Mike Nichols, the pioneering director and comedian who died Wednesday night at the age of 83, leaves behind an acclaimed, varied and prolific body of work.
After breaking out as half of a satirical comedy duo with Elaine May in the late 1950s, Nichols found his niche as a director and proved equally adept at theater, television and film. Along the way he became one of the handful of EGOTs — those who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — an especially rare feat for a director.
Although his filmmaking output was not without the occasional misstep, Nichols crafted his share of groundbreaking movies and was a consummate actors’ director -- he directed at least a dozen actors to Oscar nominations. Following are six of his most memorable films.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)
Nichols made his feature directing debut with an adaptation of Edward Albee’s critically acclaimed but controversially profane play about an academic couple’s tempestuous relationship. But the casting of the headline-grabbing twosome of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton proved to be an inspired choice, and the film racked up 13 Academy Award nominations, winning five, including best actress for Taylor, with the heavily dramatic spin on Albee’s piece.
“The Graduate” (1967)
Nichols cemented his status as a top director and launched the career of Dustin Hoffman with “The Graduate,” based on the Charles Webb novel about an aimless college graduate (Hoffman) who has an affair with the neglected wife (Anne Bancroft) of his father’s law partner and then falls for her daughter (Katharine Ross). Heralding the beginning of the New Hollywood era, the film was a critical and commercial success that earned seven Academy Award nominations and won Nichols an Oscar for best director, not to mention becoming one of the best-known movies of its era.
After a series of misfires including “Catch-22,” “Day of the Dolphin” and “The Fortune,” Nichols rebounded with this fact-based drama about a whistle-blower at a nuclear power plant. The film teamed Nichols with Meryl Streep for the first time, but not the last. They would go on to work together on “Heartburn,” “Postcards From the Edge” and HBO’s “Angels in America,” and had been developing “Master Class,” an HBO piece about the opera singer Maria Callas, at the time of Nichols’ death.
“Working Girl” (1988)
One of Nichols’ warmer, wackier films, this workplace romantic comedy featured Melanie Griffith in a career role as a moxie-filled Wall Street secretary who poses as her domineering boss (Sigourney Weaver). Nichols coaxed first-rate comedic turns from Griffith, Weaver and Joan Cusack, all of whom received Oscar nominations (Griffith for lead actress, Weaver and Cusack for supporting actress). The film was also a box-office hit, grossing more than $100 million worldwide.
“The Birdcage” (1996)
An update of the French farce “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Birdcage” would become Nichols’ highest-grossing film, taking in $124 million domestically and another $61 million overseas. Nichols expertly corralled a star-studded cast — Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest — in the boisterous tale of a gay couple pretending to be straight so their son can introduce them to his fiancee’s conservative parents.
“Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007)
Nichols’ final film starred Tom Hanks as the titular congressman, a high-living wheeler-dealer who teamed up with a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts) and a gruff CIA operative (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to aid Afghan mujahedin against the Soviet Union. If the film didn’t reach the heights of Nichols’ earlier successes, it did earn generally favorable reviews and was a notably entry in the director’s latter-career phase.
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