Jack Nicholson is 75 years old today. He has only made 3 movies in the past eight years and his last great performance (About Schmidt) was a full decade past. His frequent absences would be a much greater loss to cinema if his current taste didn't lean more Bucket List and less Schmidt. But he has meant so much to so many moviegoers for so many decades that his big day is definitely worth celebrating.
So herewith ten random things off the top of my head that I love about Jack Nicholson... and it shouldn't surprise you that most of them involve his actress co-stars. That's not just because you're reading this at The Film Experience but because, for all of Jack's showboating style, he regularly ups the game of his leading ladies (and vice versa)
• "Dear Ndugu..." (About Schmidt)
• the fascinating and atypical restraint of his character work as Eugene O'Neill in Reds (1981). He lets Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton lead (which they do spectacularly well -- what a great movie) but manages to leave an indelible searing impression all the same. I sometimes wonder if it's his best performance.
• That it took him a good long while to become JACK NICHOLSON -- he started in 1956 and he wasn't really JACK til 1969's Five Easy Pieces, and those slow burn rises to superstardom really ought to inspire all great actors who are looking for a defining breakthrough.
• The electric but very different push/pulls of his beastly seductions of Michelle Pfeiffer in Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Wolf (1994). They had great chemistry together.
• Chinatown (1974) in general and in its entirety. Also specifically in just about every scene. Let's simplify...
• Chinatown (1974) !!!!
• "Do I ice her? Do I marry her? Which one of dese?" Dumb pussy-whipped Jack in Prizzi's Honor (1985) who is talking about Irene (Kathleen Turner) but might just as well be describing his topsy turvy relationship with his ex (Anjelica Huston) too.
...His women keep pulling the rug out from under him, the Oriental rug to be precise.
Right there on the Oriental. With all the lights on.
• Everything about The Jack & Shirley Show within Terms of Endearment (1983)
• His long friendship with Warren Beatty, also newly 75. Imagine the influence and power they've wielded in their time on American cinema.
• "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" My favorite Jack Nicholson moments are rarely the iconic ones that everyone knows (in which I always find myself feeling "pull it back!") but his literally splintering-crazy work in The Shining is the best of his YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH style screen beats.
What's your favorite Jack Nicholson performance? Which screen moments from his long history stick with you.