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A Buddy Film that Lingers Like Fine Wine.
nycritic22 April 2005
Warning: 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.
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Alexander The Great
terrygiu200029 June 2005
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.
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Giamatti was ROBBED!
treedcub25 January 2005
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.
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Keeping Everything Bottled Up.
tfrizzell16 April 2005
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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Strong Acting, Character Development and Dialogue
emp3229 November 2004
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
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Morally Bankrupt? Call me!
elkmedicine20 November 2004
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
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Excellent, one can say, perfect
Red_Identity17 January 2012
I had known of Sideways for a long time now. Being the huge film fan that I am, I remember always seeing it get mentioned in many message boards, or websites, or critics' best-of-the-decade lists. It wasn't until now that I saw it, and the reason is because I recently saw Payne's new film The Descendants and I fell in love with it. It wasn't just his simple writing, but his direction, the feel that he gave it. Sideways was another gem, and an even better one.

This could be called a dramedy in many ways, a comedy/drama. There are many films these days getting released that could be labeled in those two genres, and yet Sideways makes it look easier than The Descendants even. What we have here is a brilliant script all around, fully fleshing out these characters. And the investment I had with Giamatti... enormous. I was on this ride with him, I felt his pain, his anger, his awkwardness when confronted with aggravating or tense situations. I found myself telling him things on the screen, and even staying at the edge of my seat in a funny situation he is put in by his friend near the end. Whereas The Descendants lived on it's script through a lot of quiet moments, Sideways blends in simple, subtle moments with really incredible dialogue. The dialogue between the two was the main difference, and yet Sideways is very much of the feeling one is put in.

I want to say the ensemble cast is fantastic. Church really made me question just how much of a friend he was, and yet still made him completely sympathetic and be able to be understood. As for Virginia Madsen... I felt like I was also falling for her like the lead. Some of her scenes, especially the conversations between her and Giammatti, she plays incredibly. She makes you feel the likability of her character, and yet also feel the sensuality and the vulnerability that she is pushing through with her shared desire. She was fantastic. Giamatti is fantastic as the disappointing lead, and although he always seems to play these sort of characters, he knows what to do to make them completely work.

Overall, extremely satisfied with this, and still here is the unique touch of real feeling for the characters that I witnessed in the Descendants. How could I not love this? Payne's film pushes through the screen what can only be described as an incredibly real connection, a connection that I honestly don't witness very often with comedies.
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A truly vintage comedy.
george.schmidt25 October 2004
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.
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A String of Pearls
merrywood19 December 2004
Warning: 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.
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If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving
David Ferguson14 November 2004
Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director Alexander Payne was the creative force behind one of my favorite films from the past couple of years with "About Schmidt". With "Sideways" he proves his insight into human nature was no fluke, but instead, an amazing gift. He captures many Hollywood stereotypes such as mid-life crisis, groom-to-be cold feet, post-divorce confidence crunch and the overall desire to be loved, or at least liked. What makes Payne's work so unique is his ability to deliver multiple messages, with brilliant comic twists, using little more than unlikeable lead characters and sizzling dialogue! Moral bankruptcy is at a peak in "Sideways" as one of our leads (the magnificent Paul Giamatti from "American Splendor" and "Man on the Moon") steals cash from his mother and the other (Thomas Haden Church from TV's "Wings") is on a mission to have his bachelor party last an entire week while claiming we just don't understand his plight. Also delivering a wonderful touch to the film is Sandra Oh (Diane Lane's pregnant buddy in "Under the Tuscan Sun"). Oh has very unique looks and mannerisms, but is terrific as one of Church's conquests. The soul and spirit of this film belongs to the drastically underrated Virginia Madsen (if you have never seen "The Hot Spot", make it priority viewing). Madsen (sister to cult favorite Michael Madsen of "Kill Bill" and "Reservoir Dogs" fame) literally jumps off the screen with her eyes and smile. Her character wants so much for a better life, but is strong enough to avoid her past mistakes. She is the one we root for. This is an excellent film and nice character study with a snappy jazz score. Payne has proved he should be considered among the best filmmakers of today - now could someone please help his film obtain better distribution!!!
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A Payneful Comedy
A.W Richmond10 March 2005
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!
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Excellent expose of narcissism on two sides of the same coin
ociopia2 February 2005
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.
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Exceptional Acting in an "Anti-Buddy Movie" Buddy Movie
rwalker-218 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The bad reviews on this site for "Sideways" seem almost willingly obtuse. One has to wonder if they unwittingly see unpleasant aspects of their own lives and personalities in the people on-screen...? Film, after all, isn't just a window into other people's lives; it is also a fun house mirror where, like it or not, people just like you and me are tested in some way. Bear in mind George Abbott's basic model of drama:

-- Act I: Get your character(s) in a tree. -- Act II: Throw rocks at the character(s). -- Act III: Get the character(s) down.

The title is ambiguous and rich with meaning, but the one that springs to mind for me is simply this: When storing wine for long periods of time (like Paul Giamatti's character hoarding that special bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc), the bottle should be shelved on its side so the cork doesn't dry out. And of course, when you over-indulge, you end up-- Sideways.

The plot outline is simple: Take one clinically-depressed divorcé writer (Paul Giamatti) with a dead-end job as an English professor and an unattractive drinking habit (is there anything more pathetic than a wine drunk?!). Add a slightly underemployed, very oversexed TV/commercial actor with matinée looks beginning to over-ripen (Thomas Haden Church) whose own wedding is a week away. Mix in a late-model Saab convertible heading to a guys' weekend up in the California Central Coast, a handy motel and a map to the area wineries. Add a deliciously ripe local waitress with a well-developed palate for wine and a fondness for the writer (Virginia Madsen). Season confidently with one spicy wine pourer/good-time gal (Sandra Oh). Add wine. Liberally. Heat up with sex, betrayals, breakdowns, epiphanies, a lethal motorcycle helmet, a lost wedding ring and-- oh yeah-- one Fat Naked Guy. Savor with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir.

Yeah, the characters may not be likable, but they're real. The humor isn't laugh-out-loud hilarity; you watch it and chuckle at these poor foolish people and, in the back of your mind, you see just a little bit of yourself in their motivations, their weaknesses, their aspirations and their comeuppances.

The movie is well-directed and well-edited from a subtle, wise screenplay, but it would not have worked without the extraordinary chemistry of its four main actors. Giamatti, Haden Church, Madsen and Oh never hit a false note. "Sideways" isn't "Animal House"-- it strives for truth instead of belly laughs, and it delivers beautifully.
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Acid Test
Gene Crokus5 December 2004
'Sideways' might be this year's acid test of whether you like good movies or not. It will be exciting over the next few weeks to see if the justifiably positive buzz surrounding this film and a good audience turnout (in San Francisco it was well attended, at least) will entice viewers. Without a teen audience it cannot be real blockbuster, but 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' drew out the 50-somethings and it wasn't even a very good movie!

The premise: two friends (Paul Giamatti as Miles, Thomas Haden Church as Jack) set off on a road-trip before Jack's wedding a week hence. Miles, a teacher with aspirations of publishing a novel and Jack, a veteran actor (but not exactly prospering) are resolved – well, Jack is anyway – to have some fun as they sample wine and play golf while heading up the California coast.

What ensues is that Jack, committed at a bachelor-party level ( Miles is still reeling from his divorce two years previous) has to prod his less-than-enthusiastic accomplice to lighten up. Meeting a likely pair of attractive female matches, things get more complex. What comes of Jack's misadventures and Miles' reluctant accompaniment is not only borderline hysterical but painfully closer to our own experience than might be comfortable.

Director Alexander Payne (he of the fabulous'Election') has really assembled all the necessities here. A great cast working with solid material rarely misses; here is proof. Paul Giamatti – showing us his everyman acting chops in last year's 'American Splendor', is our James Gandolfino for 2004. Thomas Haden Church (his resume sports a long string of small screen and TV parts) is such a scene stealer that it will be a film-crime if we don't see him in some lead role in the near future.

The girls. Virginia Madsen (Miles' love interest Maya) and Sandra Oh (as Jack's fling thing Stephanie) turn in striking performances, with Ms. Oh showing us charming and vicious in equal measure; but in particular she epitomizes the date every man always wanted to have, showing an intangible sexuality not easily conveyed in film.

