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Sideways is a beautiful portrait of mid life disappointment. The
backdrop is lovely California wine country, and the casting is
flawless. Every single performance in this film is surprising, pitch
perfect, and unusual. The movie has the remarkable ability to capture
sadness and desperation in just the light that allows the audience to
recognize the humor. The ending is satisfying but not too pat. In
short, this is the best film of 2004.
The standout performance in the film was Paul Giamatti's. I cannot believe he was passed over for an Oscar this year. He should have been nominated for American Splendor, and he definitely should have been nominated for Sideways. His performance was beautiful, romantic, heartbreaking and so human. Paul Giamatti, ignore the Academy! Every year they have less credibility. The people who know films and acting at all know that you are one in a handful of truly great actors working in Hollywood today.
I love movies like Sideways for many reasons. One may be that I will never see a commemorative Sideways bottle of wine or the Sideways happy meal at McDonald's. My point is that Sideways is a great movie and nothing more. It doesn't rely on blockbuster star power. It doesn't need flashy special effects or gimmicks. Paul Giammatti performs flawlessly as a flawed and deeply troubled character. I found myself forgetting he was acting. I only saw the character he was playing and became engrossed by his presence. Thomas Haden Church offers a very nice contrast by playing what appears to be a two-dimensional, sophomoric, womanizer. The story is simple and focuses more on character development. It is easy to connect with each of the main characters. They may not be likable but what they are is human. If you can't relate to them personally, they remind you of a family member or close friend. Overall, this film is for those who like movies based in reality, which as you will see can produce some of the most bizarre and comical situations of all. If you like movies with jokes you don't have to think about (Who doesn't from time to time) don't worry, this film has a surprisingly high amount of low brow, immature, vulgar humor, mixed with the dry and subtle. Give it a try. 9/10
My girlfriend is lucky enough to be on the Screen Actor Guild Awards
nominating committee this year, so the promotional DVDs are flowing in,
and SIDEWAYS is absolutely the best film we've seen so far. (Kinsey is
a close second.) Paul Giamatti should get a nomination for this, and I
want people on IMDb to start understanding that when you critique a
film, it's not ALL about liking the character-- one IMDBer commenting
on this film trashed Sideways because she thought the characters were
morally bankrupt, and I challenge all of you to show me a good movie
where the main characters aren't! That's how the necessary element of
conflict is created in a story!
Can you really only enjoy films where the characters in them are people you'd have over for dinner? OPEN YOUR MINDS! Feature Films are not popularity contests, and as far as I'm concerned, neither are awards competitions. Giamatti steals cash from his mother's bedroom dresser drawer near the beginning of the film. Morally reprehensible? Absolutely! But my heart broke for him when he did it. You could see how much he hated himself in that moment!!! Giamatti's ability to have intensely personal thoughts flash through his eyes like flickering film through a projector, all the while maintaining such beautiful stillness, was for me breathtaking. Giamatti makes you completely suspend your disbelief...he makes you feel like you have ESP!!!
Thomas Hayden Church was hilarious as his ex-college roommate/infantile thirtysomething playboy buddy who can't let go of "his plight." He's a stitch. And I agree with everyone, Virgina Madsen makes you melt in this film. She is scrumptuous. Remember, IMDb moralists,...people who live in glass movie-houses, shouldn't throw popcorn! ~peace
SIDEWAYS (2004) **** Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia
Madsen, Sandra Oh. (DIR: Alexander Payne)
A truly vintage comedy. Paul Giamatti is one of our finest character actors who seems to be neck-and-neck with William H. Macy on cornering the market of portraying losers as a cottage industry and in the latest endeavor of hapless misanthropes he may have found Oscar gold.
Giamatti stars as Miles Raymond, a miserable mope of a man who realizes he is never going to amount to anything especially given the fact that he is his own worst enemy in his highly critical outlook on life particularly on two things he holds dear: his struggling attempts to become a writer of notice and his taste in wine. The latter leads him to a certain road trip to salvation when he embarks upon a few days of r&r away from his stagnant day job as a middle school English teacher with his best friend and former college roomie Jack (Church in easily the career defining role of his life since his hey day on the TV sitcom 'Wings') whose impending nuptials is Miles' wedding gift as the best man. Jack, a long-in-the tooth second-rate soap actor whose 15 minutes are at a close 14:59 is adamant about getting laid for one last time before his commitment to a younger woman who clearly deserves better (and Jack shrewdly knows this).
