Saturday, August 22, 2009

#494: Sideways (2004)

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church

Sideways is one of those movies that doesn't require any crazy special effects, or even any complex camerawork. It's all in its Oscar-winning script and some great acting.

Based on Rex Pickett's novel of the same title, Payne juxtaposes Giamatti and Church to demonstrate the two opposite stereotypes of the male persona. Giamatti - as always, and as brilliant as ever - represents the depressed and shy Miles, while Church is the outgoing and sex-driven Jack. A week before Jack's first wedding, the two are off to California's wine country. Miles is anticipating exploiting his talent for wine tasting, while Jack is trying to get laid once before he's married.

The acting of both Giamatti and Church is amazing, neither of them ever stealing the spotlight. The two leading women, Sandrah Oh and Virginia Madsen, are not to be forgotten, either. Madsen has a particularly moving speech describing the life of a bottle of wine.

The film overall has a great atmosphere the whole way through. It's got some comedy comparable to The Big Lebowski and even a little I Love You, Man. It's also got a script to make your taste buds tingle for a glass of wine, which brings to mind Julia & Julia, though combined with the jazzy score by Rolfe Kent it is even more comparable to Ratatouille.

I've only seen two of Payne's other works: Election (1999) and the pilot of episode of Hung, both of which I'm a huge fan. His style is consistently simple, and it's really a breath of fresh air.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Most of the wine used in the wine-tasting scenes was non-alcoholic. The actors wound up drinking so much of it that it made them nauseated (and had to periodically switch to the real thing to clean out their palates).
  • During an emotional scene in the film, Miles talks with great passion about Pinot Noir. After the release of this movie, sales of Pinot Noir wines rose by more than 20 percent over the 2004-05 Christmas/New Year period, compared to the same period the previous year. A similar phenomenon was experienced in British wine outlets. Miles is deeply disparaging, in a different scene, about Merlot, and sales dropped after the film came out. Ironically, Miles's prized bottle of wine, a 1961 Ch√Ęteau Cheval Blanc, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, another grape Miles disparaged.
  • This is the first film to win best screenplay from all five "major" critic groups (National Board Of Review, New York, Los Angeles, Brodcast and National Society Critics), the Golden Globes, the WGA and, ultimately, the Academy Awards.

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