In an interview ( with Director Alexander Payne we hear an interesting comment about how typical 'art-house' fare might shake the industry:

'I want Sideways which has no movie stars in it, and a movie for which I had final cut, to make money, not just for my own career but for other film makers so that film makers and studios can point, if I didn't have stars to make money, Sideways didn't have a gun or a chase even though that made money, we have to be changing our cinema, little by little and have more human films. But the only way it's going to happen is there are examples they can point to, where they made money. It was just like that in the late 60's and 70's. Look, Easy Rider made money, The Graduate made money, Midnight Cowboy made money, and we should make more movies like those. That's what we need.'

It is indeed.

Rating: Four Stars.
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Certainly doesn't deserve a 'Highly Recommended' sticker (no major spoilers)
katherinekatherine28 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was shocked to see on the DVD case that 'Sideways' has won 3 major film awards and even has comments saying it is 'The funniest film of the year' and 'Unmissable'. For me, 'Sideways' was a struggle to watch and three quarters of the way through I gave up. (Apologizes to anyone who watched it all the way through, where it apparently picked up, according to my Dad) The 'funniest film of the year' certainly didn't live up to its praise, I hardly laughed at all and when there was any humour, it was hardly side-splitting. For example, Jack chases Miles down a steep hillside with amusing music in the background: award- winning comedy? The boring scenes where we a silent Jack and Miles driving through the vineyard-full countryside are completely pointless, even using split-screens doesn't liven boring snapshots of roadsides and wildlife. There didn't seem any attempt at making wine interesting to anyone who knew nothing about it, which was odd because it became the main feature of the film. Jokes about Pinot wines washed over me completely. Even though the acting seemed to be good, it still couldn't endear me to these two awful characters. Jack is foul-mouthed, arrogant and a cheat, whilst Miles is a slightly creepy, wine lover who spends his time writing rubbish and steals from his mother. If you do decide to watch this film, make sure you have a good book or your I-Pod with you.
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A Bad Movie for People Who Don't Know Any Better But Think That They Do
a_franklin8 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The one great redeeming quality of this movie is its philosophical consistency. It's about a middle-aged man who has populated his life with pretensions - that he is a writer, an epicure, and an expert on wine. This movie will appeal exclusively to those with an all-too common and all-too-similar conceit: that they "appreciate good movies." Sideways is a brilliantly acted, brilliantly polished turd. The direction and editing is superb, the acting is magnificent and the characters have both depth and realism.


In fact, it prides itself on its sucking. Our protagonists are a pathetic and self-pitying (though utterly self-absorbed) writer-aesthete wannabe and an unsuccessful TV actor whose stated purpose is to cheat on his fiancée as often as possible in the week before his wedding. These characters are drawn with subtlety and artistry, and both actors turn in bravura performances, but when all's said and done it's impossible to give the proverbial rodent's behind about either of them. If the film had concluded with every major character dying painfully, the emotional impact would have been a nice round zero.

To enjoy this movie you have to identify with the main character Miles, and to identify with Miles you have to have a smug self-pitying streak a mile wide. Let me make something absolutely clear: MILES IS NOT TALENTED. That the director would choose to betray the preceding seven hours at the very end by making Maya (as uninteresting a love interest as I can imagine) appreciate his behemoth of a novel is neither here nor there - Miles is not a good writer, or a good anything. If you've never written a novel, you might think that Miles is what a writer is like. If you have, you know that he's a talentless hack.

I repeat, it's only the MOVIE that is bad. The acting is excellent; except for Madsen's pale and boring millstone of a character, everybody shows up and turns in a good show. But the movie itself is really, really awful.

Not funny.

Not romantic.

Not charming.

Sideways manages to be both contemptuous and contemptible, small and small-minded. I won't bother enumerating the many, many ways in which this movie shows its contempt for anybody who isn't a lifeless oenophile.

I walked into Sideways thinking I was going to love it. I tried so, so hard, but it just broke my heart. This movie hates you, and it wants you to suffer - and if you genuinely enjoyed it you should be ashamed of yourself.

Two thumbs down.
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Poignant, with a slight bouquet of yummy
Sideways is a pretty, poignant, genial tale of two longtime college buddies who embark on a week long tour of wineries and golfing before one of them (Thomas Haden Church) succumbs to the shackles of marriage.

