Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The 1966 film version of Edward Albee's acclaimed 1962 play won Elizabeth Taylor an Oscar for Best Actress and freaked out young couples the world over. The film is one of only two to ever be nominated in every category it was eligible to compete in, including a Best Director nod for Mike Nichols, which he lost. One of the film's most famous scenes involves the continued bickering and sniping between the married couple, Taylor and Richard Burton, in front of their younger guests, which culminates in Burton wanting to "kill Martha" – the name of the scene.
Nichols' most celebrated film, "The Graduate" (1967), won him an Academy Award, gave Dustin Hoffman his breakthrough performance, and turned Anne Bancroft into the mother of all MILFs. Hoffman saluted Nichols during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award by saying: "You are more than a great director, you are a real artist down to your toes, because you are insanely courageous you took a chance on me – you never should have done that."
Mike Nichols' 1996 comedy, "The Birdcage," is one of his most beloved movies. A remake of the 1978 Franco-Italian film "La Cage aux Folles," the film stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple in Miami who get dragged into hosting a conservative Republican couple for dinner – the parents of the woman their son wants to marry. In one of the movie's best scenes, Nathan Lane is in drag, playing a conservative housewife in order to impress their dinner guests and potential in-laws.
Probably the most powerful scene from Nichols' 1983 'Silkwood' is the one in which Meryl Streep, who plays Karen Silkwood – a worker at a nuclear facility – discovers that she has been exposed to high levels of radiation. The script, written by Nora Ephron, was based on the real-life story of Silkwood, a Kerr-McGee plutonium plant whistle-blower who died in a suspicious car accident. The American Film Institute recognized the character played by Streep as one of the most prominent heroes in film history in its "100 years 100 Heroes and Villiains" list. Both Nichols and Streep received Oscar nominations for their work, along with Cher, who was nominated in the best supporting actress category.
Charlie Wilson's War
In 2007's "Charlie Wilson's War," Mike Nichols directs an all-star cast of Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his only foray into geopolitics. The film tells the real-life story of Congressman Charlie Wilson, who, through behind the scenes wrangling in Congress, manages to fund the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Wilson's efforts help the Afghans defeat the Soviets, but as the film poignantly points out, lay the groundwork for the Mujahideen and the United States' long war in the country – the following scene is Seymour Hoffman's character warning Wilson about the unintended consequences of a successful foreign policy.
2004's "Closer," staring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Jude Law, is a brutal indictment of love, sex and jealousy in contemporary society. The film takes place in modern-day London, portraying two couples who fall in love, break up and end up switching partners. The film packs a strong emotional punch and is loved by many, but is not one of Nichols' best received films; the scene below shows the film's intensity.
This one is not a scene, but rather a music clip of Chris de Burgh's song "Lady in Red," featured in the soundtrack of the film "Working Girl" that Nichols directed in 1988. Starring Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith, this wonderful romantic comedy tells the story of a naive receptionist (Griffith), whose business trip is being stolen by her vicious boss (Weaver). Good thing Ford falls for her.
In 1998, Nichols directed "Primary Colors," the adaptation of Joe Klein's novel "Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics." Both the novel and film are an indirect portrayal of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign for U.S. president. The film skewers modern American politics, telling the story of a young idealistic campaign staffer who wades through the lies, hypocrisy and moral ambiguity of a modern-day political campaign and a flawed candidate. The following scene shows how the film managed to humanize the flawed politician while showing his inescapable appeal:
Angels in America
Rabbis, dying Aids patients, Jewish spies, a closeted husband and an angel were all tangled in Nichols' mesmerizing HBO mini-series "Angels in America," which first aired in 2003 and was based on the play by Tony Kushner. It had an impressive cast that included Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Patrick Wilson, Mary-Louise Parker and Meryl Streep as just about any character possible (including an old rabbi). In this scene Al Pacino – who played the infamous, Jewish lawyer Roy Cohn, refusing to accept that he is HIV-positive and a gay man – proved that he's a great actor, no matter how small the screen.
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