Nichols. Jeff Nichols is now five for five in the archives. His 2007 debut, Shotgun Stories, is one of the better debuts of the 2000’s decade, and his next film, his sophomore effort Take Shelter, one of the better films of 2011 (and Nichols’ finest to date). He looked poised for a huge 2010’s decade. Though Mud (2012) is strong– the rest of the decade didn’t quite live up to that early promise. 2016 was supposed to be his big year. He released two films (like Spielberg does often) with different purposes. Loving was supposed to be his true story, socially historically important awards-friendly film, and Midnight Special (speaking of Spielberg) was supposed to be his biggest broader-audience crowd-pleasing entertaining to date. Both really failed at their task (though they are fine) and they’re his two weakest films— not the way you want to be trending after those two first films. Still, five films in the archives (with no blemishes) and a unique voice (though setting- the south, and actor (Michael Shannon is in all five films), is easier to identify than some of the other characteristics).
Best film: Take Shelter. Whether it is Fitzcarraldo, Black Swan, or Safe from Todd Haynes—this tale of madness, sickness and obsession works like a magnificent character study and a potboiler thriller at the same time. The ending with blow your hair back, and Michael Shannon’s eruption in the church is such fine acting- it gives me chills just recalling the scene.
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 0
most overrated: Jeff Nichols doesn’t have an overrated film. His only film represented anywhere on the TSPDT lists is Take Shelter – it ranks as #21 for 2011—most definitely underrated.
most underrated : Shotgun Stories – So I get it, 2007 is loaded—but on the TSPDT consensus list there are now 55 films from 2007— none of them named Shotgun Stories- even in 2007- I wouldn’t get to 20 before Nichols’ impressive debut.
gem I want to spotlight : Loving
- Nichols and his two leads (Negga and Edgerton), through nuanced and un-showy performances, go through pains to set up their love, these two people, and their circumstances as both common and some sort of Eden of perfectness
- The film is paced, measured, intelligent but also rather, mostly, cinematically unremarkable which is disappointing now that we’re some years removed from Nichols Shotgun Stories (2007) which is a great debut film and Take Shelter (2011) which is a transcendent sophomore effort
- Nichols also does a good job of making urban living (DC here) look like doing time in the state pen
- Some very beautiful rural landscapes
- Edgerton’s performance here is like a B- version of ledger’s performance in Brokeback– which is no slight or dismissal of Edgerton’s work- it’s a compliment and comparison
- Michael Shannon, Nichols’ regular, steals a great scene—and the shot of Shannon (playing photographer Grey Villet) with Ruth Negga is the best in the film- an amazing still frame- it reminds me of how Herbert Ross and Gordon Willis recreated the Edward Hopper Nighthawks in Pennies From Heaven (1981)
- In the archives but a bit of a disappointment coming from Nichols at this stage
- Southern locations- Nichols is from Arkansas
- Like Malick (David Gordon Green help produce Nichols’ debut, and Malick help produce DGG’s debut), Nichols’ often juxtaposes the beauty of nature with the violence or ugliness of people and/or institutions
- Ellipsis editing—never in a hurry
- Harmful obsessions in his lead characters
- Establishing shots, rural landscapes- often Spanish moss
- All five films with the great Michael Shannon
- Take Shelter
- Shotgun Stories
- Midnight Special
By year and grades
|2007- Shotgun Stories
|2011- Take Shelter
|2016- Midnight Special
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives