Jack Nicholson: A Retrospective
April 13–June 27
Jack Nicholson's film career spans some 50 years, an impressive feat by any standard, but more so considering the now lionized actor spent the better part of the 1960s working as a struggling bit player in low-budget films, only to become an overnight success thanks to his scene-stealing brilliance in the surprise hit EASY RIDER. On the strength of this performance he established himself as the antihero star in some of the most provocative — and enduring — films of the 1970s, then a major box-office draw throughout the 1980s, and has held his place in the Hollywood firmament and the public's imagination ever since. Along the way, Nicholson has racked up 12 Oscar nominations, with wins for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and AS GOOD AS IT GETS, and he received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1994 at age 57, at the time the youngest recipient of AFI's highest honor for cinematic achievement (since bested by honoree Tom Hanks in 2002). Nicholson will turn 75 on April 22, a unique vantage point from which to look back and survey his remarkable career.
AFI Member passes accepted at all films in the Jack Nicholson series.
Boston mob boss Jack Nicholson has groomed Southie kid Matt Damon since childhood to go to school, graduate from the police academy, get on the Special Investigations Unit and from there work as a well-placed mole for Nicholson. But Nicholson's trusted young protégé Leonardo DiCaprio has followed a parallel route, from police academy to deep undercover placement working for the mob. Who will uncover whom first? Martin Scorsese's reworking of Hong Kong hit INFERNAL AFFAIRS became his biggest commercial and critical success, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Editing.
DIR Martin Scorsese; SCR William Monahan, based on INFERNAL AFFAIRS by Alan Mak and Felix Chong; PROD Brad Grey, Graham King, Brad Pitt. US/Hong Kong, 2006, color, 151 min. RATED R
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Fri, Apr 13, 8:45; Sun, Apr 15, 3:20
Obsessive-compulsive curmudgeon Jack Nicholson makes enemies everywhere he goes and seems to like it that way. But Nicholson finally learns some much-needed lessons in love and friendship courtesy of his gay artist neighbor Greg Kinnear (and his little dog) and single mom waitress Helen Hunt (and her little boy). James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus' witty and wisecracking script lent effervescence to the melodramatic scenario, becoming the Oscar juggernaut of 1997, with seven nominations and acting wins for Nicholson and Hunt.
DIR/SCR/PROD James L. Brooks; SCR Mark Andrus; PROD Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea. US, 1997, color, 139 min. RATED PG-13
Sat, Apr 14, 12:00; Tue, Apr 17, 5:00; Thu, Apr 19, 4:20
Directed by cult auteur Monte Hellman and scripted by FIVE EASY PIECES' Carole Eastman, this inventive, existential Western was little seen until Jack Nicholson's post-EASY RIDER stardom led to its rediscovery. Bounty hunter-turned-struggling miner Warren Oates accepts a tracking job for mysterious Millie Perkins and her dead-eyed companion Nicholson. But out on the trail, events turn ever more bizarre. Hellman and Nicholson shot this film and RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND back-to-back for executive producer Roger Corman. "Roger wanted some good tomahawk numbers with plenty of ketchup, but Monte and I were into these films on another level." — Jack Nicholson
DIR/PROD Monte Hellman; SCR Carole Eastman; PROD Jack Nicholson. US, 1966, color, 82 min. RATED PG
RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND
Sun, Apr 15, 1:30; Tue, Apr 17, 7:45
Road-weary from their cattle drive, a trio of ranch hands uneasily shares a mountain shelter with a gang of stage robbers on the run after a job. When a bloody-minded posse descends, outlaw and civilian alike are exterminated in the deadly ambush, leaving cowpokes Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell as the only survivors. Mistaken for outlaws, the two are pursued across the Badlands by the revenge-bent posse. Scripted by Nicholson, the plot was largely borrowed from Vittorio de Seta's 1961 BANDITS OF ORGOSOLO, a film Nicholson and director Monte Hellman both admired, swapping the Sardinian countryside for the American West.
DIR/PROD Monte Hellman; SCR/PROD Jack Nicholson; PROD Roger Corman. US, 1965, color, 82 min. RATED PG
Mon, Apr 16, 9:20; Thu, Apr 19, 7:00
"This used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's going wrong with it." Football-helmeted good ol' boy Jack Nicholson provides something like a conscience to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's counterculture outlaw biker tale, the zeitgeisty smash hit that put New Hollywood on the map and made Nicholson a star. Nicholson was considering giving up acting when producer Bert Schneider asked him to replace Rip Torn in his pals Fonda and Hopper's low-budget biker movie. Laszlo Kovacs' adventurous cinematography and the Steppenwolf/The Byrds/Jimi Hendrix-heavy soundtrack set the tone, for both the film and an era.
