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Is timing truly everything? Award nominations are always accompanied by talk of the snubs and surprises, but this is especially true of this year’s Golden Globes. Chosen by the voting body of the Hollywood Foreign Press (consisting of less than 100 foreign journalists), the Golden Globes usually manage to get a lot of things right with their nominations. This year for instance, “surprise” nominations for Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) are commendable. Out of the many omissions (seriously—no nomination for James Gandolfini for Enough Said?) however, one film in particular stood out…Mud.
Remember Mud? The movie that played to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2012? Currently sitting pretty with a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Jeff Nichols’ coming-of-age drama is one of the best films of 2013 that no one seems to be talking about. In this exceptional independent film, Matthew McConaughey gives a skilled performance as Mud, an escaped convict who befriends two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and elicits their help in his quest to reunite with his true love Juniper (a subdued Reese Witherspoon).
When an auteur like Jeff Nichols makes a film, you head to your nearest movie theater, sit down and pay attention.
Why should people remember Mud? Number one, when an auteur like Jeff Nichols makes a film, you head to your nearest movie theater, sit down and pay attention. He first burst on the indie filmmaking scene in 2007 with the subtle family drama, Shotgun Stories, about a clan of feuding brothers in southern Arkansas. With sparse dialogue, lingering shots of the broken-down vistas, and a classic style of storytelling, Nichols’ first film is a near masterpiece.
His second film, Take Shelter, is a slow-burning psychological thriller about a man whose visions of the end of the world might be all in his head . . . or not. Take Shelter is particularly notable for Nichols’ exploration of the mundanity of small-town American life with a fascinating edge and shocking matter-of-factness. Mud is no different. Nichols combines the “typical” coming-of-age story with elements of folklore and over-arching sense of peril, rendering Mud as an anti-hero that people could write songs about. Nichols growing maturity as an auteur is evident throughout his three films, and he richly deserves the recognition that the Golden Globes voters denied him.
Casting, of course, paid a key role in the success of both Nichols’ previous films. Matthew McConaughey was an inspired choice for the role of Mud, the escaped convict whose old-fashioned ideals of honor, loyalty, and love tend to get him in trouble. While McConaughey did receive a nomination for his performance in the Dallas Buyers Club, he is at his most raw in Mud. There are no movie star airs to his performance—it is completely devoid of vanity and tricks.
As Ellis (who is the film’s central character), Tye Sherdian is—as clichéd as it sounds—a revelation. The weight of the movie rests on his shoulders as he romanticizes Mud’s ideals and delusions and puts Mud’s needs before his own conflict with his father and his burgeoning first romance. Full of pathos, stillness and reflective angst, Tye is a marvel to behold. It’s no wonder that David Gordon Green chose him to star oppose Nicolas Cage in the highlighly anticipated 2014 film, Joe.
Michael Shannon, who starred in both Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, tackles a rich supporting role in Mud as the underachieving, but caring uncle of Ellis’ friend, Neckbone. Character actors like Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, and Joe Don Baker complete a brilliant supporting ensemble. We should also mention that Reese Witherspoon as Mud’s unrequited childhood love with a dark past ain’t bad either!
And can we talk about Adam Stone’s understated yet beautiful cinematography? In his third collaboration with Jeff Nichols, the two really strike a perfect balance in Mud. Accompanied by David Wingo’s Americana-esque acoustic score, Stone’s photography sweeps the audience into the rhythms of life on the Mississippi river and its beautiful surroundings. Stone’s camera also doesn’t shy away from the film’s harsher moments, showing the visceral and matter-of-fact nature of violence in the Deep South.
Nichols combines the “typical” coming-of-age story with elements of folklore and over-arching sense of peril, rendering Mud as an anti-hero that people could write songs about.
With Oscar announcements set to be announced on Thursday, January 16, we can only hope that Mud figures in the equation. Could a Best Original Screenplay nomination be in Jeff Nichols’ future? One can only hope.