Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols, 83

Filmmaker, standup comedian and theater director Mike Nichols has died at 83. A titanic chameleon — from nightclub stages with Elaine May to "Spamalot" — an incredible career.

The word legendary is bandied about too easily, but it applies here. He was a successor to George Abbott and Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder and others whose talents stretched across genres and media.

He broke down some artistic barriers: No American movie had an ending as ambiguous as the change of expressions on Elaine (Katharine Ross) and Benjamin's (Dustin Hoffman) faces after they got on that bus at the end of "The Graduate," heading toward a future that was uncertain and a little frightening. In just two moments — one with the word "plastics" and the other with the fading smiles of those two youthful pranksters — Nichols chrystallized the condescension a young generation had for its elders while also acknowledging that being young didn't mean that you had all the answers, either.

"The Birdcage" with Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest is one of the most sustained and beautiful pieces of comic movie-making of all time. — Lars Trodson