The Best Mike Nichols Movies to Rent or Stream at Home Right Now
We’re thinking a lot today about Mike Nichols, the great film and theater director who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. If you’re new to Nichols’ work, or you’re a longtime fan looking to revisit some old favorites, here are a few of his best films that you can rent or stream right now. Just follow the links below to watch some classic movies.
‘The Graduate’ (1967)
In the role that made him a star, Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin, a recent college graduate searching for his place in the world while pursuing relationships with an older woman (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter (Katharine Ross). Nichols doesn’t often get credit as a visual director, but look at how many iconic images ‘The Graduate’ contains. The opening titles on the moving walkway (pilfered by Quentin Tarantino and reused in ‘Jackie Brown’), the scuba man drowning in Benjamin’s aquarium, the lightning-quick cuts when Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson tries to seduce Benjamin, Benjamin pounding on the glass balcony overlooking a church (pilfered by Mike Myers and jokingly reused in ‘Wayne’s World 2’). Some say ‘The Graduate’ hasn’t aged well, but those images definitely have; they’ve remained burned into our collective unconscious for almost half a century.
When Nichols made ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in 1966, he got into hot water with the MPAA’s Production Code and the Catholic Church for profanity, most of which you hear now any night of the week on broadcast television. It’s fun to imagine those same censors watching ‘Closer,’ a far more vulgar and explicit about the web of relationships and sexual desire between two men and two women, played superbly by Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen. Nichols was a particularly gifted adapter of stage material for the screen; even though ‘Closer’ is composed almost entirely of long conversations between different combinations of the four stars, it still feels like a movie. ‘Closer’ also showcases Nichols’ ability to draw an audience’s interest, and even their sympathy, towards flawed and sometimes downright unlikable characters. He didn’t judge his protagonists; he observed them with unparalleled clarity and honesty.
‘The Birdcage’ (1996)
I suspect that for people of my generation and the ones that followed, ‘The Birdcage’ will be the Mike Nichols’ film they’ve seen the most. It became a staple on HBO and cable television in the late ’90s, and with good reason; it’s an incredibly re-watchable film, entertaining, hilarious, and warm. It also features a memorable (and often quoted—“Twyla! Twyla! Twyla!”) performance from Robin Williams, who we’ve also tragically lost this year. ‘The Birdcage’ was yet another hugely successful theatrical adaptation for Nichols, from a script by his old comedy partner Elaine May about the culture clash between two couples, one conservative and one liberal (and gay), when their children decide to marry. Even by 1996, this was a very familiar story, but it was made fresh again through lively direction (and May’s pithy jokes) and terrific performances from Nichols’ cast, which also includes Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest.
‘Angels in America’ (2003)
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Arguably Nichols’ most ambitious theatrical adaptation, ‘Angels in America’ turned Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning plays about the AIDS crisis in 1980s America into a 350-minute, six-part miniseries for HBO, which is currently available in its entirety on Amazon. The all-star cast includes Jeffrey Wright, Patrick Wilson, Mary-Louise Parker, James Cromwell, and Meryl Streep playing no less than four different parts over the course of the production. And then there’s Al Pacino’s great performance as Roy Cohn, a fascinating real-life figure who’d played a key role in the Red Scare and was an ally of Joseph McCarthy, and later died of AIDS. Here is just one powerful scene from the series (which contains a few four-letter words, for those who are concerned about such things):
‘Working Girl’ (1988)
This one’s a favorite of my wife’s, but I’ll admit I’d never even seen it until a year or two. (Note: She was right; she usually is.) Melanie Griffith stars as an ambitious young Wall Street secretary; when her boss (Sigourney Weaver) breaks her leg on a ski trip, Griffith’s Tess uses her absence as a chance to propel her career forward by masquerading as a powerful executive (and by trying to close a major business deal with another exec, played by Harrison Ford). ‘Working Girl’ is funny and romantic, and there are also some interesting comparisons that can be drawn between Tess and Benjamin from ‘The Graduate,’ and in the shift in culture and American values in the intervening years between the two movies.
BONUS: Before Nichols became a Tony, Emmy, and Oscar-winning director, he was one half of the Grammy-winning comedy team Nichols and May. Their album ‘An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May’ is available on Spotify: