“Nick, nick, nick”: A tribute to Jack Nicholson


He has been in film retirement for over ten years: Jack Nicholson (85) still holds the record as the actor with the most Oscar nominations. The man, who will be celebrating his 85th birthday on April 22nd, was even able to take the golden boy home three times – with a further nine nominations he received nothing. That wolf grin deserved more gold honors, right?

As the Joker in “Batman”: “Have you never heard of the healing power of laughter?”

It may not be the strongest portrayal of the crazy comic book clown, but it was more than groundbreaking: Jack Nicholson was long reluctant to take on the role of the Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman”. When he finally agreed, he stole the show from the winged avenger (Michael Keaton). Nicholson’s dazzling diabolical nature competes with a Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), whose colorfully made-up desperation lingers on for a long time. The insane interpretation of Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) speaks for itself and once earned him a posthumous Oscar. But: With his killer smile and iconic sayings, Nicholson laid the foundation for future interpretations of the psychopathic Batman adversary.

As Colonel Nathan R. Jessep in “A Matter of Honor”: “You can’t stand the truth.”

Nicholson fans eagerly await the flash of every film: the grin that has two rows of chiseled teeth beaming at the camera and the corners of the mouth raising the eyebrows up a story. A well-tried tool that a Nicholson film couldn’t do without? In “A Matter of Honor” he doesn’t need it once. Instead, he mimics a US commander par excellence in the judicial-military rip-off. His character tolerates neither criticism nor contradiction and grotesquely portrays and at the same time questions military obeying orders.

At the showdown in court, he throws at a green-horned Tom Cruise (59): “Boy, we live in a world full of walls and these walls have to be protected by men with guns, and who’s going to do that, you?” Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. However, the trophy was won by Gene Hackman (92) for his role in “Unforgiven”.

As policeman Jerry Black in “The Promise”: “He exists, I know for a fact!”

The bad guy can do it too. In the film adaptation of Dürrenmatt’s novel “The Promise”, Nicholson, as a police officer about to retire, tries to solve the case of a murdered girl. He gives his mother his word that he will find the culprit. In the end, his character breaks under the weight of the promise that cannot be redeemed. The story of crime and punishment received numerous nominations, including for the Palme d’Or. An award didn’t jump out, unlike for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In it, Nicholson not only scratches the brink of insanity as the nonconformist McMurphy, he goes far beyond.

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That’s what he mostly did – going beyond his role. In “The Shining” as a murdering family man, in “The Witches of Eastwick” as the devil incarnate and as a bitter clown with an acid grin in “Batman” anyway. His performance as an alcoholic in “Easy Rider”, which starts the day with a “Nick, nick, nick”, remains unforgotten. His role model in “It doesn’t get better” is all the more astonishing: The obsessive-compulsive neurotic and misanthropist Melvin Udall writes about the perfect relationship, despises gays and terrorizes those around him. Only a small dog and the waitress Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt, 58) awaken compassion and love in him. After the golden boys for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Days of Tenderness” another Oscar jumped out for Jack, who was accused of only playing himself. “Whatever works” – that’s what Woody Allen would say!


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