DIR/SCR Dennis Hopper; SCR/PROD Peter Fonda; SCR Terry Southern. US, 1969, color, 94 min. RATED R
CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL
Fri, Apr 20, 7:00; Mon, Apr 23, 9:00; Wed, Apr, 25, 9:00
Many of Jack Nicholson's early roles were for low-budget legend Roger Corman, including THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE RAVEN, THE TERROR, THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE and (as scriptwriter) THE TRIP. Nicholson's candid and moving interviews are a highlight in this entertaining documentary chronicling Corman's prolific, inventive and unfailingly budget-conscious career. In addition to Nicholson, Corman nurtured the early careers of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Ron Howard, James Cameron and more, all of whom are generous in their praise of their former mentor.
DIR/SCR/PROD Alex Stapleton; SCR Gregory Locklear; PROD Mickey Barold, Stone Douglass, Izabela Frank, Jeff Frey. US, 2011, color, 95 min. RATED R
Sat, Apr 21, 9:30; Sun, Apr 22, 1:30
Richard Rush's psychedelic melodrama was conceived in the spirit of flower power propaganda, but the Summer of Love was over by the time shooting commenced in 1968, necessitating a script overhaul with more cautionary overtones. Deaf-mute teen runaway Susan Strasburg hits San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in search of her troubled brother; there she meets charismatic Dean Stockwell and cool, career-first rocker Jack Nicholson. "There are rumbles, drug hallucination scenes, deaths. It's a lot of fun. This is the best of all the biker and drug films that AIP [Films] produced during the era." — Danny Peary, "Guide for the Film Fanatic."
DIR Richard Rush; SCR E. Hunter Willett, Betty Ulius; PROD Dick Clark. US, 1968, color, 101 min. NOT RATED
FIVE EASY PIECES
Sun, Apr 22, 9:15; Tue, Apr 24, 9:30
Nicholson gives a career-making performance as Bobby Dupea, a young man from a well-to-do family on the run from his roots and perhaps his future. A former piano prodigy, he's been biding his time in California with his ne'er-do-well friends, but when he learns his father is ill, he packs up pregnant girlfriend Karen Black and hits the road to the family's home in Washington. A series of misadventures, including an impromptu piano performance on the back of a moving truck, some far-out hitchhikers and the famous chicken salad scene at a roadside diner, give way to a serious reckoning between Nicholson and his family once home. Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress and Screenplay.
DIR/SCR/PROD Bob Rafelson; SCR Carole Eastman; PROD Richard Wechsler. US, 1970, color, 98 min. RATED R
THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS
Fri, Apr 27, 7:20; Sat, Apr 28, 7:20--note new time; Tue, May 1, 9:15; Thu, May 3, 9:15
Jack Nicholson gives one of his most intense performances as the host of a late-night radio call-in show in Philadelphia, a shy introvert who only comes to life when spinning tales on the mic. Nicholson couldn't be more different from his fun-loving, high-living brother Bruce Dern, who's in over his head with racketeer Scatman Crothers. Receiving an urgent call from Dern in Atlantic City, Nicholson heads up the Jersey shore, first to bail out his brother, then, along with Dern's girlfriend Ellen Burstyn, to dream and scheme about how they can hit it big.
DIR/PROD Bob Rafelson; SCR Jacob Brackman. US, 1972, color, 103 min. RATED R
Fri, Apr 27, 9:30; Tue, May 1, 7:00; Wed, May 2, 9:20
As college roommates, sexist Jack Nicholson and shy Art Garfunkel share their neuroses, fantasies and the same girlfriend; as the years pass, the two deal with marriage, affairs and their mutual inability to reconcile love and sex. A devastating look at relationship dysfunction featuring career-best performances from Nicholson, Candice Bergen and an Oscar-nominated Ann-Margret, this film is one of director Mike Nichols' darkest and most psychologically incisive works.
