Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland and Matthew McConaughey in Mud.

It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, proves with Mud that he is a writer/director who stands among the best of them.

Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi River. Two kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon him, and become a part of his strange and dangerous world.

McConaughey is catching wave after successful wave lately, and this is his best performance yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard; all of them are equally great.

Ladies and gentleman, we have the year’s first “excellent” movie. It sure took long enough.

Mud is now playing at the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); and opens Friday, May 3, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).