6. Postcards From The Edge (1990)
Working once again with Streep, this is an infinitely more personal work for Nichols. Based on the memoir by actor/writer Carrie Fisher, “Postcards From The Edge” is a scathing, unsparing look at Hollywood from someone that had been in the business long enough to know the truth.
Featuring an electrifying love/hate dynamic between Meryl Streep and Shirley Mac Laine, who plays Streep’s flaky, alcoholic mother, this is a key work of Nichols. Affectionate and utterly unflinching at the same time, this is Hollywood, warts and all.
5. Silkwood (1983)
After some misfires in the form of “Day Of The Dolphin” (1973) and the godawful “The Fortune”(1975), Nichols took some time off from making movies. When he returned in 1983, with “Silkwood”, he did so with a bang.
Intelligent and thought provoking, “Silkwood” is a film with a brain and a bone to pick.
Shining a spotlight on a nuclear accident, and the way that the high ups in the corporation will go to any length to cover up the actions of one of their workers, Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) threatening to blow the whistle on their less than legal and safe practices, this is a compelling piece of work from Nichols.
It also shows his versatility, here creating an absorbing drama and being a striking setting for his storytelling skills. What makes “Silkwood” just that much more hard hitting is the fact that the film is based on a true story, concentrating on events that occurred in America only a matter of a few decades ago.
4. Closer (2004)
This is cinema/theatre at its most lacerating. Taking no prisoners whatsoever, Patrick Marbler, adapting his own play for the screen, creates something of a spiritual cousin to Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”, which Nichols had brought to screen nearly three decades previously.
Charting the rise and fall of two relationships, “Closer” also features a quartet of bracing and brilliant performances from Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Jude Law. Proving he is one of the best ‘actor’s directors’ around, Nichols and his gifts for getting the finest out of performers you normally wouldn’t give the time of day to are beautifully on show in this punishing, absorbing work.
3. Angels In America (2003)
A mini-series Nichols made for HBO, based on the ground breaking play by writer Tony Kusher, this is an extraordinary meditation on the early days of AIDS in America.
Pushing Nichol’s social conscience to the fore, “Angels In America” mashes up fact, fiction and magic realism to create a work that is nothing short of utterly unique.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep (in three different roles), Emma Thompson and a truly astounding turn from Al Pacino, in one of the finest performances of his career, this is a bold, challenging, lacerating and electrifying work.
It is one of the finest hours Mike Nichols has experienced in his long and illustrious career as an artist.
2. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Bold, ballsy and lacerating, this was a censorship baiting, uncompromising adaptation of Edward Albee’s highly controversial play. When making the film, Nichols experienced what can only be described as a masterstroke of casting in the form of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The volatility and fire that these two actors shared off screen in their personal lives was fuel to the fire of the story of a bickering couple and one long night examining the state of their relationship.
While somewhat stagey in its presentation, “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” trumps that mere formality with which it attacks the material and how honest and in your face it is. This was a truly auspicious debut for Nichols behind the camera.
1. The Graduate (1967)
One of the first films that truly defined a generation. Buck Henry’s razor sharp script depicts the plight of Benjamin Braddock (a star making turn from Dustin Hoffman). Here is a young man that has graduated from college but has no idea what he wants to do with his life.
He falls into a loveless affair with an older family friend, Mrs Robinson (the iconic Anne Bancrofft), only to truly fall in love with her daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross).
A biting comment on the generation gap and life in general, “The Graduate” really captured the zeitgeist of the younger people of the time and how they felt towards the world.
It was also one of the first films to use popular music of the time for its soundtrack, in this case a compelling song cycle from Simon & Garfunkle. In only his second film, Nichols created an era-defining classic.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.