Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ Turns 26

The Shining celebrates the 26th anniversary of its theatrical release today. Few films set the tone better for disturbing 1980s domesticity.

The Shining is, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s notorious adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, verging far from the author’s original work. Kubrick essentially took King’s central character (Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance) and turned him from a weak man manipulated by a ghost into murderous behavior, into a violent monster who clearly detested his own wife and child. Something about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy… As discussed in the video essay below, King believed that it was Kubrick’s “inability to believe in the supernatural that kept the audience from believing in the world he had established.”

King’s dislike of Kubrick’s adaptation is no secret, and he’s gone on to name his favorite film adaptations of his work. In 2014 he told Rolling Stone that Stand By Me is tops, since it is “true to the book” and has the “emotional gradient of the story.” His other favorites? Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, Delores Claiborne and Cujo (trailers below). Stacked like that, it’s humbling to consider what King has given to cinema. But for those of us who are Kubrick and  Shining devotees, it’s hard to deny its own auteuriol genius.

King on The Shining:

“But obviously people absolutely love it, and they don’t understand why I don’t. The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene. I had to keep my mouth shut at the time. It was a screening, and Nicholson was there. But I’m thinking to myself the minute he’s on the screen, ‘Oh, I know this guy. I’ve seen him in five motorcycle movies, where Jack Nicholson played the same part.’ And it’s so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag. But that’s just me, that’s the way I am.”


Free Will in Kubrick’s THE SHINING from Drew Morton on Vimeo.

Happy Birthday, Jack Nicholson! Watch 13 of His Best Performances

Jack Nicholson, Film

Jack Nicholson: national treasure, cultural icon, and one of the most fiercely talented and wonderful actors to emerge from Hollywood in the last century. For over fifty years now, the man known for his devilish grin, cunning charm, and unparalleled acting style has weaved his way through the American movie system, not only performing in some of the best films ever made, but writing, directing, producing, and helping to lead a movement that would later become cherished as a golden age of American cinema. “We were the first people in America who weren’t buying the American Dream,” Nicholson recalls of the early days of New Hollywood, alongside Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Robert Towne, Warren Beatty, and Monte Hellman.

And when you look the scope of young talent today, there’s surely no shortage of male actors with promise, but there will never be anyone quite like Jack. Imagine seeing him in Five Easy Pieces for the first time in 1970—this explosion of charisma and skill wrapped up in a man who could break your heart with single wink or slight of smile. Henry Jaglom once said, “A funny thing happened to Jack Nicholson on his way to becoming a director. He became a star instead.” And throughout his incredible, varied and vast career, he’s has lent his versatility to directors from Antonioni to Kubrick, Scorsese to Ashby, and Polanski to Hopper, taking on every genre with ease, embodying every role to utmost human ability but always with that signature magic that makes him Jack.

So let’s take some time to appreciate the beacon of brilliance with the most enticing set of pointed eyebrows and the greatest laugh in the world, Mr. Jack Nicholson, in some of his best performances. Enjoy.


Robert Dupea in Five Easy Pieces (1970) – Available to watch on iTunes


David Locke in The Passenger (1975) – Available to watch on Vudu

Eugene O’Neill in Reds (1980) – Available to watch on iTunes / YouTube


Col. Nathan R. Jessup in A Few Good Men (1992) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


J.J Gittes in Chinatown (1976) – Available to watch on Netflix


R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (1997) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


Buddusky in The Last Detail (1973) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon

Frank Costello in The Departed (2008) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


George Hanson in Easy Rider (1969) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


David Staebler in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon

Jack Torrence in The Shining (1980) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon


The Joker in Batman (1989) – Available to watch on iTunes / Amazon

Personal Faves: The Best of the Early ’70s on Film

This past year, I have seen roughly 200 films. As my job requires me to see a plethora of movies, a good chunk of them were new releases. But as I am a hermit on the weekends, many were older films I always meant to see but for some reason or another let slip between the cracks. For me, watching a film is always experiential; I love nothing more than the physical response to viewing a great film you’ve never seen and the cinematic high that follows. But I always look at my constant film watching as an education, leaving the theater or shutting off my computer as if I’ve just done a close reading of an important text, feeling as if I’ve gained insight into a time and a place in the world that I ever knew existed. And when it comes to Hollywood in the 1970s, that for me has always been the most enthralling and the most informative.

1. Zabriskie Point, Michaelangelo Antonioni (1970)

What lacks in dialogue is completely made up for in cinematography and sound thanks to Pink Floyd’s disjointed psychedlic meets ethereal soundtrack. The beginning scenes in Los Angeles with all the 1960s aggressive advertising juxtaposed with the bare desert and the final blowup/breakdown just killed me. Of course, Antonioni plus Sam Shepard would only naturally equal the dustiest choreographed orgy scene of bodies and sounds.

2. Alice in the Cities, Wim Wenders (1974)

I love everything about this movie, from the pacing to the polaroids and exterior driving shots (that reminded me of Dennis Hopper’s early photographs). Wenders’s films are filled with so much yearning and so much restlessness; people aching so badly to find that thing or feeling they’ve never even been able to name. They’re all so hungry for love and connection and something to make them feel alive, and what could be more universal?

3. The Landlord, Hal Ashby (1970)

Here’s a really great 1970s New York race-relations film. It was endearing and funny while also being insightful and guttural. Hal had a really bizarre tone to all of his films and this one takes a little bit to get situated but when it does, it feels like how his others end up—living in this weird world between the absolutely ridiculous and extreme reality. Beau Bridges boyish face was the perfect canvas to project against this urban world.

4. Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson (1970)

If I could be reincarnated as anything it would be Jack Nicholson’s left eyebrow in 1970. His performance in really established his maniacal acting style that is just so good it makes me wonder if modern actors of this callibar even exist anymore. The film is brilliantly written and directed, showing a tragically ambivalent man’s existential crisis that leads down a road to nowhere in the style of New Wave art film.

5. Shampoo, Hal Ashby (1975)

A hazy satire of late ’60s sexual politics and great hair. It’s interesting to set a film as a period piece—seven years earlier—with a political backdrop that only keeps the mood light. If the script had fallen into another director’s hands with lesser actors, I’m sure a good deal of magic would have been lost, but this was wonderful. Warren Beatty’s haircut and Julie Christie’s backless sequined dress are really the other leads of the film.

6. Husbands, John Cassavetes (1970)

Troubled men, troubled world. This one is wonderfully shot, of course; Cassvetes is the master of holding the camera close to bodies and faces to expose interiors in a way that’s as haunting as it is aesthetically beautiful. The dynamic between Cassavetes, Falk, and Gazzara cannot be beat. Cassavetes’s maniacal laugh will be playing on repeat in my head for days. The film displays the immature idocy of men but also the knowledge that they recognize their ways and attempt to change—but is it only out of shame or guilt?

7. Sunday Blood Sunday, John Schlesinger (1971)

What the film does best is speak to the sentiment that we’re drawn to that which will never be fully attainable despite all our efforts. It’s not a film about what it is like to be a gay man in love or the struggles that coincide, but a film about what it’s like to be a person in love—male, female, whatever. If the film is still progressive to this day, it’s for the way in which it does not treat the homosexuality of the characters as something different or subversive. Both Daniel and Alex’s stories feel ultimately tragic because perhaps their desire for him was merely a projection.

8. The Parallax View, Alan J. Pakula (1974)

Every film in his political paranoia trilogy is perfect. Gordon Willis’s cinematography kills me and is at its best when in these kinds of stories. So much inching tension and unrest. So psycholoigcally stimulating and well-acted. Sidenote: Is it a requirement for all the leads in this trilogy to have the same brunette haircut?

9. Performance, Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg (1970)

No one does out-of-focus, sparkling-chandelier-light haze reminiscent of fantastical winter nights of intoxication better than Roeg. Jesus, this movie is a fucking brilliant depiction of indentity and the power to transform oneself. As usual, sexuality and violence go hand in hand that seduces you with it’s lustful danger. And obviously, the music is half the pleasure.

10. The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman (1973)

Elliott Gould is perfect as the wisecracking and fumblingly adorable Marlowe. Altman’s version captures an essence of ’70s easy cool LA that’s breezy and charismatic yet haunted by it’s darkness lurking beneath the surface. Takes noir and makes it natural. Great sounds.

Revisiting the Culture of Bob Rafelson’s ‘Five Easy Pieces’

Tonight, as part of their The Works: Karen Black retrospective series, Nitehawk Cinema will be showing Bob Rafelson’s 1970 classic Five Easy Pieces. The film was not only one of the greatest cinematic achievements of New Hollywood but also provided the perfect vehicle for Jack Nicholson to showcase what frighteningly rich talent was lurking inside him—"I had bagged into a guy who didn’t even know he was a fuckin’ actor," Rafelson has said. So in honor of the film’s screening tonight, we’re giving you another look at our Cinematic Panic article from January that dives into the world of Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces.