DIR/PROD Mike Nichols; SCR Jules Feiffer. US, 1971, color, 98 min. RATED R
THE LAST DETAIL
Sat, Apr 28, 9:30--note new time; Mon, Apr 30, 9:30; Thu, May 3, 7:00
Jack Nicholson won Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Billy 'Bad-Ass' Buddusky, a Navy lifer with both an anti-authoritarian streak and a need for structure — a sardonic, sarcastic walking contradiction. Tasked with transporting court-martialed sailor Randy Quaid from Virginia to the brig in New Hampshire, Nicholson and his partner opt to take the scenic route, careening through a succession of misadventures at bars, brothels, hotels and motels along the way. Hal Ashby provided understated, sensitive direction; Robert Towne earned an Oscar nomination for his foul-mouthed and scabrously funny screenplay.
DIR Hal Ashby; SCR Robert Towne, after the novel by Darryl Ponicsan; PROD Gerald Ayres. US, 1973, color, 104 min. RATED R
DRIVE, HE SAID
Fri, May 4, 9:30; Sat, May 5, 9:45; Sun, May 6, 5:45; Mon, May 7, 7:00;
Tue, May 8, 9:40--just added!
Jack Nicholson's controversial directorial debut, about campus politics and personal discovery at a liberal arts school, has been too-little seen since its release. Basketball star William Tepper begins to question things in his life, including the authority of his coach Bruce Dern, his admiration for jaded professor Robert Towne and whether to act on his feelings for Towne's wife Karen Black. Tepper's awakening plays out in parallel to the spiraling descent of his roommate, a campus radical facing expulsion and the draft. "One of the brave, authentic, disturbing films about what went down on campuses in America in the 1960s." — Nicholson biographer Patrick McGilligan.
DIR/SCR/PROD Jack Nicholson; SCR Jeremy Larner, based on his novel; PROD Steve Blauner. US, 1971, color, 95 min. RATED R
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
#33 on AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies
Sat, May 5, 5:00; Sun, May 6, 1:00; Mon, May 7, 9:10
Jack Nicholson made his rogue/antihero reputation with the role of Randle P. McMurphy, who rallies his fellow psychiatric ward inmates against the authoritarianism of Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched (#5 on AFI's 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains list!). Only the second movie to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director (Miloš Forman), Actor and Actress for Nicholson and Fletcher and Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). The only other films to go five for five are IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
DIR Miloš Forman; SCR Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play by Dale Wasserman; PROD Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz. US, 1975, color, 133 min. RATED R
Sat, May 5, 7:00; Sun, May 6, 3:00
Michelangelo Antonioni's third and final film for MGM is his most puzzling, a fitting end to the European auteur's now-unthinkable experiment of working within the Hollywood studio system. Journalist Jack Nicholson is covering a conflict in North Africa. When he discovers the dead body of an acquaintance who resembled him, he assumes the dead man's identity to explore his life — which turns out to be a dangerous one. Nicholson soon finds himself pursued by gunrunners and involved with a mysterious French student (LAST TANGO IN PARIS' Maria Schneider) on an adventure from the Algerian desert to London, Munich, Barcelona and back again.
DIR/SCR Michelangelo Antonioni; SCR Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen; PROD Carlo Ponti. Italy/France/Spain, 1975, color, 126 min. RATED PG-13
#33 on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills
Sat, May 12, 10:00; Mon, May 14, 9:15; Tue, May 15, 9:15; Thu, May 17, 9:50
"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." Roman Polanski's landmark neo-noir combined mastery of the genre's conventions with a 1970s sensibility, even more paranoid and doom-bent than that of the classic era. Investigating the suspicious death of the Los Angeles water commissioner, private eye Jack Nicholson becomes drawn into a mystery that somehow involves both the countryside's struggling citrus farmers and the city's elite, including John Huston and his elegant daughter Faye Dunaway. Eleven Oscar nominations, the sole win for Robert Towne's screenplay, based on events surrounding the "water war" between LA and the Owens Valley.
DIR Roman Polanski; SCR Robert Towne; PROD Robert Evans. US, 1974, color, 130 min. RATED R
THE MISSOURI BREAKS
Fri, May 18, 7:45, 10:20; Sat, May 19, 7:00; Sun, May 20, 6:30; Tue, May 22, 9:10
What should have been an epic pairing of two generation-defining stars, Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, in America's most myth-imbued genre, the Western, instead devolved into a troubled shoot, with dueling egos and business concerns undermining the best intentions of screenwriter Thomas McGuane and director Arthur Penn. Nonetheless, this larkish tale of ranchers, rustlers and a most irregular regulator hired by one to eliminate the other has its charms, including the striking beauty of Montana's Big Sky country and Nicholson's game performance as an enterprising outlaw locked in a battle of wits with a mad lawman (Brando).
