7. Jack Nicholson
CHINATOWN, FIVE EASY PIECES, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, THE SHINING, BATMAN, ABOUT SCHMIDT, THE DEPARTED, AS GOOD AS IT GETS
For awhile there, it was pretty fashionable to rag on Jack Nicholson for always playing “Jack.” Now, six years removed from what may well remain his last screen performance, I hope it’s evident that it never really mattered if he did, simply for the fact there is no one else like him. We’ve been gifted with this singular presence. Already balding, he broke through in his early 30s by playing a series of jackasses and loons, and nevertheless emerged as a compelling, romantic leading man. Once recruited to be an animator, he defines his characters in sharply physical turns – for as distinct a voice as he has, I think first of him barking at dogs on the freeway in Five Easy Pieces or reclined in his office chair in Chinatown. Few could go as far off the rails (The Shining), granted, but fewer still were equally capable of striking poses that suggested an immense existential weight (The King of Marvin Gardens, The Passenger). Even between the nostalgia trips of his later career, he stretched himself with About Schmidt and The Departed, subverting his iconic status in the former and emboldening it in the latter. Roger Ebert wrote of his work in The Last Detail, “we stop thinking about the movie and just watch to see what he’ll do next.” We’re still watching.