Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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More awards news

Yesterday’s critics’ awards were (relatively) big news, but the statue and plaque beat goes on.

Brad Pitt and Eli Roth in

*  The nominees are in for the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, which also includes some online writers as well, I understand. The event is better known as the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which airs annually on VH-1. The most nominations went to “Inglourious Basterds” and “Nine,” with few other surprises. “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Up in the Air” all got their share. Anne Thompson has the complete list and some good context.

* The Best Foreign Film Oscar is usually fairly unpredictable, and also has a somewhat screwed up eligibility process that I’m still figuring out after I don’t know how many years. (Individual nations get to submit exactly one film, a process that, as you might guess, is often highly politicized and sometimes eliminates highly charged films from consideration.) Nevertheless, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is really starting to look like an early favorite. However, Haneke isn’t exactly the most audience friendly director.

Ed Helms and friend in
* The American Film Institute (AFI) has put out their top 10 film and TV show list. It’s a bit different from some of the others. The most un-awardy inclusion is “The Hangover.” It might not be the most beautifully made example of the cinematic art I’ve ever seen, but it certainly provides exactly the movie you (or I, anyway) want to see when you/I want to see a movie about a bachelor party gone awry, so why not?

  

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