Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Movie: Sideways (2004)

Alexander Payne scores again with one of the year’s best films. He somehow got me to empathize with a would-be writer in his 30s amassing an impressive collection of near-miss rejection letters. Amazing.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Payne steers away from the fanciful and grounds his films in keen observation of human interaction. Maybe it’s because he’s spent much of his life in Omaha, outside the L.A./New York showbiz nexus. Or it could be that, with the exception of CITIZEN RUTH, his films have all been adaptations. He’s able to get outside of his own head and into the world.

His films focus on people whose lives haven’t quite fulfilled their expectations. Payne has the daring to cast this movie accordingly. Thomas Haden Church, a skilled TV actor who never quite broke through, plays a skilled TV actor who never quite broke through. Virginia Madsen was once touted as the next big thing, only to end up as a straight-to-cable starlet. She’s luminous here as a woman who has accepted her lot but is still looking for opportunities to shine.

With his performances here and in AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Paul Giamatti has become the male counterpart to Julianne Moore. Both specialize in characters convinced that the world isn’t listening to what they have to say. The only difference is that Moore’s characters are described by critics as martyrs, or victims of an unfeeling patriarchy. They aren’t dismissed as losers. Just saying.

The movie unfolds during the course of a weeklong wine binge – sorry, tasting tour – in Santa Barbara. I’m no oenophile, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the wine material. I can tell you that a guy sitting two rows behind me moaned appreciatively at the mention of several vintages, so I’m willing to bet that the movie got it right.

Miscellaneous: Link

It’s the website of the moment, and with good reason. Publishing insider Mad Max Perkins vents his spleen at Book Angst. And Slate offers an appreciation of the 9/11 Commission report as narrative journalism.