best film:  This one is incredibly crowded because Jack has been in (and been excellent in) 6 ½ masterpieces. It’s the most I’ve seen while doing this. He’s in Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Easy Rider and The Shining. Those are the four masterpieces on solid ground. Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge and The Departed are all graded out as masterpieces in my archives but they’re not blue chips—hence saying “6 ½ masterpieces” to start us off here. Either way, it’s staggering stuff. Of all the films only The Shining and Chinatown are in my top 100 though (there are approximately 300 masterpieces so this ratio works out). Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece is Jack’s best film. Give me Kubrick’s audacious visuals and dedication to the steady-cam tracking shot aesthetic over Chinatown’s retro-polish and screenplay brilliance (it is truly one of the all-time finest). But these two films are extremely close- I have The Shining at #60 and Chinatown at #68.

best performance: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is Jack’s greatest performance to this day. He’s darker in Five Easy Pieces and the “hold the chicken” scene in it may be his greatest single moment in film (from a guy who gave us “you can’t handle the truth”) but Cuckoo’s Nest makes better use of his charm and sheer liveliness. He’s edgy—always has been— but he’s our hero here (or antihero) and a perfect vehicle for the anarchy. He’s utterly captivating sitting around the group meetings, in the opening interview, his battles with Louise Fletcher and the torture sequences with the electroshock therapy. Nicholson is a massive screen presence – he can’t really disappear (Hoffa is a solid attempt) or hide his smile and personality so Forman’s film is his finest vehicle (and a damn film with an all-timer of an ending). It’s just slightly more suited to his talents than the rest of his best work.

stylistic innovations/traits: Nicholson is both new age Hollywood’s golden boy and bad boy at the same time. He’s playful (reminds me of 1950’s Mifune), anti-authoritarian, full of sex and rebellion. He’s another actor that seems to be largely playing himself in at least half of his films. His resume is overwhelming. He’s been in 25 overall archiveable films, has been nominated 12 times (most for a male actor) and won three times. His top 10 performances below is so loaded that I have 6 oscar nominations and two wins that don’t even make his top 10 performances….. 6 noms and 2 wins that DO NOT make the cut—that’s a legendary career’s worth of leftovers. Michael Caine has 6 nominations and two wins….. Nicholson began in the 60’s working his way up (and making connections) in the Roger Corman’s AIP group. Easy Rider was a breakout hit and landmark film for the new Hollywood. Nicholson scorches the screen in it and it sets him off on another Pacino-like legendary run in the early 70’s (9 archiveable films in 7 years including 5 masterpieces). He’s in a landmark film with arguably the best director of all-time (Kubrick), steals A Few Good Men, Batman and pads his resume with work like As Good As It Gets, The Pledge, The Departed, and About Schmidt in the later 90’s and early 00’s.

directors worked with:   James Brooks (3), Bob Rafelson (2), Mike Nichols (2) and then a murder’s row of directors once including: Kubrick, Polanski, Scorsese, Antonioni, Milos Forman, Hal Ashby, Kazan, Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Alexander Payne, John Huston and Tim Burton

Top 10 Performances:

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  2. Five Easy Pieces
  3. Chinatown
  4. The Shining
  5. The Last Detail
  6. Carnal Knowledge
  7. Easy Rider
  8. A Few Good Men
  9. The Passenger
  10. Batman

Archiveable films

1966- The Shooting
1969- Easy Rider
1970- Five Easy Pieces
1971- Carnal Knowledge
1972- The King of Marvin’s Gardens
1973- The Last Detail
1974- Chinatown
1975- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1975- The Fortune
1975- The Passenger
1976- The Last Tycoon
1976- The Missouri Breaks
1980- The Shining
1981- Reds
1983- Terms of Endearment
1985- Prizzi’s Honor
1987- Broadcast News
1987- Ironweed
1989- Batman
1992- A Few Good Men
1992- Hoffa
1997- As Good as It Gets
2001- The Pledge
2002- About Schmidt
2006- The Departed