Today we wish a warm happy birthday to of one of the greatest actors of all time, Jack Nicholson! And what a better way to celebrate than with a Jack Nicholson movies marathon?
1. The Shining
Heeere’s Johnny! This is one of the most iconic Jack Nicholson movies, where we get a glimpse of the actor’s geniality in portraying the combination between rage and madness. Directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 and based on Stephen King’s novel, this psychological horror film follows the maddening effects of isolation, augmented by the uncanny space of a hotel with a disturbing past. Jack Nicholson portrays the manic Jack Torrace, an aspiring writer who has a complicated past relationship with alcohol. Jack isolates with his wife Wendy and his son Danny at a hotel during winter in order to write his novel without any external distractions. However, things are far from going as planned as a series of strange events begin to occur, while Jack’s mental health gets worse every day, leading to violent outbursts.
Although this movie is representative of the horror genre, its main focus lays on the disturbing effects rather than on producing the usual fright. The flood of blood, the creepy twins, the decaying corpse and the eerie music lead to an experience which disturbs on a psychological level. Jack Nicholson’s performance adds to the atmosphere, as the tension cumulates and the viewers are obliged to hold their breath throughout the whole movie, nervously waiting for the central character’s final outburst.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The movie which won five Oscars in 1976 (for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay) is also the one in which Jack Nicholson revealed his true potential. Portraying the rebel McMurphy who messes with the authority established in a mental institution by nurse Mildred Ratched, Nicholson manifests an incredible force, energy and vitality. His charisma and confidence make him portray the central character at his fullest, transforming him into a leader everybody wants to follow and a secretly admired adversary.
The story follows Randle Patrick McMurphy, a prisoner sentenced for multiple assault and rape, who manages to get transferred to a mental hospital in order to escape the hard labor. The free-spirited prisoner is perplexed at the rigidity which dominates the hospital, which the other patients have no intention of disturbing. His quest of reminding the others how to enjoy the pleasures of life stands in contradiction with the ideal strictness imposed by the nurse Ratched and a clash between the two powerful characters doesn’t delay to appear. From organizing gambling sessions to fishing trips, the nonconformist McMurphy brings more and more patients to his side and diminishes the authority of nurse Ratched to the point that the others even agree to try to escape the facility. However, when a tragic event occurs, the most powerful side in the battle between chaos and order is once again questioned.
Being referred to by many as the greatest screenplay of all time, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is representative for the neo-noir films, reviving the classic film noirs of the ‘40s and the ’50s. The movie takes the form of a detective story, filled with mystery and unexpected twists, engaging the audience to uncover the real facet of events.
Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, a detective who finds himself in the middle of suspicious events while also having his own dark past that he tries to escape. As each scene is significant and filled with elements of symbolic nature, the viewers are invited to solve the case along with Mr. Gittes, and may sometimes even find themselves one step ahead of the detective. Gittes is often overwhelmed by the conspiracies surrounding him, as the other characters constantly shift identities and reveal secrets deeply rooted in their past. Each solved puzzle ends up raising more questions and Gittes finds himself trapped in a loop of distrust and disbelief. However, there are no unanswered questions in the movie and the significant elements needed to solve the case are present and hinted at even from the first act. After inspecting cases of adultery or murder, after being deceived by the woman he falls in love with, Gittes can’t find his peace even at the end of the movie, as history repeats itself and doesn’t allow the detective to escape his dark past, filled with failure and regret.
4. As Good as It Gets
His role in As Good as it Gets got Jack Nicholson the Oscar for Best Actor in 1997, being the most recent movie to win both the Best Actor and Best Actress. In this film, Nicholson plays the best-selling novelist Melvin Udall, who is notorious for his rude behavior and lack of manners.
Melvin is hated by all of his neighbors, as he is unable to display any positive emotion and completely lacks empathy. Being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Melvin strictly follows his everyday routine and any disturbance provoked by the others is harshly sanctioned and punished. He does not resort from provoking a scandal if needed and the apparent acts of generosity are caused by his own selfish motives and the obsession of maintaining the order in his life. As the story unfolds, the walls built by Melvin begin to collapse and the hateful, narcissistic man begins to discover a wider range of emotions. Starting with the attachment of his neighbor’s dog and culminating with the romantic interest he develops for his waitress, Melvin undergoes a transformation which makes him resemble an ordinary human being. However, being able to experience positive emotions is not enough, as Melvin must decide whether a radical change of behavior is a price he is willing to pay in order to be included in the society of others.
5. The Departed
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is one of the most acclaimed modern crime thrillers, becoming the director’s only win at the Academy Awards. The excellent cast, consisting of Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon promises the audience an outstanding experience.
Jack Nicholson portrays the Irish mafia boss Frank Costello, a dangerous and influential character, who plants Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as a spy in the Massachusetts State Police. At the same time, the police send an undercover trooper, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s crew. Eventually, both of the two sides realize that there are spies sent to gather intelligence among them. This starts a game filled with tension and suspense, as any wrong move can turn out to be fatal for the covering of the two spies. Jack Nicholson’s performance adds to the spiciness of the situation, as he introduces the viewers to a character whose calmness feels dangerous and whose confidence stands as a reminder that he is capable of committing any outrageous deed, turning any outcome into a possibility.
Each of these films reveal Jack Nicholson’s genius, underlining the actor’s ability to mesmerize the audience, as the viewers develop a love-hate relationship with his controversial characters. The vigor, rage, charisma and nonconformism displayed by Jack Nicholson in each performance transform him into an icon that can hardly be matched.