Do something special on the film legend’s 83rd birthday
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If the sequel to The Shining, which many of us saw last year was anything like its predecessor, it’s a good thing Jack Nicholson didn’t reprise his role as Jack Torrance.
83-year-old elderly boy can’t be trusted with an axe at the Overlook Hotel without many stops for Horlicks and a chocolate digestive, it’s hard to imagine.
One of the problems with Jack Nicholson is that his most well-known performances have obscured a remarkable run of other films he appeared in from the early ’70s to the early ’00s. Our favorite images from the man with Hollywood’s most frightening smile and fastest-regressing hairline.
1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
In his role as McMurphy, a guy who is acutely aware of the folly of life and the importance of having a good time in order to triumph over it, Jack gives one of his best performances as he is confined to an asylum for being “too sane.” Coiled-spring rage and hurt and humor abound in this anti-authoritarian masterpiece by Jack Klugman. And if you don’t cry at the end, you’re a lot tougher than the average person.
2. Five Easy Pieces
A stone-cold masterpiece from 1970 stars Jack Nicholson as the brilliant pianist-turned-oil-rig worker-turned-politician Bobby Dupea. Raging young Jack at his most poetic, with a hobo-inspired style and plenty of wrath. It’s also a good idea to see the diner scene if you’ve ever had a negative experience with customer service.
3. The Shining
If you look at the history of modern horror films, the Jack Nicholson/Stanley Kubrick collaboration is unrivaled. To this day, Jack’s journey from hotel housekeeper to psychopathic assassin is just as interesting and unnerving to watch as it was when the film premiered forty years ago.
4. Easy Rider
When it came time for Jack to join Hollywood’s A-list, this was the movie that did it for him. It was also a state of the nation address for a society torn between mainstream values and countercultural ones. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s road trip to the crumbling heart of the American dream is made much more poignant by Jack’s performance as Dennis’s alcoholic lawyer.
This is one of Jack’s best works, with a mobster who enjoys removing people’s noses, high-level corruption, and a lot of extremely cool linen suits. In this noir-ish thriller, Jake Gittes plays private dick Jake Gittes, who gets down and dirty in 1930s California investigating questionable property purchases.
6. About Schmidt
While trying to keep his daughter from marrying the son of a water bed salesman, Jack’s death is brilliantly shown in this elegiac story about an old man facing his own mortality. It’s a bleakly funny piece of work.
7. The Last Detail
As the grizzled Navy officer Buddusky, Jack trades in his Harley-Davidsons for a series of trains and buses in this strange road trip movie in which he plays a disgraced sailor he is escorting back to the brig for imprisonment. The Italian sausage sandwiches eaten at a roadside diner in this movie are some of the best junk food ever seen on the big screen.
Prior to Al Pacino’s portrayal of America’s most notorious union boss in The Irishman, Jack portrayed the job with aplomb. This is a rare opportunity to watch Angry Jack at his most hysterical; no one has ever used the term “slimy little prick” in movie with as much ferocity as he does in this film, which was released in 1992.
9. The King Of Marvin Gardens
While in Atlantic City as a late night talk show DJ for his brother’s get-rich-quick scheme to open an island pleasure resort in Hawaii, Jack gives an unusually quiet performance as the narrator of the story.
10. The Passenger
A journalist stuck in an undisclosed African warzone trades identities with a dead colleague in Michelangelo Antonioni’s eerie and haunting film. When Maria Schinder plays the love interest and a seven-minute long shot of decomposition is used to close one of Jack’s most underappreciated works, you know you’ve got something special.
11. The Border
As Charlie, an El Paso border officer who accepts bribes from Mexican gang leaders in exchange for letting immigrants into the United States, Jack takes a stand in this frightening, realistically dirty social-conscious tale from 1982. Harvey Keitel gives a brilliant performance as Jack’s sleazy fellow officer.
Francis Phelan, played by Meryl Streep, a chronically ill alcoholic in Depression-era Albany, is the worst role that Jack has ever played on film. In a film whose melancholy can wear thin over the course of its two and a half-hour running time, Jack manages to charm despite his wealthy status by portraying a down-and-outer.
13. A Few Good Men
What if I tell you the truth? It’s worth the price of admission to see this overlong military courtroom drama for this one line alone, one of Jack’s greatest, as he plays Nathan Jessup, a viscous, Cold War military Colonel battling Tom Cruise as a hot-shot lawyer to defend a hazing incident in which a private died on his watch at Guantanamo Bay. When he does appear, Nicholson’s reptilian arrogance is a show-stealer.
14. As Good As It Gets
Jack’s Melvin Udall, a novelist and professional misanthrope who insults his neighbors, throws pets down incinerator chutes, and finally finds a vinegary kind of romance with a waitress, sorting his M&Ms by color is one of his more lovable features. You can tell Jack had a lot of fun portraying this character, despite the fact that the plot isn’t all that original.
15. The Departed
Frank Costello, the Boston mob boss played by Jack, has a swagger all his own. Jack and his hideous leer frolic with a severed hand, bordellos of women, and a big fake penis in an inferno of violence in the badlands directed by Martin Scorsese. It’s too bad about his horrendous beard, which is fashioned like a shuttlecock.
16. Carnal Knowledge
In this 1971 comedy starring Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson about two college mates who are entering a dreary middle age and dealing with various sorts of male dysfunction around women, Jack plays Jonathan and Sandy, two men who are cruel, humorous, and, by today’s standards, wildly un-woke. As a crew-neck sweater Casanova, Jack gets all the great lines in the high-octane, finely pitched dialogue between the two guys.
17. Prizzi’s Honor
Jack’s climb to the top of the Prizzi mafia family as Charley Partanna, a paunchy hitman, is ridiculous yet curiously plausible, thanks to a combination of The Godfather’s danger and The Sopranos’ family humour. Definitely one of Jack’s better 1980s roles.
18. The Missouri Breaks
Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando in the same movie? That’s crazy. What a shame that this double-lead star billing has gone unnoticed for so long. It’s the 1880s, and Clayton (Brando) is a deranged hired gun with an Irish accent and an insatiable appetite for women’s clothing. Jack plays a cowboy thief in the movie.