It’s easy to name off the most-nominated actress, as Meryl Streep has the most Oscar nominations in film history, even more than the actors. However, one would be challenged to know who the most nominated actor is. This is probably due to Streep continuing to be nominated regularly, receiving an acting nomination every two to three years since 1978. Of course, if you haven’t figured it out by now (via the title of this post), the most-nominated actor in film history is Jack Nicholson. Similar to Meryl Streep, Nicholson has won three times for acting, making him part of a handful of people who have completed this feat (only 6 people have won three or more Oscars). This week, we’ll look at two of Nicholson’s films, one of which even earned him one of his 12 Oscar nominations for acting.
Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours
Even though he wasn’t nominated for his performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Jack Nicholson truly helped make this film into the iconic piece of popular culture we know today. I mean, who hasn’t seen his grinning face peeking through the axe-chopped hole of the bathroom door as he delivers the line, “Here’s Johnny!” This role is just one of a few that Nicholson seemed to excel in: the role of a crazy person. Just consider his performance as the Joker in the 1989 film, Batman, and you can start to see the parallels. What’s almost ironic is that he actually won one of his Best Actor Oscars for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where he portrays a criminal in a mental institution who is probably the sanest person there. At any rate, even if the Academy overlooked his performance in The Shining, the American Film Institute named Jack Torrance the 25th best villain in film history.
As an author myself, I know how useful it is to become isolated in order to write. In The Shining, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) does just that by taking on a job as a winter caretaker in the Overlook Hotel. While he and his family watch over the empty building, he finally has the chance to get writing. Unfortunately, being an isolated writer only works if you’re productive. After a long time of being stuck with writer’s block, Jack is soon affected by the madness of the Hotel brought about by its placement on top of an Indian burial ground. Both Jack and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), have connections with the building, known as “shining,” which show them the gruesome past that has occurred due to the induced madness of the place. Jack fully succumbs to the madness, eventually chasing after his family into the icy winter outside.
Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours
While about one-third of Nicholson’s Oscar nominations were for Best Supporting Actor, the other two-thirds were for the award of Best Actor. Chinatown (1974) was just such a nomination for him, in between his 1973 nomination for The Last Detail and his aforementioned win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What’s nice to see about the nominations he’s received is that at least a few of them were for comedies, partly due to his partnership with director James L. Brooks. With his trademark smile and laugh, these nominations just make sense. However, even though Nicholson played a clever character in Chinatown, this film is by no means a comedy. In fact, it was probably this role that helped him to continue to be nominated for acting awards for the next three decades, stringing his streak of nominations across 50 years.
In Chinatown, Jack Nicholson portrays J.J. “Jake” Gittes, a private investigator who specializes in exposing cheating wives and husbands. Unfortunately, when he’s tasked to keep an eye on the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, not only does he eventually find out that he was set up, he soon enters into a huge conspiracy involving Los Angeles’ water rights. Working with the real wife of the engineer, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), Jack soon finds himself up to his nose in gangsters and government officials trying to make a profit off the limited water supply to the city. As the obituaries pile up, Jake finds himself falling for Evelyn, which causes him to delve deeper into her past in an attempt to figure out what her relationship is with her “sister.” When all the pieces fall into place, Jake is powerless to stop it, simply being told, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 notable Nicholson performances
Bacon #: 1 (A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)