It was amidst the pre-production for the Vincent Minnelli picture, On a Clear Day Your Can See Forever, when producer Robert Evans was at a loss. He could not find a single person who seemed to fit the role of Tad, the brother of Barbara Streisand’s Daisy. In one of the final casting sessions, Evans claims to have finally said, "Hold it!" Thinking he was speaking of the young man they were watching act, his head of talent said, "I think he’s terrific too, could be the next Jimmy Dean," to which Evans replied, "No, not him. The other guy. The one who didn’t talk. The smile." And after weeks of tracking him down, Evans finally met with “the smile;" all he wanted was to hear the guy talk. He asked the kid what he’d been working on: Just finished a flick that could be a real winner. Been in the can for just a month. Somethin’ about it’s real interestin’…it’ll turn ya upside down. Evans didn’t understand "a fuckin word the guy was saying," but he thought he was original. Not even knowing if he could act, he was cast—signing him, off nothing more than a flash of that devilish grin. "It sure in hell was a first for me, mesmerized by another guy’s smile."

That incredible mug happened to be the now legendary and iconic man of many talents, Jack Nicholson—who, at the time was beginning to garner attention from audiences with his minor but stand-out role in Dennis Hopper’s ode to a generation lost in the search for the American Dream, Easy Rider. Having left his home in Neptune, New Jersey, to pursue an artistic career after hearing he had "the face of an actor," Nicholson began earning his chops, studying meticulously on his craft in acting classes. And it was there that he met lifetime friend and collaborator, the master of B-movie schlocky brilliance, Roger Corman, with whom he would go on to write, direct, and star in pictures for throughout the ’60s. [Sidenote: If you’ve seen last year’s documentary Corman’s World, it’s impossible to forget the exposed and tender moment in which Nicholson tears up and begins to cry talking about Corman’s importance to him and how their relationship changed his life.]
 
But it was a time when a host of young actors, writers, and directors were on the precipice of something huge, about to take over Hollywood and lay their bones as the frontiersmen of New Hollywood, a movement that would shake a generation. Influenced by everything from Charlie Parker’s jazz, Marlon Brando’s performances, andthe writing of Camus and Sarte, Nicholson and his friends—Hopper, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Robert Towne, Warren Beatty, and Monte Hellman—were "the first people in America who weren’t buying the American Dream," recalls Nicholson. The "accent was on Holden Caufield-style iconoclasm, Beat intellectualism, and going to parties, but the focus was always on film acting and directing," as noted by Seth Cagin and Phillip Dray in their 1984 book Hollywood Films of the Seventies. 
 
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But before he became the smooth-talking, charismatic wise-guy we consider one of the cinema’s greatest personalities—hell, the studio heads at Paramount during the casting of Chinatown weren’t even sure if they  could sell him as a romantic lead—he was known around town as a versatile character actor. But even throughout his early career—solidifying just how wrong those producers were—he still managed to tackle an array of diverse roles in every genre. He dug his hands into every aspect of filmmaking, working as a writer, director, and actor while a part of BBS (previously Rayburt Productions), an independent American company formed in the ’60s by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who together developed The Monkees. BBS went on to put out some of the most prolific films of the early 1970s, including Peter Bogdonovich’s now-classic black and white drama The Last Picture Show. BBS launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars but most notably that of Nicholson with the Rafelson-directed film, Five Easy Pieces—an amalgamation of American road movie, in-depth character study, and European art film. 
 
Made for under $900,000 in 1970, Five Easy Pieces was the first Columbia-financed BBS release and worth every dime. Written by Carole Eastman, the film drew on Rafelson’s own life and the collective unconscious of the time. The leading character Bobby Duprea (played by Nicholson) represents an anonymous American existence. He’s a man who hides in the culture of others, never having to face the permanent sense of indecision that plagues him. Bobby is a volatile and aggressive man who rejects his intellectual, upper-class background, preferring to disappear in the life of an everyday man. He’s a classically trained pianist who chooses the life of a hard-hat—working in the oil fields and living modestly with a big-haired, Tammy Wynette-singing, truck-stop waitress, Rayette (played to perfection by Karen Black). Bobby doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. This sense of displacement echoes the anxieties of the time, not knowing where the world was heading or how to deal with the onslaught of social dissonance. 
 