DIR Arthur Penn; SCR Thomas McGuane; PROD Elliott Kastner, Robert M. Sherman. US, 1976, color, 126 min. RATED PG
Sat, May 26, 1:40; Tue, May 29, 6:30
Condemned horse thief Jack Nicholson gets an eleventh-hour reprieve, un-noosed and let down from the gallows on the condition he marry sympathetic spinster Mary Steenburgen and stay on the straight and narrow. "Droll, sweet-tempered and lackadaisical, it's a shaggy-dog story with Nicholson playing the shaggy dog. It turns Western conventions on their heads not out of satirical anger but simply to charm the pants off the audience. And aided by the sumptuous photography of Nestor Almendros (DAYS OF HEAVEN) and Nicholson's delightfully cantankerous performance, it very nearly succeeds." — David Ansen, Newsweek.
DIR Jack Nicholson; SCR John Herman Shaner, Al Ramrus, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel; PROD Harry Gittes, Harold Schneider. US, 1978, color, 105 min. RATED PG
Sun, May 27, 7:00; Mon, May 28, 9:30; Wed, May 30, 9:10
Amour fou makes strange bedfellows with omertà in John Huston's blackly comic mafia romance. It's love at first sight when Brooklyn hit-man Jack Nicholson spots Californian Kathleen Turner at a family wedding. Encouraged to follow his bliss by ex-fiancée Anjelica Huston, Nicholson flies off to the west coast to pitch woo. But back east there's trouble in the family. Eight Oscar nominations, with Anjelica Huston winning for Best Supporting Actress.
DIR John Huston; SCR Janet Roach, Richard Condon, based on his novel; PROD John Foreman. US, 1985, color, 130 min. RATED R
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981)
Mon, Jun 4, 6:45; Wed, Jun 6, 9:30
Jack Nicholson had once hoped to do an update on James M. Cain's hard-boiled classic (first incarnated on screen in 1946 with John Garfield and Lana Turner), starring alongside his then-girlfriend Michelle Phillips and with Hal Ashby directing. A decade later, the revived project would be directed by old pal Bob Rafelson working from a faithful adaptation by first-time screenwriter David Mamet, with Jessica Lange starring opposite Nicholson. Steamy, sensual, obsessive and self-destructive, this '80s neo-noir represents a unique take on the tropes of the genre.
DIR/PROD Bob Rafelson; SCR David Mamet; PROD Charles Mulvehill. US/West Germany, 1981, color, 122 min. RATED R
Mon, Jun 4, 9:15; Tue, Jun 5, 7:00; Thu, Jun 7, 9:45
"I wanna feel good about something sometime." Texas border patrolman Jack Nicholson's spirits sag at the futility of his job, rounding up illegals for deportation while their exploitative employers skate free. When he discovers that his boss Warren Oates and partner Harvey Keitel are working both sides of the system, he ultimately resolves to do something about it. Nicholson gives a terrific performance in the strong, silent type mode for director Tony Richardson. THE DEER HUNTER's Deric Washburn originated the screenplay, with THE WILD BUNCH's Walon Green making several key contributions; the apt, evocative music is by Ry Cooder.
DIR Tony Richardson; SCR David Freeman, Walon Green, Deric Washblum; PROD Edgar Bronfman, Jr. US, 1982, color, 108 min. RATED R
#29 on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills
Tue, Jun 5, 9:30; Wed, Jun 6, 7:00
"Heeeere's Johnny!" Jack Nicholson suffers from one helluva case of writer's block in Stanley Kubrick's acclaimed adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Nicholson's frustrated writer takes a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, with long-suffering wife Shelley Duvall and introverted young son Danny Lloyd in tow. The family tries to make the best of things at the lonely resort, while Nicholson's sanity is pushed to the breaking point as cabin fever and the denizens of the demonic hotel take control.
