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Five Reasons Why Jeff Nichols is the Best Working Director Today

November 7, 2016

If you see one of my movies and don’t like it. It is totally my fault.

Jeff Nichols – Wired – 2014

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 gold.

The following post covers five reasons why Jeff Nichols is the best working director today.

1. His First Five Films Have an Average 90.8% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes

The 90.8% average for his first five films is higher than the first five films of Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, Katheryn 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 his films is how unique they are. Aside from the true story Loving, Nichols 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 heartbreaking as well. Take Shelter is cinema at its most beautiful and absorbing.

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3. He writes All of His Films

I like that he writes his own films and you can tell he loves his source material. All of the characters are written with care and I like how he explores the lower class with class. He doesn’t pander, stereotype or dumb his characters down and that makes them real. The contemporary southern films are all important to Nichols and he draws inspiration from his family, children and everyday experiences which make the films real and not forced. Nichols 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?
Roy: Yeah?
Alton Meyer: Are you scared?
Roy: Yes.
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.

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4. He Always Gets Final Cut

I Need Two Things: Michael Shannon and Final Cut

Indiewire – 2016

If a Jeff Nichols movie is bad it is because Jeff Nichols messed up. I love that he puts himself out on a ledge and keeps full creative control because there are no excuses if it turns out to be bad. Nichols recently did an interview with Hitflix and here is what writer Drew McWeeny said to say about his creative control:

One thing I found interesting in our conversation was just how little he cared about whether people like the ending to Midnight Special. That may sound arrogant, but I think it’s the opposite. Instead of worrying about how people will react, Nichols simply focuses on telling the best version of the story, something that ties his film together thematically and dramatically. It’s a punishing game for filmmakers to try to one-up each other and whatever’s come before, and it leads to films that have these preposterously-scaled third acts full of glowing doodads on rooftops and CGI beasties. While not everyone is going to like the destination in Midnight Special, it’s clearly a carefully crafted conclusion to this very particular story.

 

5. He Gets the Best Out of His Actors

I still hope that Jessica Chastain and Michael 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 towards their strengths while not making it easy for them. Watch this clip from Mud and you will see McConaughey in all his McConaissance glory.

 

What is your favorite Jeff Nichols film? Let me know in the comments.

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