Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

If someone were to create a cineaste major for higher education (which may have been done), the introductory courses would most certainly contain a few movies from Mike Nichols. The renowned director redefined cinema with movies like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), “The Graduate” (1967)—for which he won his Best Direction Oscar—and “Carnal Knowledge” (1971). In fact, Nichols’s films would populate every level of such an education trajectory.

He dabbled in nearly every genre, including broad comedy “The Birdcage” (1996), tragedy “Silkwood” (1983) and “Wit” (2001), political satire “Primary Colors” (1998) and “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007), war “Catch-22” (1970), science fiction “The Day of the Dolphin” (1973), confidence “The Fortune” (1975), horror “Wolf” (1994), heart-wrenching drama “Regarding Henry” (1986), satirical melodrama “Postcards from the Edge” (1990), farce “What Planet Are You From?” (2000) and even stand-up/sketch comedy “Gilda Live” (1980). He helped lead the cinematic feminist movement by directing the female-led, Oscar-nominated “Working Girl” (1988). He directed a couple of terrible movies, but an inordinate amount of his films are masterworks.

Nichols came from a theater heavy background, bringing several Broadway productions to the big screen, including the second chapter of Neil Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy” “Biloxi Blues” (1988) with Matthew Broderick reprising his stage role, the devastating play about personal relationships “Closer” (2004), and the epic AIDS HBO miniseries “Angels in America” (2003).  Film adaptations were the least of his contributions to his theater resume. In fact, he holds the most Tony wins for Best Direction of a Play than any other person with a total of 6. He also won for Best Direction of a Musical for “Monty Python’s Spamalot” (2005), and twice for producing. He was nominated another 7 times for Direction of a Play or Musical.

Nichols is one of only 12 people to have earned an EGOT, the distinction of winning one of each of the major entertainment awards, an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy and a Tony. He won a Grammy for Best Comedy album with Elaine May in 1966 as the comedy duo Nichols and May, having formed their working relationship as members of the Chicago comedy troupe the Compass Players, a predecessor to Second City.

Nichols was married four times, but he found the “love of his life” the fourth time in ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer. He immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1939 at the age of 7. He died of a heart attack in his Manhattan apartment November 19, 2014. With 22 film direction credits and 23 Broadway stage productions Nichols left an indelible stamp on U.S dramatic entertainment history. He once said, “A movie is like a person. Either you trust it, or you don’t.” As a film critic, I can’t think of a better explanation as to why people like movies so much.

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