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Bobby represents a post-1969 frame of mind, when it wasn’t only the youth culture that was feeling the social and political afflictions of society. The "hippies" of the previous generations weren’t the only ones going through upheaval and anger but "could now be seen in any American." Easy Rider served as the ultimate symbol for that previous generation of youth counter-culture, and now Nicholson was here with that same sense of ill-ease and disillusionment, but in the character of an everyday man’s own identity crisis. Bobby wanted to escape the confines of his own upper-class background by assimilating into the blue-collar working class, a place where he would be free from pretense; he feels "alone in his ordeal," but that sense of isolation reflects the culture at large. 
 
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Bobby is "terminally ambivalent" as Kent Jones puts it: "watching the film is like being compelled to sit down with a stranger and hear the tale of an unresolved life." He wants to be free of class distinction, but no matter what world in which he exists, he finds himself devoid of feeling or ability to truly connect with those around him. He’s affected by them and will occasionally show a hint of passion or wild sexual impulse, but can never commit to a feeling or place, let alone a person. There’s a nonchalance about the poor way in which he treats the people in his life, namely, Rayette. Around her, he acts hostile, as if he’s held captive by her oppressive love for him. His distain for her is palpable, and you can feel the anxiety he has just being in her presence. He acts on his need for freedom by sleeping with other women and lying to her while still feeling possessed by her feelings towards him. In a brilliantly acted scene, Bobby tells Rayette he needs to leave for a few weeks, to which she responds with despondence and desperation. At first he doesn’t invite her with him, but as he gets in his car to leave, he begins flailing his body around, banging the steering wheel, knowing the right thing to do is to bring her along, but the thought makes him want to put his head through the windshield. But she comes along, and thus begins the road movie aspect of the film.
 
His father is dying. At the request of his sister, Bobby agrees to travel to his family’s home, which represents the antithesis of the life he’s been living with Rayette. While traveling between these two worlds, the road serves as a place where Bobby’s disaffected psyche can really hit its stride, adhering to no one and nothing. Vast highways and open roads have always served as a romantic metaphor for personal expansion and possibility, or opportunity and the promise of something better lying just beyond the next stop. When you’re in transit, you’re unknown and the world feels free of consequence. Even though Raynette is with him, he drops her off at a hotel and heads to be with his family alone. While there, he has an affair with passionate woman who attempts to pull some feeling from Bobby, but his lack of desire to pick a side—even to his emotions—turns her away. In the end, he chooses that anonymous life, a "self-exile," as Kent Jones put it.
 
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J. Hoberman said that Five Easy Pieces is "predicated on the non sequitur," making it similar to the European art films of the time. It takes our expectations of cinematic convention and flips them on their head. It’s like traveling down a long road that keeps veering off in different directions, with pit stops on the way that never provide anything but momentary enjoyment and brief revelation, only to disappear before the next sudden turn. There’s one scene in which Bobby is stuck in traffic in the passenger seat of his friend’s car. He sees a piano sitting on the back of a flatbed truck in front of the them and simply exits the car and hops onto the truck to play some Chopin—as if the world is watching. The truck drives off as we see it disappear in the distance, and Bobby continues to play, unruffled. The next scene is at the diner where Rayette works; there is no mention of the flatbed experience again. In a similar vein, Rayette’s pregnancy is hinted at once, but never mentioned again. It’s a novelistic film with flourishes of the absurd set in the vivid and dust-filled American landscape of the time. 
 
But what the film does best is provide a vehicle for Nicholson, showing the strength of his acting abilities. Five Easy Pieces is Bobby’s world and thus Jack’s world. His character’s wise-cracking attitude and outbursts established Nicholson’s maniacal acting style that would characterize him throughout the rest of his career. His performance is truly the work of someone completely dedicated to his craft and able to disappear into his characters without losing sight of himself. Although he did receive an Oscar nomination for Bobby Duprea, he lost to George C. Scott in Patton. But awards are no matter; what’s important was how, after 43 years, the film still feels important. Not only does it encapsulate a bygone generation, but it speaks to the questions of identity and the desire to escape that we hold onto, regardless of time.
 

Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman to Present Awards This Sunday at The Oscars

As we count down to Sunday’s Academy Awards bonanza, Oscars producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have finalized their roster of presenters for the night—and this might just end up being my favorite part of the show. Announced today, iconic and wonderful human beings Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman will be hitting the stage once again to present their respective awards for the night. 

