17. Hoffa (1992)
Something of a box-office flop upon its release, “Hoffa” is directed by a long-time friend of Jack, writer/director/actor/comedian Danny De Vito. A long-time dream project for De Vito, Jack plays Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Not afraid to detail his connections with crime and the Mafia, the film displays powerfully how Hoffa ran foul of the U.S. government and the way that, in particular, the Kennedy Brothers went out of their way to crucify him.
A complex portrayal of a flawed but ambitious being, this remains a strong work in the actor’s canon.
16. The Crossing Guard (1995)
In Sean Penn’s second bow behind the camera, following 1991’s extraordinary “The Indian Runner”, Jack plays a bereaved father, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. That naked, raw emotion and anger of a man whose life compass has been smashed to pieces, is right there up on screen for everyone to see.
“The Crossing Guard” also co-stars Anjelica Huston. Offscreen, Jack and Anjelica were lovers for a number of years. Some time before this film was made, they separated in less than positive circumstances. Similar to the volatile chemistry of Taylor and Burton in the Mike Nichols film “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?”, that off screen powder keg of life experience brought some real charge to the scenes that the two, as ex-partners on screen, share.
15. Ironweed (1987)
Brazilian director Hector Babenco, after his first Hollywood triumph in the form of “The Kiss Of The Spiderwoman” (1985), turned his eye to Depression-era America. Set in 1938, “Ironweed” follows two drifters, played powerfully by Jack and Meryl Streep, trying to find their way in a world that has all but destroyed them.
This is one of Jack’s most emotionally raw and revealing performances of his career. You, as a viewer, totally feel his pain and sheer psychic mess as to what has made him the man that you see before you.
“Ironweed” is a searing, utterly unsparing and depressing work. It is one of those films you have to be in the right frame of mind for before you see it. If you can get into its rhythm and mood, the rewards are remarkable, especially on the acting front.
14. Terms Of Endearment (1983)
A deeply felt comedy-drama from writer/director James L. Brooks, this is a laser sharp examination of a love/hate mother/daughter relationship. Jack plays Garret Breedlove (great character name, that one), a former astronaut that is a neighbour to Aurora (Shirly Maclaine), with whom he forms a tentative relationship and changes his womanizing ways.
This was Jack at one of his peaks as an actor. He takes the already solid material he has and turns any scene he’s in into complete and utter gold. Whether he be funny or otherwise, this is one of his most fully rounded and complex roles and performance. No wonder he picked up his second Oscar for this, as Best Supporting Actor.
While the material can be a bit soap opera-ish at times, great writing and performances are what really make “Terms Of Endearment” fly.
13. Reds (1981)
Working with old friend Warren Beatty, this is a grandiose, epic take on the life of John Reed, the American journalist that chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book “Ten Days That Shook The World”. Jack plays playwright Eugene O’Neill, a friend of Reed and Reed’s lover, Louise Bryant (here played by Diane Keaton).
Bold and brassy, this was a dream project for Beatty, who won a Best Director Oscar for his work on this film. It also remains unique in that it was a story about Russia paid for with American money at a time when Russia was deeply out of favour as far as America was concerned, especially after America decided to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympic games. “Reds” is a highly underrated work well worth checking out.
12. The Passenger (1975)
In Italian director Michaelangelo Antonnioni’s enigmatic, mysterious work, Jack plays a reporter that assumes the identity of a dead man to escape his own life. It turns out he has assumed the identity of an arms dealer in post-colonial Africa.
Politically charged while never losing its focus on the personal, “The Passenger” has a unique style and sway to it, beautifully complimented by Jack’s understatement and bewilderment as to what he’s got himself into. One of Antonnioni’s more accessible films and a great example of Jack’s versatility.
11. About Schmidt (2002)
Alexander Payne’s affectionate comedy-drama looks at a man whose wife has passed away, trying to make sense of the world around him. With some incredibly perceptive and thought provoking material, Jack really strips back the mannerisms that, at times, can make him something of a caricature of himself.
A highly underrated work by a very talented writer/director, featuring a very different performance from Jack, and a highly welcome one.
10. A Few Good Men (1992)
Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men”, in relation to Jack, is a textbook example of how it’s not the amount of screen time you have, it’s the way that you use it is what counts for something.
In what amounts to almost a cameo role, Jack basically tears the screen in two as Col. Jessup, an old school military man who is utterly incapable of adapting to the ways and wherefores of modern times.
9. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
A radical, highly charged and sexual retake on the film noir from many moons ago, based on the novel by James M. Cain, this was a startling take on film noir. There is a fierce, combustible spark between Jack and his leading female, Jessica Lange, that is almost tangible.
The strength of this particular remake is that it can show things and go into infinitely darker waters than its original film version and source material could due to the radical changes that had occurred in regards to cinema censorship over the past decade. This is a rare remake that works.
The “You can’t handle the truth” scene has, again, become an iconic moment of modern cinema. How many people have imitated/ripped it off since? That still doesn’t take anything away from the sheer firepower that Jack brings to the screen here in what is an utterly electric performance, that reminds you why he is one of the greats.