"If you see one of my movies and don’t like it. It is totally my fault."
My Jeff Nichols appreciation dates back to 2008 when a friend of mine recommended I watch a film called Shotgun Stories. I looked into it on IMDb and realized that Jeff’s brother Ben is the frontman for the alt-country band #Lucero. I was excited to see that Ben’s music was featured on the soundtrack, and I gave the film a go because I wanted to see if Ben’s brother was as talented at directing as Ben was at music.
The movie totally drew me into Nichols' version of the Midwest and I loved every second of the contemporary Southern tragedy. Since Shotgun Stories, Nichols has been a beautiful tear with Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special and #Loving. They are all damn near perfect and everything Nichols touches turns to gold.
Following are five reasons why Jeff Nichols is the best working director today.
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1. His First Five Films Have an Average 90.8 Percent Rating On Rotten Tomatoes
The 90.8 percent average for his first five films is higher than the first five films of Wes Anderson, Martin #Scorsese, Robert Altman, Alfred #Hitchcock, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Francis Ford #Coppola and Akira Kurosawa. This is an incredible feat, considering the amount of talented directors that have been making films for decades.
What I love about Nichols' films is how unique they are. Aside from the true story Loving, he has brought the world some original gems that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
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2. Take Shelter Is The Best Film Of This Decade
Take Shelter is a heartbreaking film about a man trying to protect his family. Is the world ending or is he getting his first symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia? Take Shelter glued me to my seat and I sat through the credits trying to absorb what I had just watched. Nichols' direction alongside the performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain create a wrenching film that lingers long in your memory. The final song by Ben Nichols is also heartbreaking. Take Shelter is cinema at its most beautiful and absorbing.
3. He Writes All The Screenplays Of His Films
I like that Nichols writes his own films, and you can tell he loves his source material. All of the characters are crafted with care and I like how he explores the lower class with class. He doesn’t pander, stereotype or dumb down his characters, and that makes them real. The contemporary Southern films are all important to Nichols, who draws inspiration from his family, children and everyday experiences, which make the films real and unforced. He wrote Midnight Special after a harrowing ordeal involving his child and you can see his personality shining through in this neat little exchange:
Alton Meyer: Dad?
Alton Meyer: Are you scared?
Alton Meyer: You don’t have to worry about me.
Roy: I like worrying about you.
Alton Meyer: You don’t have to anymore.
Roy: I’ll always worry about you, Alton. That’s the deal.
4. He Always Gets Final Cut
"I need two things: Michael Shannon and final cut."
If a Nichols movie is bad, it's because Nichols messed up. I love that he puts himself out on a ledge and keeps full creative control, because that gives him no excuses if it turns out bad.
5. He Gets The Best Out Of His Actors
I still hope that Chastain and Shannon receive honorary Academy Awards for their work in Take Shelter. You can tell the actors enjoy being in Nichols’ films, and I love how the lack of plot and expository dialogue force them to bring their A-game. I don’t know how Nichols does it, but I appreciate how he is able to get the best out every actor. There is a naturalist vibe and he manages to play toward the actors' strengths while not making it easy for them. Watch this clip from Mud and you will see Matthew McConaughey in all his #McConaissance glory.
What is your favorite Jeff Nichols film? Let me know in the comments below.