No stranger to the Academy, Nicholson has been nominated 12 times for an award, winning himself a golden statue for his performances in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, As Good As It Gets, and Terms of Endearment, whereas ol’ Dusty has been nominated seven times and won for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man. According to Zadan and Meron, "Between the two of them, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman have created more iconic characters than any other pair of actors in the world…Their participation in this year’s Oscars completes a list of presenters and performers that truly represents that great breadth and depth of acting talent in film today." Yes, this is correct. 

So let’s get excited to watch this handsome pair strut onstage with a look back at some of their finest moments at the Academy Awards. For the full annoucnement, take a look HERE.

How To Figure Out If You’re Dating the Kid of a Celebrity

Right before Christmas I met a boy in a bar. He was tall, adorable, and we immediately started chatting about music. Before the night came to an end, we exchanged information and he took my phone to add me as a friend on Facebook. When I noticed his last name, one that isn’t very common, I laughed and jokingly asked if he was the son of the celebrity with the same last name. His response was abrupt and strange: “No. I fucking hate that guy.” Um, OK.

The celebrity in question would not evoke such a response from anyone. Unless, of course, they knew him intimately and, for a fact, that he’s absolute shit. His on-air persona, although sometimes aloof and douchy, does not make one hate him. It just doesn’t. It was when I asked him what his dad did a couple weeks later that I was able to know for sure. Even then he didn’t say who his dad was; it was just obvious at that point. Maybe he doesn’t know that his father is pretty much a legend in our generation, or maybe he just doesn’t give a fuck.

I let it go. I don’t care who is father is; it has zero effect on how I feel about him. But some people do care about this shit. True star-fuckers, if they can’t score the celebrity, will take the offspring if they can.

As someone who has more than a few friends who have found themselves dating the kids or step-kids of celebrities, unless the kid is a show-off asshole, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly from where the person came. The only time the truth comes out is when you show up for a family dinner and find yourself across from say, Michael Douglas, and you’re forced to play it cool. Michael Douglas was in Romancing the Stone! You can’t be cool around that!

So, how do you know? Whether it’s for family dinner preparation or because you’re a greedy, gold-digging fame whore, there are five easy ways to figure it all out. Because sometimes Google can fail you in these circumstances, especially when you’re dealing with a family that does everything within their power to keep their lives private. (Oh, the famous and their I’m-so-special ways!)

“I fucking hate that guy.” The last name is a dead giveaway, especially if it’s not common. And if you do what I did and jokingly ask if there’s any relation, not thinking for one second there actually is, and the response is something aggressive out of left field, then, well, you’ve got yourself a celebrity’s kid.

Mannerism dissection. A lot of suspicion can be put to bed if you pay attention to mannerisms. Let’s say you’re dating Jack Nicholson’s kid. Now we all know Jack is known for his eyebrows and that Joker-like, crazy grin (even sans Batman make-up), so a lot of questions can be answered if you focus on these details. You’re not staring; you’re appreciating the similarities.

Mild detective skills. If you don’t know what the hell people are talking about when they mention Benson and Stabler, then you need to watch some episodes of Law & Order to truly grasp this maneuver. Where does this person live that you’re dating? Do they just happen to go on a family vacation the same time [celebrity name] was spotted by the paparazzi at the same place? Is their dad “working” at some concert the exact dates that such-and such-band is playing Coachella?

Is their life one of privilege? In NYC, the privileged are a pretty frequent lot. But there’s also a big difference between the privileged and the very privileged. Does this person in question have things in their apartment that others would kill for—like random photos of his mom at Studio 54 with Halston? Did Nirvana play his twelfth birthday? Can he get you into Per Se tonight at 8 PM no problem?

Straight up insult the celebrity in question. Even if the kid is on the outs with their celebrity parents, they won’t put up with someone else talking shit about their mom or dad. Case in point, as proven by a friend of mine: “I was going on and on about how much of a fucking asshole [celebrity name] is. I was criticizing his movies, his style and even his hair, finally D—snapped and exclaimed, ‘that’s my fucking dad! So keep your opinions to yourself.’ I knew it was just a matter of time before he’d have to give up the goods. And his dad does have bad hair.”

Follow Amanda Chatel on Twitter.

