10 essential Jack Nicholson movies
Tom Jolliffe offers ten must-see films by one of Hollywood’s greatest icons, Jack Nicholson…
The unpredictable spark. Unconventional delivery. Eyebrows. A constant feeling of being about to explode. It is Jack Nicholson, an actor of a unique intensity, almost unmatched. He has the ability to rearrange his emotions and sometimes completely break out of balance, while maintaining his own realism. The closest contemporary equivalent of such an unconventional and savage charisma is Nicolas Cage, but even Cage himself will attest, his production cannot match the range of masterpieces that Nicholson has beaten. Jack didn’t dive into a direct-to-video arena, either, primarily for quick and easy paychecks. No… Nicholson had made his time on a budget at the dawn of his career with Roger Corman no less. As such, there has been nothing to tempt Nicholson out of the apparent retirement he has enjoyed since 2010. His CV reads very impressively, but in case you need to remind you, here are 10 films. Jack Nicholson essentials:
One of the best independent films of all time. Dennis Hopper’s iconic road movie, starring Peter Fonda, would become a phenomenon. Hopper has magnificently exploited time, place and sensitivity. The young Jack Nicholson, whose career was starting to gain a foothold after films like Shooting, ended the 60s, paving the way for a leap forward in the 70s. It was nominated for an Oscar here for the first time, and not the last.
Nicholson was firmly establishing himself among a new wave of invigorating actors like De Niro / Pacino / Hoffman et al. He had his unique weird quality and distinct look that drove him towards unpredictable characters, thieves, or downright doing no good. The last detail, Five easy pieces, Carnal knowledge. Jack was on his way and in Chinese district, he would be part of one of the greatest neo-blacks ever created. Chinese district, a master class in screenwriting, also gave a master class in theater. Faye Dunaway is sensational, along with John Huston. In Nicholson’s canon, Chinese district remains one of his more restrained in terms of emotional swings (he has a few moments of mania, but plays fairly level for the most part). Either way, Nicholson is gorgeous here. The film is masterful in every department.
Flight over a cuckoo’s nest
Yes Chinese district showed Nicholson with a caveat that fans rarely associated with him, then Flight over a cuckoo’s nest would be one of his most iconic examples of Nicholson’s “style”. As RP McMurphy, Nicholson is the “sane” man in the Cuckoo’s Nest, but with an obvious inability to control a lively inner mania. His behavioral problem is never defined, but Nicholson is perfect for this character. The superlative adaptation of Milos Forman’s book is one of the best films of the decade (pitted against in a close battle with Chinese district like the Nicholson Peak movie). Exciting, fun, dramatic, touching, overwhelming and life-affirming, this is a mind-boggling cinematic achievement and deservedly a regular feature in the Top 100 lists.
It just might be Nicholson’s most pop culture role. Stanley Kubrick’s impeccably realized vision is loaded with stunning imagery. It’s that kind of perfectionist filmmaking and that meticulous level of detail in every aspect that sets it apart from almost everything else in the genre. Stephen King and his fans might lament the book’s cheating adaptation, but Kubrick’s version remains utterly captivating. It’s pure atmospheric horror. The pacing and eerie visuals are a calm, fateful platform for Nicholson. Go wild, he does. The film was beaten by critics on its release, before its subsequent re-evaluation over the years. Now considered a masterpiece, Nicholson’s performance has also been reassessed. On top? Sure, but oh so magnetically, and so intensely that it feels genuine.
Honor of Prizzi
John Huston’s penultimate film as director, Honor of Prizzi is somewhat underestimated. It’s a bit of a forgotten and very enjoyable crime comedy. It contains elements of old-fashioned farce and ghoulish spirit. A very old vision for a decade supported by Blockbusters and the SNL-alumni comedy. Nicholson heads a large cast, including Kathleen Turner, Robert Loggia and the flying stage Anjelica Huston. Despite 7 Oscar nominations (including Nicholson) and one victory (Anjelica Huston), it remains strangely forgotten.
It certainly has not been forgotten. Tim Burton’s groundbreaking film revolutionized the idea of what a comic book movie can be. He could have been a bit overshadowed in his legacy by more modern films like Nolan’s Batman movies, or the MCU, but Batman was really huge. It was a game-changer and a marketing and linking phenomenon that was also close to Star wars like everyone has until jurassic park trampled on the stage. Nicholson becomes Nicholson as the eponymous Joker. It’s a role blessed with an array of great versions. Jack’s Joker is superb, though it lacks an ominously dark intensity in the more gritty modern depictions of Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. Nicholson’s is still the funniest movie, however, and it chews up landscapes like few people can.
Some good men
YOU CANNOT HANDLE THE TRUTH !! Okay, I got that out of the way. Tom Cruise in the midst of his best acting run, pushing to the top of the A-List superstar stands against seasoned Nicholson in this legal proceeding. As you might expect, and with no sleight of hand on TC, Nicholson chews it up (with no scarcity of scenery). Rob Reiner’s thriller remains gripping, a real departure back then for someone more versed in lighter-toned movies, or chills of horror. If there is one common trap for courtroom drama, it’s losing audience control as we begin to dream of a bigger and more open cinema, but the confidences here work well and the courtroom footage remains captivating.
As good as it is
Nicholson dusted off his comedic chops again for a sour, wonderfully written character play. Nicholson is perfection as a die-hard writer who feels cornered in dealing with his gay neighbor’s dog (after being assaulted). Forming an unlikely bond with a waitress and a single mother, Nicholson’s left-handed and obnoxious author’s icy exterior begins to melt and he begins to relearn that being kind has its merits. Nicholson and Helen Hunt both won Oscars, though it remains the best role of Greg Kinnear’s career (for which he was nominated).
With the atypically nuanced direction of Alexander Payne and his penchant for the bittersweet, Nicholson has the rare license to underestimate. He plays a repressed and emotionally stoic retiree who loses his wife. Not knowing what to do, he picks up his motorhome and drives across the country to see his daughter, before her marriage to a blue collar worker for which Warren Schmidt has absolutely no time. He revisits those capricious features of As well, but it’s played without Nicholson’s devilish charisma, opting for a more understated style (both are effective in different ways). He once again showed Nicholson’s surprising (to some) range. It’s a wonderful movie that still pulls the heart throughout as we feel like we are a seemingly sentimental man (at first).
Martin Scorsese delivers a rarity … a Hollywood remake that might actually be better than his original (Hellish affairs). A cop is hiding in a crime gang. A criminal goes undercover as a cop and the twain will never meet, but be aware of the others existing, and thus become a twisting and invigorating thriller leading to inevitable carnage. Nicholson, the head of a criminal organization, manages to steal a film at a gallop, from a cast that includes Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. Nicholson’s unpredictable and surprising choices kept the co-stars on their toes, and in unison created an interesting and unique gangster boss who was different from the norm. It’s a great movie and the one that FINALLY won Scorsese an Oscar.
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and avid film buff. It has a number of films on DVD / VOD around the world and several releases to be released in 2021/2022, including Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more information on the best personal site you’ll ever see… https: //www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/