The Essential Jack Nicholson

There are no limits, literally none to what 'Mad Jack' Nicholson can achieve. He is the actor with the most nominations for Best Actor in Oscar history, he is the only actor to have been nominated in every decade (apart from Michael Caine) and is the only one of the three people to have won 3 oscars for acting (two for best actor and one for best supporting actor). He has portrayed a wide range of characters, most of them lovable, many of them likeable from a distance, and a few of them outright scary.

He has straddled the path of being the bad boy of hollywood, along with being one of the most respected actors of multiple generations (there was a joke in Mad Magazine once about his gardener being able to book a table at high class New York restaurants on the virtue of being His gardener).

He is an acting institution in himself (young Leo and others imitate him with Great Success), to watch him is to watch films at their finest. And if you are not properly introduced to John Joseph 'Jack' Nicholson, the following five films will act as a good starting point.

1. Chinatown

This movie has one of the best last lines in the history of cinema. This movie is one of the best noir films in the history of cinema. A dark and gritty film about a Private Detective getting caught in a whirlpool of strange conspiracy by a beautiful damsel in distress, it is about a loner going against a system to widely corrupt that it is impossible for him to win (and yet you root for him) because Jack Nicholson's Jake is at par with the best in hard-boiled protagonists.

The movie has a complex conspiratorial plot which keeps you guessing till the very end, often leaves you despondent and yet makes you hope against hope for Jake to succeed. And it is the power of Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson who bring this story alive on screen.

If you are a fan of detective crime films and can stomach a punch to the gut, you shouldnt miss out on Chinatown.

2. The Passenger

Straight out of Chinatown, Jack Nicholson went to Italy and starred in Passenger, an intriguing story about the cost of assuming false identities.

Like Chinatown, The Passenger has a heartbreakingly in-genuine plot at the center of its story. It has a reporter who fakes his own death because he is tired of his own life, and then assumes the identity of another man (who he does not know is a drug-runner, and this leads to a lot of complications). It is a tale of loss, of betrayal and yet of a man finding himself by exchanging his life with someone else.

They do not make films like Passenger anymore.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This is not just one of Jack Nicholson's best film, this is one of the best films EVER made. For a story set entirely in the confines of a sanitarium, it helps you find hope in the weirdest of places. Jack unleashed his entire acting powerhouse in this film (check out the official poster, it says Jack Nicholson in almost the same size as the movie's name).

Jack Nicholson went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of Randle Macmurphy, a sane man in this mad world. It is hard to describe how efficient he is in this particular role. He went on to win his first oscar for the film.

At the risk of sounding cliched I would say - see it to believe it.

4. The Shining


I kid you not, it was the prowess of the horror that Jack Nicholson could conjure up which made one endearing line about America's favourite TV host (Johnny Carson) into something infinitely scary.

This movie scared an entire nation, and continues to scare movie watchers to this day. It is correct to say it was Stanley Kubrick's bordering on the insane genius which brought this Stephen King book to life with an eerie (often referenced in pop culture) ambience and strange side scenes, but it was the traumatic, decent into hell and madness of a family man portrayed by Jack Nicholson which is the USP of this movie and this is where Jack Nicholson showed his potential of scaring the hell out of his audience.

And of course the movie gave the world this iconic axe-wielding door breaking scene.

Watch it, but not with the lights out. Its more dangerous.

5. As Good As it Gets

This particular movie is this writer's personal favourite of the actor's Oeuvre. Partially because the central character is a writer.

Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a hopelessly racist, homophobic, sociopath, neurotic writer who is successful in what he does, but is (perhaps as a result of the success) a dick to everyone around him. You immediately start off by disliking Melvin, but his eccentricity is at time adorable and it keeps you from completely hating him.

The movie also has the beautiful Helen Hunt holding her own against The Big Jack, and it is about watching the aforementioned all around bastard Melvin slowly (very slowly) turning over a new leaf, by trying not to be a dick to everyone.

The movie is a comedy, and it is one of those films which when ends makes you start missing the main characters.

Jack won his second best actor oscar for this film, and if you havent seen ANY of the films starring Jack, then this is a good starting point.

6. The Departed

Admittedly this was an ensemble cast movie (missing from the poster - big names like Martin Sheen, Mark 'The Fighter' Wahlberg and Alec 'Fuck You, that's my name!' Baldwin) and it was a sprawling crime saga with multiple foci point. However, it was Jack who (in a good way) chewed the scenery in every scene that he was in. He played mob boss Frank Costello, and to put his acting chops in a nut-shell, there is a scene in which he tells Dicaprio (who acts a police-rat inside a mob) that he smells a rat, and he imitates a rat. In that particular scene he ACTUALLY becomes a rat by the power of his acting.

That my friends, is Jack Nicholson for you.

Happy Birthday great sir, may you grace us with a few good films more.

Honourable Mentions

Jack Nicholson was the original Dancing with devils in the moonlight Joker.

In which Jack derides Tom's truth handling abilities.


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