Best Actor

2003 wins: Golden Globe (drama), Dallas/Fort Worth Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics

Oscar pedigree: Won: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Terms of Endearment” (1983), “As Good as It Gets” (1997); nominated “Easy Rider” (1969), “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), “The Last Detail” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974), “Reds” (1981), “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985), “Ironweed” (1987), “A Few Good Men” (1992)

Nicholson on going small: “I sort of un-Jacked myself. Because it’s easier to involve an audience if they don’t already know who you are or think they know who you are.

Alexander Payne told me that he saw Schmidt as a small man. That’s what I gave him. This is very specifically a muted performance.”

What we said: “Nicholson has plenty of opportunities to indicate his superiority to the character he’s playing by indulging in his specialties of sarcastic line readings and squinty looks of disgust. But he resists them all, very subtly suggesting Schmidt’s scorn and irritations but never losing his grip on the man’s bedrock decency and solidity.” – Todd McCarthy (May 22)

What the others said: “This is a superb film and one of Nicholson’s great performances, tamped down but magnetic. The fact that we keep sensing the old ribald, truth-telling, in-your-face Jack buried inside painfully smiling Schmidt gives the film tension and threat.” – Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

This could be the night: There’s no denying the Acad’s love affair with Nicholson. Many consider “Schmidt” one of the bravest performances in a luminous career.

Then comes the rub: Might it be time to share the wealth? His three Oscar wins are already proof positive that Nicholson will be enshrined in the pantheon of great thesps.

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