DIR/SCR/PROD Stanley Kubrick; SCR Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King. US/UK, 1980, color, 146 min. RATED R
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT
Fri, Jun 8, 7:00; Sat, Jun 9, 10:20; Sun, Jun 10, 8:00; Mon, Jun 11, 9:00
James L. Brooks' adaptation of Larry McMurtry's humorous and heartbreaking novel exults in the ups and down of life and love as experienced by Shirley MacLaine and her daughter Debra Winger. Winger marries Jeff Daniels, a likable English professor who has a wandering eye; MacLaine hasn't dated since her husband died, but despite strong misgivings, begins a relationship with neighbor Jack Nicholson, a retired astronaut and inveterate womanizer. This film established the template for Brooks' blend of high-styled comedy and dramatic pathos. Eleven Oscar nominations, with wins for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress ("I really deserve this." — MacLaine) and Supporting Actor (Nicholson).
DIR/SCR/PROD James L. Brooks; SCR based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. US, 1983, color, 132 min. RATED PG Digital Presentation
A FEW GOOD MEN
Sun, Jun 10, 3:00; Mon, Jun 11, 6:30
"You can't handle the truth!" Callow young JAG lieutenant Tom Cruise gets paired with senior officer Demi Moore to defend two Guantanamo Marines charged with the hazing death of a third. The top brass would like a speedy trial or better yet a plea bargain — Cruise's specialty — but Moore suspects there's more to the story, including how much base commander Jack Nicholson really knew. Rob Reiner nimbly directs from Aaron Sorkin's career-making screenplay, adapted from his own Broadway play. Beyond the high star-wattage leads, look for Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Noah Wyle, Christopher Guest and J. T. Walsh in supporting roles.
DIR/PROD Rob Reiner; SCR Aaron Sorkin, based on his play; PROD David Brown, Andrew Scheinman. US, 1992, color, 138 min. RATED R
Thu, Jun 14, 9:00; Sun, Jun 17, 3:25
Unusual for a star of his magnitude, Jack Nicholson has made a number of cameo appearances. Early on, it was out of necessity, but even after achieving stardom Nicholson chose them, to repay old friends or just as a lark: in Henry Jaglom's A SAFE PLACE (his payment was a color TV); as the specialist in Ken Russell's TOMMY; and very humorously as the anchorman in James L. Brooks' BROADCAST NEWS, Nicholson has the job that both brainy Albert Brooks and telegenic William Hurt covet, with producer Holly Hunter caught in the middle. One of the savviest films about all-consuming careers, aptly set in Washington, DC. Nominated for seven Oscars.
DIR/SCR/PROD James L. Brooks. US, 1987, color, 133 min. RATED R
Fri, Jun 15, 4:20; Sat, Jun 16, 6:30
In Depression-era Albany, New York, drunkard Jack Nicholson returns after twenty years of running from the guilt and shame of a family tragedy. He spends most of his time drinking with fellow lushes Meryl Streep and Tom Waits, and avoiding reuniting with his estranged wife Carroll Baker. Brazilian Héctor Babenco (PIXOTE, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN) proved an inspired choice to direct the film of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, adapted for the screen by Kennedy himself. Oscar nominations for both Nicholson and Streep.
DIR Héctor Babenco; SCR William Kennedy, based on his novel; PROD Keith Barish, Marcia Nasatir. US, 1987, color, 143 min. RATED R Digital Presentation
THE CROSSING GUARD
Sat, Jun 16, 3:40; Sun, Jun 17, 6:10
Bitter alcoholic Jack Nicholson has waited six years for the release from prison of David Morse, the drunk driver who killed his daughter, planning to murder Morse for revenge and perhaps earn the admiration of ex-wife Anjelica Huston. Writer/director Sean Penn's tough-minded, morally complex drama coaxes impressive performances from its entire cast, but none more than Nicholson — fiery, fierce, desperate and pained.
DIR/SCR/PROD Sean Penn; PROD David Hamburger. US, 1995, color, 111 min. RATED R
Tue, Jun 26, 7:00; Wed, Jun 27, 9:30
Retired cop Jack Nicholson can't let go of a case from his final days on the force, the rape and murder of a young girl. Continuing to investigate it in his retirement, he buys a gas station strategically located between the various crime scenes as a lookout. But is the daughter of his new girlfriend Robin Wright the bait? Director Sean Penn imbues this gripping detective story with a lyrical meditation on the meaning and motives of a quest, and the place where hard work and dedication spill over into obsession. The outstanding cast includes Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave and Harry Dean Stanton.
DIR/PROD Sean Penn; SCR Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson-Kromolowski, based on the book by Friedrich Dürrenmatt; PROD Michael Fitzgerald, Elie Samaha. US, 2001, color, 124 min. RATED R
Tue, Jun 26, 9:15; Wed, Jun 27, 7:00