Oscar Deathmatch: Pitting the Casts of ‘Reds’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ Against Each Other

Silver Linings Playbook is slowly edging its way closer and closer to grabbing up some Oscars, and the feel-good film about feeling weird has an aggressive campaign, courtesy of those schemin’ Weinsteins, bent on stealing those trophies away from Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Tommy Lee Jones, and Anne Hathaway. While it’s unlikely that the entire cast of Silver Linings Playbook will get to walk on stage at the end of February to collect their golden statues (although Jennifer Lawrence’s recent SAG win increases her chances), the film is notable for being the first in 31 years to get nominations in all four acting categories. The other film, of course, was Reds, Warren Beatty’s epic drama about the Russian Revolution. 

Here’s my question: can you really expect the cast of Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about feeeeelings, to go head-to-head with the heavyweights in Reds, a movie about political activism and the endurance of love amid historical revolution? No, you cannot! The cast of Reds would not only drink the cast of Silver Linings Playbook under the table, but I’m willing to bet they could easily knock them off faster than you can sing "Ho Hey." 

But let’s not stop there! Let’s take a look at what each of these eight actors have to offer, shall we?

Warren Beatty vs. Bradley Cooper

Warren Beatty is like, "Who?" Sorry, but Beatty is too busy resting because he’s super exhausted from fucking literally everything in Hollywood. Sure, he’s settled down now with Annette Bening, but his real life made both The Hangover and The Hangover Part II look like The Sandlot. What does Bradley Cooper bring the table? Sure, he can act like a obsessive-compulsive manic-depressive (let’s not forget that Jack Nicholson set the standard back in As Good As It Gets, by the way), and apparently he can tango or something. But can he do all that while writing, producing, and directing a movie—about the Russian Revolution? That clocks in at over three hours? And features documentary-style interviews with the likes of Henry Miller? Cool it, B-Coop. We’ll call you when we re-make Shampoo.

Diane Keaton vs. Jennifer Lawrence

Ohhhh, brother. Diane Keaton has more wacky charm in her pinky than the 22-year-old it-girl has in her entire body. But nevermind the off-screen abilities of these two; let’s talk about their roles in these two movies. Lawrence plays a woman who acts out after the death of her husband by screwing everything in sight, jogging next to a man who wears a plastic bag as a shirt, layering her face with eye-liner, and ballroom dancing. Keaton’s character, on the other hand, falls in love with poet and activist John Reed and alcoholic playwright Eugene O’Neill. The gal from Silver Linings learns to dance, whereas Keaton’s Louise Bryant is present when the course of history is changed forever. Way to put your stamps on the world! 

Jack Nicholson vs. Robert De Niro

This seems like the ultimate match-up, although it’s a bit unfair to put a 44-year-old Jack Nicholson against 69-year-old Robert De Niro. But it must happen, because everyone’s losing their minds over Robert De Niro crying and watching football. Meanwhile, in Reds, Nicholson was busy boning Diane Keaton and writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. No biggie. 

Maureen Stapleton vs. Jacki Weaver

Maureen Stapleton won an Oscar for her portrayal of radical feminist activist Emma Goldman. Jacki Weaver got an Oscar nomination for saying "crabby snacks and homemades" twice (and also because they just needed some nominees because we all know that Anne Hathaway is going to get that thing). This seems like an incredibly even match, right? I’d just like to see Maureen Stapleton’s Emma Goldman clomp around modern-day Philadelphia teaching these people what real suffering is like. Get me on the phone with David O. Russell: I’ve got a great idea for his next dramedy.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Which One of These Old White Guys Will Win Another Oscar?

Happy Oscar Nominations Day! Did you wake up early to watch Seth McFarland and Emma Stone announce the nominees? Can you think of a quirkier couple to do so? Here’s the run-down: they only bothered to come up with nine movies to nominate for Best Picture, they figured Kathryn Bigelow didn’t need any more nominations (probably because of Bridesmaids solving feminism or something last year), and Jessica Chastain with the Julliard degree is up against a nine-year-old. But most importantly: five old white men are gunning for another Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category. Who will it be?!

Will it be Alan Arkin, showing his range after winning for playing a grumpy, foul-mouthed grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine with his brilliant turn as a grumpy, foul-mouthed film producer in Argo? How about Robert De Niro, who in Silver Linings Playbook gave us the best performance of an old man with OCD tendencies since Jack Nicholson won for As Good As It Gets? Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, who famously raised his voice and twisted his eyeglasses a few times for his Oscar-winning turn as Truman Capote, this time playing L. Rob Hubbard (basically) with his natural, deep voice in The Master. Or will it be Chrisoph Waltz, bringing levity and humor to the American slave trade in the same way he made it OK to finally laugh at—and with—Nazis.

