There are a lot of celebrities out there. And the world is pretty much filled to capacity with movies stars. However, there’s just one Jack Nicholson. The man long ago graduated from being that guy we see in movies to a Sinatra-Elvis level of recognition that went way beyond his talents on the big screen. He’s that guy at the Los Angeles Lakers games. He’s the one in the front row at the Oscars. He’s the one that every comedian is legally required to do an impression of.
Which is why it’s nice to occasionally remind ourselves that Nicholson achieved this status largely thanks to his skills as an actor. What better occasion to do that than the man’s 76th birthday this week? He is one of the most honored performers in our generation, with his 12 Oscar nominations making him the most nominated actor in Academy Awards history. Even more remarkable, he’s received at least one of those nods in each of the five decades he’s worked. So, if you can handle the truth about his amazing acting career, check out these Streampix samples of his work.
In his later years, Nicholson has been a lot of things but let’s be honest. Ladies man is not one of them. And yet….that’s precisely what he played in this charming, amusing 2003 comedy. Not only did he get to woo a young Amanda Peet, he ends up romancing a more age appropriate Diane Keaton. His characters walks into the room and all the women swoon. Who knew he also did science fiction films too?
Nicholson one won of his two Best Actor Oscars for this 1997 film, where he played a crabby, OCD writer who winds up involved with Helen Hunt’s single mom. One of Nicholson’s most impressive acting traits has always been his ability to play first-class jerks who we still have a way of charming us into giving them one more chance. Although the lifelong Laker fan still has a ways to go before Boston Celtic fans will be in his corner.
He’s had a lot of fine moments throughout his career, but this 1975 drama may very well be his finest. He won his first Oscar playing R.P. McMurphy, a rebellious convict who ends up in a mental institution where his attitude makes things even crazier for everyone. It wasn’t his first film by any stretch, but it was the one that really helped established the anti-authoritarian bent that would define the rest of his career.
Working with director Sean Penn for a second time, Nicholson starred here as a retiring cop who vows to a distraught mom that he’ll catch her son’s killer before he leaves the force. It’s definitely not his happiest cinematic moment, but “The Pledge” is definitely one of his more intense ones. After all, the director IS Sean Penn, who’s not exactly known for his wacky comedy.
“Saturday Night Live,” 12/13/97
In the midst of his promotional push for “As Good As It Gets,” Nicholson did perhaps the most surprising thing of his surprising career: he showed up alongside guest host Hunt’s monologue and later in a sketch featuring the Roxbury Guys. The appearances may have been brief, but you know the man is one of the biggest personalities on the planet when you can wear sunglasses indoors and make it look cool instead of like you’re someone who may have something to hide.