Release year: 2004
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenwriter: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, Rex Pickett (novel)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Alysia Reiner, Missy Doty
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay. 4 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church), est Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), Best Director. 2 Golden Globes: Best Picture Comedy/Musical, Best Screenplay. 5 Golden Globes nomination: Best Actor (Paul Giamatti), Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church), Best Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), Best Director, Best Original Score.
A struggling writer (Paul Giamatti) and his friend who is about to get married (Thomas Haden Church) goes on one last guy trip in California’s wine country with two very different expectations of the trip.
Sideways is one of those movies where it is difficult to answer questions concerning what it is about and do it justice. For it is not so much a story about anything as it is about characters and their development. Especially Miles who is played excellently by an amazing Giamatti (American Splendor, 2003) managing to make Miles feel as real as he feels sad and lonely. A sense of loneliness in the lead person is becoming something of a trademark in the work of Payne. Before Sideways it was prominent in About Schmidt (2002) and again in the later The Descendants (2011). Here it is caused by Miles obviously feeling he is a failure as well as misunderstood by people around him and a man who has lost his passion for life. He is waiting for respons from his agent of whether his latest attempt at a novel is being published and the longer he waits the more frustrated and irritated he becomes, not helped much by a friend who switches between pushing him and neglecting him. Giamatti does wonders with his character making sure your heart bleeds for him without ever pitying him and lets you feel his frustration and sadness. Haden Church (We Bought a Zoo, 2011) is a delightful as Jack, making it enjoyable to dislike him while still managing to win you over, pretty much like you assume Miles feels actually. The two of them are an unlikely match but they have enough chemistry to convince of a friendship capable of taking some hits, especially because you end up with the sense that neither of them have many other friends. While Oh (The Night Listener, 2006) sparks as the outgoing Stephanie, Madsen (The Astronaut Farmer, 2006) is a quiet delight as the sweet Maya who captures Miles’s broken heart and gives him the courage to consider opening it to love again. While a movie about two middle-aged men travelling between grape fields and tasting and talking about wine might seem dull, it is in fact a warm and intelligent comedy drama about human relationships keeping you captivated in the company of its fantastic characters.
NB: The trailer contains HUGE SPOILERS
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.
Picture copyright: SF Film