Retrospective: 5 Greatest Mike Nichols Movies | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Retrospective: 5 Greatest Mike Nichols Movies

Retrospective: 5 Greatest Mike Nichols Movies

Legendary German-born American director Mike Nichols, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 83, was certainly one of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood. Throughout his long and illustrious career since his acclaimed debut in 1966's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, he was one of the few peoples to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Best known for character-driven comedies and dramas, he has directed some of the most highly-regarded motion pictures for each decade and to honour his legacy, here is my personal list of five greatest Mike Nichols movies in a chronological order:


1. WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)

From the explosive first act where middle-aged couple Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) spend times biting each other’s heads off to the shocking revelation during the downbeat finale, Mike Nichols’ directorial debut in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? was an intense, yet thought-provoking motion picture that examined the ugly side of marital problems. Brilliantly adapted from Edward Albee’s play by Ernest Lehman, this black-and-white classic was notoriously explicit at the time of its release, thanks to its then-shocking profanities (e.g. “bugger”, “goddamn”, “screw you”, “son of a bitch”). Although the movie tends to get overly theatrical as the story went along, it remained one of the best movies ever seen about marital problems. Nichols’ direction was nearly impeccable, especially the way he made great use of tight close-ups to enhance the claustrophobic tension during the movie’s many heated arguments. The dialogues were razor-sharp filled with acidic sarcasm and memorable quotes such as Elizabeth Taylor’s famous one-liner, “What a dump!”, while the actors – particularly real-life husband and wife Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – delivered among their greatest performances ever seen.  WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? was a big hit at the box office, and went on securing an astounding 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (both lost to Fred Zinnemann’s A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS) and won five Oscars: Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Supporting Actress (Sandy Dennis), Best Black-And-White Cinematography (Haskell Wexler), Best Black-And-White Art Direction-Set Decoration (Richard Sylbert, George James Hopkins) and Best Black-And-White Costume Design (Irene Sharaff). The movie was also noted for being the first motion picture to be released with a “Suggested for Mature Audiences” warning by the MPAA.

2. THE GRADUATE (1967)

A year after Mike Nichols made a stunning debut with WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, his hot streak as a director scaled even higher with his sophomore follow-up, THE GRADUATE. Highly regarded as one of the landmark movies of the 1960s, THE GRADUATE was a timeless coming-of-age comedy that touches on the ever-relevant thematic materials such as teen angst, alienation, confusion and sexuality. Nichols shows great control over his direction with the help of cinematographer Robert Surtees, while the acting was just as flawless, particularly for then-unknown Dustin Hoffman, who scored a major breakthrough with his Oscar-nominated role as the curious and shy-looking Ben Braddock and of course, the vampish Anne Bancroft at her femme fatale best as Mrs. Robinson. My favourite moment was the opening scene where Ben was coaxed by Mrs. Robinson to drive her home in the midst of his graduation party and got him nervous when she began to seduce him. THE GRADUATE was an enormous hit at the box office and also finally won Mike Nichols his well-deserved Best Director award (the only Oscar won out of six nominations). The movie, was of course, known for some of Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits, including “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson”.

3. SILKWOOD (1983)

Based on a true story about Karen Silkwood, a worker who attempts to expose the illegal mishandling of plutonium cover-up by Kerr-McGee nuclear plant before she died in a mysterious auto accident in 1974, Mike Nichols’ low-key drama was blessed with great performances from all three leads (Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher). Streep, was of course, the main reason that held the movie together with her captivating performance as the titular character that won her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (but lost to Shirley MacLaine for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT). Although the movie was deliberately paced to a certain crawl that might tested one’s patience throughout its 131-minute running time, SILKWOOD was the kind of movie that slowly grew on you as you kept watching until the harrowing finale that ended with Meryl Streep’s heartbreaking song of “Amazing Grace”. Nichols himself was nominated for Best Director, but lost to James L. Brooks for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

4. WORKING GIRL (1988)

One of the most popular comedy dramas about the corporate world of the ‘80s, WORKING GIRL was best remembered as Melanie Griffith’s breakthrough performance as Tess McGill, a Wall Street secretary who is daring enough to take the risk for impersonating as an executive to seal a big deal after discovered her idea-stealing boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) was injured and recuperating at the hospital from a skiing accident. Once again, Mike Nichols’ direction was outstanding with his successful blend of comedy, satire, romance and tension-filled drama in the cutthroat world of business. Apart from Griffith, the rest of the actors including Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver were equally magnificent with their excellent comic timing. WORKING GIRL was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, but only won one Oscar for Best Original Song by Carly Simon’s “Let The River Run”.

5. CLOSER (2004)

CLOSER saw Mike Nichols returned to his familiar root that first made him famous thirty-eight years ago in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966). Filled with sexually explicit and acid-tongued dialogues where the characters talked about sex openly, CLOSER was an intense and well-acted romance drama. Nichols was particularly in top form here, after suffering a creative setback with 2000's WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM?, while all four actors (Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman) delivered first-rate performances. CLOSER was nominated for 2 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Clive Owen, lost to Morgan Freeman for MILLION DOLLAR BABY) and Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Portman, lost to Cate Blanchett for THE AVIATOR).

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