Personally, I think it’s going to be Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln. You see, he sleeps with his black maid (spoiler alert, I guess, although I still refuse to see Lincoln). Remember when he won an Oscar for The Fugitive and said, “I don’t care,” right before Harrison Ford jumped out of that dam? That was a good movie. Hell, just give him another one. Who cares.

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Cinematic Panic: The Culture of Bob Rafelson’s ‘Five Easy Pieces’

It was amidst the pre-production for the Vincent Minnelli picture, On a Clear Day Your Can See Forever, when producer Robert Evans was at a loss. He could not find a single person who seemed to fit the role of Tad, the brother of Barbara Streisand’s Daisy. In one of the final casting sessions, Evans claims to have finally said, "Hold it!" Thinking he was speaking of the young man they were watching act, his head of talent said, "I think he’s terrific too, could be the next Jimmy Dean," to which Evans replied, "No, not him. The other guy. The one who didn’t talk. The smile." And after weeks of tracking him down, Evans finally met with “the smile;" all he wanted was to hear the guy talk. He asked the kid what he’d been working on: Just finished a flick that could be a real winner. Been in the can for just a month. Somethin’ about it’s real interestin’…it’ll turn ya upside down. Evans didn’t understand "a fuckin word the guy was saying," but he thought he was original. Not even knowing if he could act, he was cast—signing him, off nothing more than a flash of that devilish grin. "It sure in hell was a first for me, mesmerized by another guy’s smile."

That incredible mug happened to be the now legendary and iconic man of many talents, Jack Nicholson—who, at the time was beginning to garner attention from audiences with his minor but stand-out role in Dennis Hopper’s ode to a generation lost in the search for the American Dream, Easy Rider. Having left his home in Neptune, New Jersey, to pursue an artistic career after hearing he had "the face of an actor," Nicholson began earning his chops, studying meticulously on his craft in acting classes. And it was there that he met lifetime friend and collaborator, the master of B-movie schlocky brilliance, Roger Corman, with whom he would go on to write, direct, and star in pictures for throughout the ’60s. [Sidenote: If you’ve seen last year’s documentary Corman’s World, it’s impossible to forget the exposed and tender moment in which Nicholson tears up and begins to cry talking about Corman’s importance to him and how their relationship changed his life.] 

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But it was a time when a host of young actors, writers, and directors were on the precipice of something huge, about to take over Hollywood and lay their bones as the frontiersmen of New Hollywood, a movement that would shake a generation. Influenced by everything from Charlie Parker’s jazz, Marlon Brando’s performances, andthe writing of Camus and Sarte, Nicholson and his friends—Hopper, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Robert Towne, Warren Beatty, and Monte Hellman—were "the first people in America who weren’t buying the American Dream," recalls Nicholson. The "accent was on Holden Caufield-style iconoclasm, Beat intellectualism, and going to parties, but the focus was always on film acting and directing," as noted by Seth Cagin and Phillip Dray in their 1984 book Hollywood Films of the Seventies

But before he became the smooth-talking, charismatic wise-guy we consider one of the cinema’s greatest personalities—hell, the studio heads at Paramount during the casting of Chinatown weren’t even sure if they  could sell him as a romantic lead—he was known around town as a versatile character actor. But even throughout his early career—solidifying just how wrong those producers were—he still managed to tackle an array of diverse roles in every genre. He dug his hands into every aspect of filmmaking, working as a writer, director, and actor while a part of BBS (previously Rayburt Productions), an independent American company formed in the ’60s by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who together developed The Monkees. BBS went on to put out some of the most prolific films of the early 1970s, including Peter Bogdonovich’s now-classic black and white drama The Last Picture Show. BBS launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars but most notably that of Nicholson with the Rafelson-directed film, Five Easy Pieces—an amalgamation of American road movie, in-depth character study, and European art film. 

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Made for under $900,000 in 1970, Five Easy Pieces was the first Columbia-financed BBS release and worth every dime. Written by Carole Eastman, the film drew on Rafelson’s own life and the collective unconscious of the time. The leading character Bobby Duprea (played by Nicholson) represents an anonymous American existence. He’s a man who hides in the culture of others, never having to face the permanent sense of indecision that plagues him. Bobby is a volatile and aggressive man who rejects his intellectual, upper-class background, preferring to disappear in the life of an everyday man. He’s a classically trained pianist who chooses the life of a hard-hat—working in the oil fields and living modestly with a big-haired, Tammy Wynette-singing, truck-stop waitress, Rayette (played to perfection by Karen Black). Bobby doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. This sense of displacement echoes the anxieties of the time, not knowing where the world was heading or how to deal with the onslaught of social dissonance. 

