Oscar Rematch: ‘Chinatown’ vs. ‘Day for Night’

In this week’s Oscar rematch we’re talking about one of the best film noir’s of all-time going once again with one of the best films about filmmaking of all-time. Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown’ and Francois Truffaut’s ‘Day for Night’ were both nominated for Best Original Screenplay back in 1975 with Robert Towne’s script for ‘Chinatown’ named the eventual winner. But, after 40 years to think about it, does the Academy’s decision still hold up.

Let’s look at the tale of the tape:


Writer: Robert Towne
Box-Office: $29,200,000
Oscar Nominations: 11 nominations, one win
Rottentomatoes score: 98%day-for-night-poster

Day for Night
Writers: Francois Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, and Suzanne Schiffman
Box-Office: N/A
Oscar Nominations: Four nominations between 1974 and 1975, one win for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974
Rottentomatoes: 100%


‘Day for Night’ is a truly odd duck when it comes to the Oscars. First off, it’s a French film that received multiple nominations outside of Best Foreign Language Film, so it was clearly well loved by the Academy. So much so that they double dipped. The film was initially released in May of 1973, which allowed it to win Best Foreign Language Film in 1974. It continued to roll out for the rest of ’73 and into 1974, which apparently also qualified it for awards consideration for the 1975 ceremony, where it earned three nominations, including the one for Best Original Screenplay – so there’s your fun Oscar fact for the day.

But perhaps being a multiple year nominee actually hurt ‘Day for Night’ in the eyes of the voters. Having already been rewarded the previous year, perhaps they felt a nomination was sufficient enough for the film and chose to look elsewhere in this category. They were clearly enamored with the film though, so you have to believe that it was nipping on the heels of the eventual winner.

Speaking of that eventual winner, ‘Chinatown’ is widely regarded as one of the best films of the 1974, the 70s and all time in general. A strong case could be made that had it not been for ‘The Godfather Part II’ it would have been ‘Chinatown’ dominating the night. Instead Towne’s win for his script was the only trophy the film picked up.

And what a script it is. Towne created a seedy Los Angeles with rich and slimy characters alike and one of the most fantastic closing lines of all-time. Polanski deserves credit for crafting this dark world in sunny Los Angeles, but it all started on the page with Towne.

Even 40 years later, it is so easy to make a case for either film, and so hard to make one against them both too. ‘Day for Night’ is a brilliant him from a French master, while ‘Chinatown’ remains well seated in the American pantheon of film. The films are even, and so when it comes down to it, ‘Chinatown’ deserves to keep its crown.

Why, you may ask? ‘Chinatown’ has an iconic status. It resonates more with audiences. Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ had a ‘Chinatown’ reference in it for crying out loud. If you take a film class at any point, there’s a good chance you will watch ‘Chinatown.’ There’s no denying that a part of that is because of its script. So, tip your hat to ‘Chinatown,’ still the Best Original Screenplay from the 1975 Oscars.