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In terms of directors/writers, there are very few who are as reliable as Alexander Payne. He doesn't have a huge body of work but this allows him to really focus on the quality of his work instead of cranking out films as fast as possible. He's balanced his credits with a couple of headscratchers like writing the screenplays for Jurassic Park III and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Presumably this is to get studios to allow him to work on his own personal projects with a good amount of freedom.
Alexander Payne has pretty much proven himself already with Election and About Schmidt but Sideways represents the coming out party for Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Both went on to find quite a bit of mainstream success following Sideways. The same applies for Sandra Oh who got into Grey's Anatomy afterwards. All the actors of Sideways deservedly got some awards recognition for their acting.
Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is an English teacher who recently got through a tough divorce. He's written a novel that he's been trying to publish without much success and it's pretty his last chance. He's a huge wine aficionado but he currently struggles mightily with depression. His best friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) is going to be getting married and the two plan a trip through California to visit wineries, eat at different restaurants and go golfing. At least that's what Miles has in mind. Jack really intends to have one last fling before settling down into domestic life.
The great thing about Sideways is that it combines comedy and drama so well together, pretty much like the perfect meal with an accompanying wine. Comedic moments or just the slice-of-life moments that Alexander Payne has created are so comfortably natural and will slip into a bit of drama without going overboard or drastically changing tone. It's very gentle but apparent right away when the tone changes.
The wine culture that Payne has made a huge part of the story in Sideways seems very well researched and could make anyone into a fan of wine. Originally when Sideways was released, it actually had an impact on the sales of Pinot noir wines which grew while the sales of Merlot dropped slightly. This is all due to Miles being a lover of Pinot and a huge critic of Merlot so it's pretty crazy just how much of an impact this movie had.
The romance in Sideways is really well handled and at the same time feels real. And when there's a romantic crisis of sorts? Well it's not a dumb, made-up, miscommunication kind of problem. It's natural and it's what you'd expect to happen in that kind of situation. All of the principal actors play their parts with conviction and I'm especially impressed with what Paul Giamatti is able to pull off. It's true that he had a great performance in American Splendor but he's still a long way from being in Big Momma's House and Big Fat Liar.
Sideways is a beautiful, dysfunctional road movie that features real people with real problems. Alexander Payne fills the movie with beautiful and varied shots of California scenery. The wine culture segments are totally charming and made me wish that I had a glass of wine to do all that silly swishing and smelling of wine that Miles and Jack do. Everything is just absolutely gorgeous and the film benefits from some wonderful performances.
Mid life crisis, fun, loss of self, loss of youth, loss of lust for life - all this is in SIDEWAYS. It may take another viewing to appreciate all the nuances in the acting. The second time may be better for some. I loved it and will continue to do so.
A friend of mine told me to watch this movie and I liked it. I think Paul Giamatti is great and I don't understand all the negative comments here. No, this is not a fast-cut-mad-action movie, it is just a road movie with some wine references and the tale of a midlife crisis.
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In 7 official lists
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This movie ranks #44 in The 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
This movie ranks #74 in 100 Road Movies (BFI Screen Guide)
This movie ranks #121 in Golden Globe Best Picture Winners
This movie ranks #448 in Academy Award Best Picture Nominees
This movie ranks #494 in Empire 500
This movie ranks #816 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #829 in TimeOut's 1000 Films to Change Your Life