Bobby represents a post-1969 frame of mind, when it wasn’t only the youth culture that was feeling the social and political afflictions of society. The "hippies" of the previous generations weren’t the only ones going through upheaval and anger but "could now be seen in any American." Easy Rider served as the ultimate symbol for that previous generation of youth counter-culture, and now Nicholson was here with that same sense of ill-ease and disillusionment, but in the character of an everyday man’s own identity crisis. Bobby wanted to escape the confines of his own upper-class background by assimilating into the blue-collar working class, a place where he would be free from pretense; he feels "alone in his ordeal," but that sense of isolation reflects the culture at large. 

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Bobby is "terminally ambivalent" as Kent Jones puts it: "watching the film is like being compelled to sit down with a stranger and hear the tale of an unresolved life." He wants to be free of class distinction, but no matter what world in which he exists, he finds himself devoid of feeling or ability to truly connect with those around him. He’s affected by them and will occasionally show a hint of passion or wild sexual impulse, but can never commit to a feeling or place, let alone a person. There’s a nonchalance about the poor way in which he treats the people in his life, namely, Rayette. Around her, he acts hostile, as if he’s held captive by her oppressive love for him. His distain for her is palpable, and you can feel the anxiety he has just being in her presence. He acts on his need for freedom by sleeping with other women and lying to her while still feeling possessed by her feelings towards him. In a brilliantly acted scene, Bobby tells Rayette he needs to leave for a few weeks, to which she responds with despondence and desperation. At first he doesn’t invite her with him, but as he gets in his car to leave, he begins flailing his body around, banging the steering wheel, knowing the right thing to do is to bring her along, but the thought makes him want to put his head through the windshield. But she comes along, and thus begins the road movie aspect of the film.

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His father is dying. At the request of his sister, Bobby agrees to travel to his family’s home, which represents the antithesis of the life he’s been living with Rayette. While traveling between these two worlds, the road serves as a place where Bobby’s disaffected psyche can really hit its stride, adhering to no one and nothing. Vast highways and open roads have always served as a romantic metaphor for personal expansion and possibility, or opportunity and the promise of something better lying just beyond the next stop. When you’re in transit, you’re unknown and the world feels free of consequence. Even though Raynette is with him, he drops her off at a hotel and heads to be with his family alone. While there, he has an affair with passionate woman who attempts to pull some feeling from Bobby, but his lack of desire to pick a side—even to his emotions—turns her away. In the end, he chooses that anonymous life, a "self-exile," as Kent Jones put it.

 

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J. Hoberman said that Five Easy Pieces is "predicated on the non sequitur," making it similar to the European art films of the time. It takes our expectations of cinematic convention and flips them on their head. It’s like traveling down a long road that keeps veering off in different directions, with pit stops on the way that never provide anything but momentary enjoyment and brief revelation, only to disappear before the next sudden turn. There’s one scene in which Bobby is stuck in traffic in the passenger seat of his friend’s car. He sees a piano sitting on the back of a flatbed truck in front of the them and simply exits the car and hops onto the truck to play some Chopin—as if the world is watching. The truck drives off as we see it disappear in the distance, and Bobby continues to play, unruffled. The next scene is at the diner where Rayette works; there is no mention of the flatbed experience again. In a similar vein, Rayette’s pregnancy is hinted at once, but never mentioned again. It’s a novelistic film with flourishes of the absurd set in the vivid and dust-filled American landscape of the time. 

But what the film does best is provide a vehicle for Nicholson, showing the strength of his acting abilities. Five Easy Pieces is Bobby’s world and thus Jack’s world. His character’s wise-cracking attitude and outbursts established Nicholson’s maniacal acting style that would characterize him throughout the rest of his career. His performance is truly the work of someone completely dedicated to his craft and able to disappear into his characters without losing sight of himself. Although he did receive an Oscar nomination for Bobby Duprea, he lost to George C. Scott in Patton. But awards are no matter; what’s important was how, after 43 years, the film still feels important. Not only does it encapsulate a bygone generation, but it speaks to the questions of identity and the desire to escape that we hold onto, regardless of time.