8. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Directed by Bob Rafelson, one of the producers of “Easy Rider”, “Five Easy Pieces” is a rich and beautifully written character piece. Jack is front and centre as a gifted pianist who has turned his back on that life and works in oil rigs instead.
A haunting portrait of a man uncertain of what to do with his life, “Five Easy Pieces” is a beautiful example of the early period of Jack’s career.
7. As Good As It Gets (1997)
The third Oscar for Jack, and his second in a leading role. Directed by his “Terms Of Endearment” and “Broadcast News” helmer, James L. Brooks, this is an affecting and totally charming comedy-drama that stars Jack as misanthropic, hateful, toxic obsessive compulsive author Melvin Udall.
He is befriended by a single mother, played beautifully by Helen Hunt. Slowly, we see Melvin start to come out of his shell and, in his own words, ‘want to be a better person’.
The idea and concept that people need each other is timely and timeless. “As Good As It Gets” depicts this on a truly honest emotional level and scale. It is some of the best work of both the lead actor and the director. Enough good things can’t be said about it.
6. The Last Detail (1973)
In this criminally underrated 1973 gem, directed by Hal Ashby (1971’s “Harold And Maude”) and written by Robert Towne (1974’s “Chinatown”), this is a scathing, unforgettable work on injustice and serves as something as a microcosm and social comment on America in the early part of the Seventies.
Two sailors in the Navy are escorting a younger one to jail for an ostensibly trivial crime. One of them (an electric performance from Jack) determines to give the unfortunate young man the time of his life and cram a great deal of live experience into the space of three days.
Brilliantly salty in its dialogue and affecting in its portrait of the human condition, “The Last Detail” is a ‘finest hour’ moment for all in front of and behind the camera. One not to be missed.
5. The Departed (2006)
In what proved to be nothing short of a masterpiece from legendary director Martin Scorsese, this sees Jack as Boston crime overlord Jack Costello. A man that has everything he wants in life, he basically no longer gives a fuck. A masterful portrayal of absolute power corrupting absolutely, Jack gives it his all in this fine late career performance.
An American remake of the Hong Kong action film “Infernal Affairs”, “The Departed” is one of those rare birds in that it is infinitely better than the film it is based on, hitting an emotional resonance and depth that the original lacked.
In what is a heavyweight cast, featuring Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Mark Whallberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, Jack certainly more than holds his own.
4. Easy Rider (1969)
The first of many Oscar nominations. In Dennis Hopper’s ground breaking work, which opened the floodgates for a whole new generation of American filmmakers, Jack plays an alcoholic lawyer looking for more out of life that he currently experiences. Check out the scene with Jack riding passenger on the motorbike while wearing a gridiron helmet. That joy on his face is almost palpable.
For Jack, “Easy Rider” proved to be an auspicious introduction to the hearts and mind of movie lovers across the world.
3. The Shining (1980)
In this unforgettable, nerve shredding work, Jack teams up with one of the undisputed titan directors of modern cinema, Mr Stanley Kubrick. Based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King, this is a wildly different interpretation of the source material, one that King apparently hated.
Set in the ominous Overlook Hotel, Jack plays writer Jack Torrance. Dealing with alcoholism and the strain that has put on his family, Jack takes a job of caretaker at the hotel, accompanied by his wife and son.
There is a building sense of dread and fear in the film, never more clear than in how Jack approaches his central performance. Many have said that this role started Jack’s decline into becoming a caricature, going way over the top in latter performances.
This film captures perfectly the idea of a man being pushed too far. A claustrophobic, oppressing work, it features fantastic use of Stedicam and performances pushed right to the edge by an utterly meticulous director with vision and ability to burn.
2. Chinatown (1974)
The start of a serious role in Jack’s career. In this complex, labyrinthine film noir, Jack plays J.J. “Jake” Gitties, a private eye who gets in way over his head. Beautifully written by Robert Towne and directed by Roman Polanski, this is a masterwork of the highest order.
Disturbing, compelling and utterly involving, this was New Hollywood film making at its zenith. In a related note, check out the recent article Taste Of Cinema has run on the films of Roman Polanski.
1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’S Nest (1975)
The game changer. Considered by many to be Jack’s finest hour, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is basically cinema at its most charged and electrifying. Jack plays Randall Mc Murphy, a criminal who fakes mental illness to get out of going to jail. Instead, he winds up in a mental institution, run with an iron fist by Nurse Rached (Louise Fletcher).
An inevitable clash of wills erupts between Mc Murphy and Rached. Wildly different from its source material, a novel written by Ken Kessey, this is cinema at its most powerful and electric, bolstered by Jack’s utterly fearless, go for broke perfoamce.
Along with 1943’s “It Happened One Night” and the 1990 film “The Silence Of The Lambs”, this is one of only three films to walk away with the five major Oscars (Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). Your cinematic life is not complete until you’ve seen “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.