As the duo drive through the sun-dappled wine country of Northern California in a road trip not unlike two virginal, horny teens looking to pop their respective cherries, they come across two unlikely conquests. One is the shapely and surprisingly-down-to-earth waitress Maya (Madsen in a career comeback of epic proportions shines through the Giamatti gloom) who strikes a fancy to the depressed Miles while Jack has his sights on the sexy wine pourer Stephanie (the sublimely, reassuringly funny Oh, and real life wife to director Payne) who also is charmed by the blithely feckless Jack. What unfolds is a sweet yet too-good-to-be true few days of bliss and unbridled emotional rescue for the foursome as they take to one another like ducks to water although Miles' hesitancy is deeply reasoned since he is still licking the open wounds of his two-year old divorce.
Payne, one of my favorite filmmakers, doesn't disappoint as he dollops evenly the tragic-comic proceedings with his frequent long-time collaborator Jim Taylor in adapting an unpublished novel by Rex Pickett that has many layers to it and doesn't betray its four intriguing and ultimately human characters with all their flaws and neuroses on full display. Each actor shines with a few moments of soliloquies and dialogue that ring true that will have you laughing til you cry and vice versa (and that my friend is no easy trick)!
The four actors give supremely wonderfully acted turns and all are Oscar worthy as well as the screenplay which mixes misery with hope and some truly funny moments including an anger management golf sequence that feels like an outtake from 'Caddyshack' and Giamatti's drunken phone call to his ex is on par with Jon Favreau's car-accident-in-slow-motion answering machine mishap in 'Swingers' one for the archives. Church makes his borderline jerk a quasi-pathetic lothario who finally sees the forest for the trees in a surprisingly moving moment of realization in a teary confessional; Oh unleashes the old chestnut of a woman's scorn with no-holds-barred and Madsen is a true welcome back from a seemingly endless string of nothing vehicles into this warm and welcome turn as comforting as a blanket on a wintry night in front of a cozy fire.
While it is so easy to resort to the wine as metaphor as the film amply does with smart, sharp and pungent dialogue the film is a full-bodied, never precocious vintage that needs to be savored in a desirable bouquet of cinematic finesse.
What a refreshing adventure great writing really is. Through the mind, heart and soul of a filmmaker like Alexander Payne you can enter forbidden territory and dive into experiences that, at first glance, seem so far removed from our own. Little tales with enormous, universal implications. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen jump out of the screen and as soon as the movie ends we find them sitting next to us. We get home and find them waiting for us there, we even find them on the mirror looking back at us. This is the sort of movie going experience that will never get old. Its strength is in its truth. You may not like it, you may even resent it. Good, that's what art is all about. It provokes you. It motivates and inspires you. And as if all that wasn't enough, it entertains you it amuses you, it gives you one hell of a great time. I want another Payne soon in a theater near me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's been a while since I saw a film that depicted buddies on the
down-and-out meeting (or running away from) their destinies that had
performances so nuanced as this film. In an age when movies have to
appeal to a young crowd who is not that attentive to detail and prefers
its visuals fast, furious, and simple, SIDEWAYS slows down a couple of
paces and, like the wine ubiquitously present throughout, allows its
own story to breathe and take its lovely, wistful taste as we follow
the two main characters played by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church
in their "weekend of debauchery." One couldn't imagine two more
mismatched people -- Giamatti plays an intellectual introvert while
Haden Church plays an irresponsible goon still trapped in high school
-- but one senses that these have been friends for a long time, even if
their friendship is held on a tenuous string. But friends they are, and
it's described in this trip that begins in Southern California as they
drive up the coast and enter wine country, where they meet two women,
Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, equally different, both a complement to
the men and with whom the men pair up with. The fact that the
Madsen/Giamatti pairing is tentative while the Oh/Haden Church pairing
is essential to the back story of wine: where the latter display their
affair "all over the place, commonly" like Cabernet, the former is
defined closer to Pinot, and in one heartbreaking scene, both Giamatti
and Madsen define their characters through the evolution of wine
throughout the years.
And it's this one scene that makes the movie. Madsen conveys so much more with so little and should have been more than an Oscar nominee: her short scene lingers far beyond her last appearance in the movie, and makes us want for more of her soulfulness. She is able to bring out the less seen, more fragile side of Giamatti's character and have him take the decision he takes at the end of the movie, and the fact that Payne does not take us into that scene is indicative of that power their tentative yet intense coupling has seared into our minds: this is romantic eroticism at its finest, lasting equally much longer than the more torrid affair Haden Church and Oh exhibit. There is no need to see that final scene, because as private as it is, we know that they will consummate their union beautifully and move on into the future since they are perfect for each other.
