Thursday, February 03, 2005

Movies: Sideways

I was making a "Cheap Movie Tuesday" date with a friend, and I made a few suggestions of movies we could see. Usually when I make my list, I pick a few movies that I really want to see but am unsure if the other person does, and at least one movie that would satisfy both parties. When she suggested that we should go see "Sideways", I was pleasantly surprised; it's not hugely well-known, but I'd been interested in it for a while.

The basic plot of "Sideways" is: The adventures of two socially inept men - one a middle-aged recluse, one an middle-aged womanizer - travelling through the California Wine Country for a week before one man's wedding. It is not an instantly gripping plot. Combine it with the fact that it is a very cheap independent film, and there are no A-List celebrities slumming for indie cred, and you don't have the makings of any kind of popularity. Now explain how it got 7 Academy Award nominations. I mean, it's not like they "recognize excellence in film" or anything. (More on The Oscars later.)

The focus of the movie isn't the story, it's the characters, and the four main actors do a remarkable job with their parts. Sandra Oh, a Canadian actress who I've enjoyed whenever I've seen her, imbues her character with a sense of playfulness and sexuality that isn't easy to get across on screen. Virginia Madsen goes against her usual type and surprised me with her depth of emotion. The same goes for Thomas Hayden Church, better known as Lowell from "Wings". The only thing that kept me from seeing "Sideways" was the fact that I couldn't really imagine a good performance from him, but he proved me dead wrong. He carries his part of the movie remarkably well; he gives Jack a same combination of irreverence and gravity that is still surprising me two days later.

Most of my praise praise falls on the shoulders of Paul Giamatti as Myles. It's a variation of the 'Depressed Everyguy' sort of character that I imagine I would have enjoyed in "American Splendour" if I'd actually seen that movie. Without going too far into the realm of cheesy adjectives, the best way I'd describe his performance is 'nobly pathetic.' He carries the whole movie and does it with grace, not hogging the screen when he's sharing it with other actors, but not seeming out of place when alone onscreen. The whole movie's success is due to him and director Alexander Payne, and the fact that he didn't get an Oscar nod for his work is a CRIME.

There are a few spots in "Sideways" that seem a little sluggish, but overall it's an excellent film that I hope to have on my shelf when it's released. Go see "Sideways."

(Side note: maybe some day soon I'll see a movie I have to give a negative review to, but I've been really lucky so far. My questionable taste hasn't steered me wrong yet.)


Jago said...

If you want to watch American Splendor (which you should, as it is very well done, and Giamatti plays once again a pathetic schlub), tell me this time, DAMMIT!

Anonymous said...

Ummm... not well-known? It is nominated for an Oscar - most people have heard of it!

The Doc said...

See, that's what I thought, but when I talk to people about it, their eyes glaze over. Maybe I just hang out with a lot of out-of-touch people.