Our Favorite: Nick Nolte Movies

Our Favorite: Nick Nolte Movies

Sep 06, 2011


As many of you already know, there was a nation-wide "sneak preview" screening of Gavin O'Connor's Warrior over the holiday weekend. And since I highly enjoyed the director's hockey story Miracle, and frankly I'm always a sucker for a good sports movie, I was in attendance at one of those shows. I liked the movie quite a bit, truth be told, and one of my favorite things about Warrior was the heart-wrenching performance by Nick Nolte. So as I was singing a few praises on the twitter feeds, a few young movie nerds chimed in with replies about Nick Nolte in A) the Arthur remake, B) the first of the Hulk movies, and C) that Zookeeper movie. Apparently he plays a gorilla in that one.

I was stunned, flabbergasted, and aghast. Surely Nick Nolte was considered a movie fan's favorite for four decades now! But as a service to those movie fans too young or too busy to know Nick Nolte beyond his most recent roles, I thought I'd bang out a list of the man's best work. And by best I mean "my favorite." I've seen most of the man's film work, but definitely not all of it. Should I leave something out, feel free to throw it in the comments section, or you can bug me on the aforementioned twitter feeds.
My Ten Favorite Nick Nolte Performances
Nick Nolte
Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) -- A drug deal goes bad and Nolte has to go on the run with his buddy's wife. It's actually more of a somber character piece than a slam-bang action film, but it (and Nolte's performance) are absolutely worth digging up.
48 HRS. (1982) -- Yes, this was Eddie Murphy's big movie debut, and yes he hit one out of the park with a sincerely funny performance, but for Murphy's character to have any impact, he must have a deadpan straight-man. If that straight-man also happens to be a tough-as-nails cop with a tendency for casual violence, that just makes it all the more fun to watch. Next time you catch some of this movie, look past Eddie Murphy and just watch Nolte reacting to Eddie Murphy. 
Under Fire (1983) -- Nolte (along with Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy) plays a photo-journalist covering Nicaragua as all hell breaks loose. Not surprisingly, Nolte does a fine job of playing an ambitious journalist who deals with various moral conflicts as the battles progress. Also Ed Harris is in it.
Weeds (1987) -- As a reminder that he was an actor who liked to stick with drama when good material was available, Nolte played a convict who became a playwright and then a small media sensation. The critics remember this film fondly, but mostly it seems all but forgotten these days.
Farewell to the King (1989) -- Here Nolte plays an American soldier who escapes execution only to later become "king" of a native tribe in Borneo. Of course war does intrude once again. A strange and generally forgotten action drama from John Milius, but it's absolutely worthy of a visit to anyone tired of the stupider action movies out there.
Fairwell to the King
Three Fugitives (1989) -- This all-but-forgotten Touchstone (Disney) farce is a remake of a French film, and it starred Nick Nolte as a gruff crook who (very reluctantly) teams up with a powerfully dorky Martin Short and a little girl. The movie is harmless fluff (your kids may like it), but it's endlessly funny to see Nolte beating the comedic snot out of Martin Short. And I mean that literally. Short's gift for physical comedy is employed frequently. Because Nick Nolte keeps punching him! (Plus, as this is a Disney movie, he gets to be a big sweetheart at the end. Awww!)
Cape Fear (1991) -- Love Scorsese's sweaty remake or hate it, there's no denying that Robert De Niro gives an outrageously feral performance, but Nick Nolte's domestic dad is the real focus of the film, and it's fascinating to watch this guy go from a pillar of the community to a bloodthirsty animal. HIs scenes of frustration (involving his wife and daughter) are particularly powerful -- plus, as always, Nolte is just just sort of fascinating. And I don't just mean his oddly (awesomely) scratchy voice.
Blue Chips (1994) -- William Friedkin directing a movie about college basketball? With Nick Nolte as a petulant, bullying, superstar coach? Yeah, it's not a subtle flick. But Nolte does smash his way through it like Godzilla, and that's just good fun.
Mother Night (1996) -- Was Howard Campbell a master of Nazi propaganda ... or was he an American spy? This fantastic Keith Gordon drama (based on a novel by Kurt Vonnegut) gives Nolte some fascinating material to work with, and he sells the protagonist's ambiguity at every turn. 
Off the Black (2006) -- I saw this quiet little character study back at Sundance, and I certainly never expected it to make much noise. But man it just vanished. Here Nolte plays a lonely old softball umpire who builds an unexpected friendship with a teenager he used to hate. Highly recommended.
Bonus pick: Nick Nolte is hilarious in Tropic Thunder. There, I said it.
Tropic Thunder
Honorable mention to: Down and Out in Beverly Hills (he's great in it; seemed too obvious a pick), North Dallas Forty and Extreme Prejudice, both of which I need to revisit sooner than later.
Oscar note: Mr. Nolte has been nominated twice: The Prince of Tides (1991) and Affliction (1997). He has yet to win one. (But go see Warrior.)

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