controversy as well as the beyond-dysfunctional family dynamics of the murder victim's wife, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).

To explain the full plot would take more hours than there are in a day. Suffice it to say that, in the end, none of Gittes' legwork seems to matter when the final scene moves all of the main characters from L.A.'s leafy upper-class enclaves to the seedy part of town in the title. After all the secrets he has uncovered and the danger he has put himself into to find justice, Gittes is instructed to "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." Indeed, it is. —JW

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