Good ol’ Lipton’s Tea: The best of Roman Polanski

His best films are funny! Rooted in a tradition of absurdist theater that was itself a reflection of a grisly reality, Roman Polanski made movies whose laughs stuck in your throat. He would’ve been the ideal adapter of Roald Dahl. I remember the sun-dappled dream sequence in Rosemary’s Baby, climaxing with shots of the sunken nude flesh of her officious neighbors; the visual ID in Chinatown of Jack Nicholson’s slit nose bound in gauze; Pierce Brosnan’s acerbic rotter of a PM in The Ghost Writer. Pirates excepted, his failures are muddles, not farragoes, and he might’ve found stable funding for more pictures had he not plied a girl with pills and fled to Europe.

The surprise on my list is Tess, a prestige hit from 1980 that no one remembers, re-watched a couple years upon its Criterion restoration. Closer to minor English pastoral poetry than Hardy, it captures a sense of menace behind dew-moist heath.

1. Chinatown
2. Repulsion
3. Rosemary’s Baby
4. The Ghost Writer
5. The Pianist
6. The Tenant
7. Knife in the Water
8. Tess

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