Monday, July 8, 2013

I miss Jack Nicholson

Not that he's dead or anything, but his career seems to be. He has made one movie in the last six years, the much-reviled "How Do You Know" for his pal James L. Brooks. He has nothing on his plate as actor, director, writer or producer, according to the Internet Movie Data Base.

Yet the man who has more Oscar nominations than any actor in history -- 12, including three wins -- showed up at this year's Academy Award ceremonies to present the best picture prize and seemed to be in good health. He's been photographed this year at a friend's funeral in Paris and courtside at a Spurs-Lakers playoff game, so he's hardly incapacitated.

I've been a Nicholson fan since the 1970 drama "Five Easy Pieces," when his quiet character went berserk after an encounter with a surly waitress. It looked like this:

But he could be sympathetic, too. He won an Oscar for playing Randle McMurphy, the con man who gets himself into a mental institution and becomes a spokesperson for oppressed inmates:

And so it went, across a 52-year stretch that began with a small role in the 1958 crime drama "The Cry Baby Killer." But he turned 76 in April, and his time onscreen appears to have come to an unannounced close.

Actors his age keep working. Dustin Hoffman will be 76 next month, and he takes roles; he also directed his first film, "Quartet," last year. Morgan Freeman, Nicholson's co-star in "The Bucket List," turned 76 last month and has half a dozen movies underway, in pre-production or in post-production. Michael Caine, who's 80, just appeared in "Now You See Me" and has three pictures in the works.

We all have the right to rest on our laurels, and Nicholson's rich enough never to have to work again. There's more dignity in fading quietly away than in appearing in abomination after abomination, as Laurence Olivier did towards the end. (He was allegedly paying his descendants' college costs, apparently for 20 generations.)

Still, I miss Nicholson's energy and unpredictability: Though he could be a caricature of himself near the end, he still had the capacity to surprise us, and some actors never acquire that ability: Does Tom Cruise ever deliver a look or gesture we haven't seen from him before or can't predict?

I can always watch "The Last Detail," "The Shining" or "Chinatown" (which is my favorite among his films) to appreciate his great work. But I'd like to see the only actor nominated for an Oscar in five consecutive decades -- the 60s, 70, 80, 90s and 00s -- get a shot at a sixth decade before he disappears.


John Watson said...

I miss Jack, too. Here he is in an ad for his new restaurant: