Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jack Nicholson’s Birthday Bash As Good As He Gets 04.04.00

Our Birthday Bashes put a nice spin on the whole gift-giving ritual. You walk in empty handed and leave with some of the greatest films on earth because, at our party, it's the honoree who's giving out the presents.

Jack Nicholson is recognized as one of our greatest actors, nominated eight times for the Best Actor Oscar, winning twice (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good As It Gets). On top of that, he has been nominated four times as a Best Supporting Actor, taking home the Oscar for Terms of Endearment, not to mention the countless awards and nominations for the Golden Globes, the New York Film Critics Awards and the British Academy.

Still, Nicholson is often derided for “playing himself.” His uncanny ability to make whatever role he’s playing uniquely Nicholson, however, is precisely what makes Nicholson so great. Like Humphrey Bogart, another master of playing himself, Nicholson possesses incredible subtlety and restraint in his choices as an actor. Even when he is playing it big, over-the-top and bombastic, Nicholson mines the kernel of truth from every character, finding those pieces of himself that ring “real” to apply to his performances, rather than inventing affectations. This is why Nicholson is so delightful in comedic roles.

To commemorate and celebrate his 63rd Birthday, we decided to look at the gifts of his forgotten, but no less important, films.

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

This Roger Corman classic about a dork who works in a flower shop and develops a man-eating species of plant features Nicholson in a tiny, but an oh-so-memorable performance, as the masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force. The young Nicholson already has the comic chops of a veteran.

The Last Detail (1973)
“If this kid gets p*ssy out of this I'll eat my f*cking flat hat, man.”

On the heels of Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby directed this hilarious Robert Towne adaptation of Darryl Poniscan’s novel. The film that solidified the public’s perception of Nicholson as a pottymouth, Nicholson’s Badass Buddusky and his partner Mule Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned the detail of transporting sailor Meadows (Randy Quaid) to the brig, where he is to serve a stiff sentence for a petty crime. Buddusky decides that the kid needs to be shown a good time one last time and takes it upon himself to get him drunk, get him into a fight and, finally, get him laid.

Prizzi’s Honor (1995)
“Yeah, well if he was so f*ckin' smart, why is he so f*ckin' dead?”

John Huston’s screen version of novelist Richard Condon’s black comedy is one of the most delightfully twisted love stories ever filmed. Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, a hit man in the Prizzi family, who spurns mafia princess, Maerose Prizzi (Angelica Huston), for sexy tax consultant Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner). Irene, as it happens, is actually a hitperson herself, and when she betrays the Prizzis, Charley is in a quandry over whether he should kill Irene or marry her. This is Nicholson at his darkly comic finest.

Broadcast News (1987)
“This is a brutal layoff. And all because they couldn't program Wednesday nights.”

In Nicholson’s second outing with writer/director/producer James L. Brooks (the first, Terms of Endearment, the third, Nicholson’s Best Actor Oscar win in As Good As It Gets), Nicholson appears in an unbilled supporting role, but nearly steals the show. In this funny, poignant (and underrated) examination of the nightly news, William Hurt, Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter are undoubtedly the stars, but Nicholson’s turn as Bill Rorich, Anchorman, the network’s self-important national talking head, is a phenomenal example of Nicholson’s range and the wonderful subtly and restraint of which he is capable.

Batman (1990)
“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

Any self-respecting fan of the Dark Knight takes serious umbrage with Tim Burton and writer Sam Hamm for the liberties they took with the Batman mythology--imagine! making The Joker the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents when we all know it was common street thug, Joe Chill!--however, no matter your allegiance to Bob Kane, it is undeniable that Jack Nicholson was born to play that malicious master of mirth, The Joker. Nicholson’s trademark mania is on full over-the-top display, out-ho-ho-ho-hee-hee-hee-ha-ha-haing even Caesar Romero.

Of course, Nicholson’s impressive roster of performances over a nearly forty-five year career includes the classics Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, The Shining, Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, but when you’re celebrating with a golf club in one hand, a woman forty years younger than you in the other, don’t forget to raise a toast to Nicholson’s lesser-known gems.

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