Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving.

Director Jeff Nichols, who has already made two excellent movies in Mud and Take Shelter, released a very good movie earlier this year called Midnight Special. Here, in late 2016, he has released another excellent one.

Loving, written and directed by Nichols, recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile.

The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. That’s nine years during which two people lived their lives in America as convicted criminals simply for being two consenting adults who married. The law banning interracial marriage was abolished in many other states as a result of the ruling, and the Loving case was even used as an argument in last year’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Simply put: When it comes to the institution of marriage and what it stands for in the United States, you might not ever find a more historically important couple than Richard and Mildred Loving.

Joel Edgerton, who delivered a terrific performance in Midnight Special, is a sure Oscar contender as Richard. His face depicts constant pain and confusion, as if it is always saying, “Really, you have to be kidding me!” in regards to his plight. The moments when Richard gets to smile and laugh in the film are like drinking a pitcher of iced water while another is being poured over you on a 110-degree day.

Ruth Negga, a relatively unknown actress, is equally wonderful as Mildred, a woman who must give birth to her baby in Virginia under the stress of possible arrest. Like Edgerton, hers is a performance showing quiet reserve, made all the more powerful by her expressive face.

The absolute beauty of these performances is that Edgerton and Negga always convey the love between these two people, no matter the situation. The real-life couple went through pure hell to be together, and this movie makes you understand why: The Lovings truly loved each other.

Put Nichols on the list of today’s most consistent directors, along with Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and, yes, Martin Scorsese. (I can’t include Spielberg on this list. He’s still one of my favorites, but he did make Hook, The Terminal and The BFG, so his consistency isn’t quite on the level of these others.) Apart from writing screenplays that are damn near perfect (he’s written every film he’s directed), Nichols’ movies are testaments to beautiful visual craftsmanship and, of course, fine acting. Along with Edgerton and Negga, Loving has Michael Shannon (a blessed Nichols staple) as a friendly photographer, Marton Csokas as a despicable cop, and Nick Kroll as the Lovings’ resourceful lawyer; they are all first-rate.

It’s time to take note of cinematographer Adam Stone, who has shot all of Nichols’ movies. He shows that his talents can effectively be applied to decades past. Big props to David Wingo as well, who has scored all of Nichols’ movies. Yes, Nichols has been putting together one of the better filmmaking teams out there.

It’s downright amazing that Loving was Richard’s last name, given what he and Mildred would go on to stand for. As for the movie, Loving will stand as not only one of 2016’s best films, but undoubtedly as one of its most important.

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