Beautiful, saturated colors and light that evokes films of the 70s, long takes, edgy humor mixed with touching introspection, SIDEWAYS is a visual treat that gets better with subsequent viewings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film has Oscar buzz all around it. It's a beautifully crafted,
brightly written string of pearls. Its lead players, Paul Giamatti and
Thomas Haden Church, are both actors we remember seeing from time to
time for at least the past fifteen years but whose names never before
appeared on our radar screens. Here they both enter the arena of
notable film actors and memorably so. The film is a comedy drama to a
great extent (at least in my own mind) influenced in style by my late
friend, John Cassavetes. Finely directed by Alexander Payne, its comedy
issues from the breast of characterization and not contrived, pasted on
sit-com lines. This alone is rare in film and denotes craft writing of
the preeminent kind.
The icing on this cake is its constancy and within that its splendid subtlety. The story is simple; two friends get together for a last weekend of wine tasting in some of Southern California's wineries just before the marriage of one of them. As it unfolds we see that the story clearly issues from the breast of the two characters, a hapless English teacher still suffering over his divorce of two years past. He has written an honest novel instead of a commercial one so we know that it will not be published some time before the reveal. The other, his pal since college some twenty years before is a fringe actor about to be married but struggling to retain his youth through womanizing. This Lothario is no less pathetic than his writer friend. The film is beautifully cast with the extraordinary Virginia Madsen as the writer's acquaintance with potential to be more.
Highly recommended; be prepared to laugh for just over two hours with very little let up while at the same time being conveyed to the essence of our humanity.
Alexander Payne is becoming a magnet for me. I wait for his films. He is an eminently American director that can look in with the incisive eye of an incisive foreigner. Besides all that, he is a poet. In "Election" he gives us an electro shock disguised as a Teen College Comedy. I laughed in horror at the cleverness of the storytelling. In "About Schmid" he forces us to look into one of the darkest corners of our society and find ourselves there. And he does it in the funniest most entertaining way. In "Sideways" he trusts his audience enough to put impossible hurdles for us to love his characters -- Paul Giamatti and his mother's money, for instance -- and yet, we have to admit he's made his point. We are all people. He manages to surprise us with our own capacity for compassion. Vittorio De Sica, Billy Wilder and Mario Monicelli come to mind. Yes Mr. Payne you are the ticket!
A woman's take on this is probably not the same as a man's. Initially I
was put off by Charles Hayden's Church's character crudeness and
Giamatti's character's repulsiveness but that changed was I was able to
look below the surface. By the end of the movie, I felt very sorry for
Church as he was not only dumb and shallow, he was actually so empty
that whatever female was before him became a mirror of his need to
connect with anything that felt like caring. Church did a fabulous job
and was incredibly believable as a has-been wannabe, desperate to hold
on to his dream of the kind of good life that is bought by charm and
good looks. He is just on the edge or realizing his time is running out
and that is a whole lot for this character to absorb as he has never
given much to the concept of "thought."
Giammeti is a pitiful, self-absorbed, destructive, depressed alcoholic whose in possession of two "things." He knows a great deal about wine and he has written a book. Nothing else informs him. Yet his performance is so nuanced that we are able to fill in his depth of character and decency primarily through his huge, limpid eyes. What a performance. He should have been nominated for an academy award. This is a role that comes along once-in-a-lifetime for this type of character actor, like Liza in Cabaret.
The women are really nothing more than backdrops or props for the men to expose themselves. Madsen is lovely but you do wonder what on earth she really sees in this man. While he may be redeemable, he is really pretty much a self-absorbed jerk. It is most interesting that this film has been released at the same time as Closer, as they are similar in their exploration of self-absorption. Though Closer explores how destructive its characters are to each other, in the end, Closer is not as intimate and seems more artificial than the sweetly revealing Sideways.
Sad, disillusioned and depressed middle school teacher/aspiring novelist Paul Giamatti takes his best friend (Thomas Haden Church) to California's wine country for one last week of freedom before he marries. Church is on the prowl though and extremely horny as he wants nothing more than to sleep with women before his wedding. Thus these two opposites (who are more alike than they appear on first glance) have all sorts of adventures and misadventures. They meet two women (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) and immediately take an interest in them. Divorcée Giamatti is shyly attracted to Madsen while Church falls in lust real quick with Oh. What is going to transpire over this week? Outstanding direction by Alexander Payne (who is one of the better "new-age" film-makers) knows which comedic and dramatic buttons to push here. His screenplay (which he co-wrote with cohort Jim Taylor) is deeper than it appears on the surface. Just like "Election" and "About Schmidt", "Sideways" works because the characters are quirky and hilarious, but also vulnerable and real. The four leads are remarkable with Church stealing the show and Madsen doing the work of her life. Giamatti's quiet and heartfelt role makes you sympathize and care for this flawed man. An intelligent adult-themed comedy/drama that works from many angles. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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