Whatever your taste in buddy movies is, you'll probably find something you like in Sideways, which mixes the effete elitism of wine-lovers with the frat-boy antics of philanderers in wickedly seamless fashion.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) wants to give Jack (Church) a good send off before he joins his betrothed in holy matrimony at the end of the week. Miles, an avid - some would say sneeringly snotty - oenophile, comes up with the nifty idea of the two of them driving up the coast of California touring various wineries and vineyards and such. That way Miles can show off his knowledge and Jack can have a one last good, free time.

One small problem. Although Miles is perfectly content to wine and whine for the week, Jack's eye wanders - and soon he's setting up a double dinner date with a winery employee (Sandra Oh) and a waitress (Virginia Madsen). Suddenly the trip's not about the two friends bonding one last time, it's more about Jack sowing his wild oats (figuratively, hopefully) while he still can. This change in plans leads to awkward, funny, and funny-awkward moments; meanwhile, poor Miles - recovering from a divorce (and finding out secondhand that his ex-wife has just remarried) and waiting to hear if his latest literary opus will be accepted for publication - is a walking rubber band ball of neuroses and nerves. He tries to maintain the trip's focus, while Jack just tries to have a little fun.

As with most buddy films, Things That Go Wrong tend to snowball into something far greater, and on one level Sideways is a typical road trip movie, including assumptions, lies, illogical decisions, red herrings, and so forth - all in the name of low comedy. But on another level, the movie is an honest look at love and relationships from the perspective of a single, closing-in-on-middle-age male.

Even though Giamatti and Church were hardly unknown actors before Sideways, this is truly the breakthrough film for each. Giamatti, a veteran character actor perhaps best known for his role as Pig Vomit in the screen version of Howard Stern's Private Parts, is perfectly in his element as the self-obsessed, nervous, sincere Miles. It's a performance to which many people can instantly relate; Miles is not handsome, he's not smooth, he's not really all that charming, but somehow he's still appealing. He's a good guy who tries to do well and sometimes suffers the whims of Lady Luck. Church is known for two TV series he was in, "Wings" and "Ned & Stacey," and I can't recall his ever being classified as a good actor, just an entertaining one. But he's wonderful as the rowdy, randy, perpetually horny Jack; he seems to give the role an extra layer of depth. You can't just write Jack off as a selfish bastard, just as you can't just write Miles off as a dork.

Director Alexander Payne, who made the clever Election, does a fantastic job at transforming what's really a two-character study (everyone else, including the two female leads, is background to the relationship between Miles and Jack) into a realistic, fully textured movie. Payne's screenplay doesn't dwell on caricatures and doesn't offer pat explanations or resolutions. Sometimes, the film tells us, things don't end up good or bad. They just continue on.

Although Giamatti and Church are at center stage, Oh and Madsen are both fantastic, although perhaps slightly underused. In particular, Madsen (who earned an Oscar nomination, as did Church), makes the most of her brief screen time, oozing intelligence, wit, charm, and sexuality from every pore.

Sideways doesn't move too slowly and isn't too talky, and because wine is one theme, there are plenty of beautifully photographed scenes of the lovely Napa Valley's vineyards. Sideways is thoughtful, entertaining, and fascinating.
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all about clicking
Harry T. Yung21 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Sideways is a marvellous movie. For a change, it's not about someone who walks between heaven and hell routinely destroying demons or some eccentric enigma of a figure living half a century ago, but real people whom we come across every day, people we can identify and empathise with.

At the start, Sideways looks a little like a road movie, in the odd couple genre. But it's neither. The trip starting from San Diego soon winds up in a hotel in California wine country, where the heart of the story unfolds. Nor are Jack, a groom-to-be seeking one last fling, or Miles, his buddy and two-year divorcée accompanying him, truly an odd couple in the sense of the structure of the movie. Although Jack provides comic relief aplenty, the focus of the movie is by far on Miles.

The first half-hour of the movie does not appear to be going anywhere quickly, as Miles takes uninitiated Jack (on wine ONLY) to wine tasting and buying visits, in addition to a quick stop to visit mother. The patient and attentive in the audience however will appreciate that in so many ways Miles is very like so many of us (particularly the scene at mother's place), so much so that he feels like someone we have known for a long time. Just like sipping a good wine, we gradually take in Miles, his vulnerability, his insecurity and self-doubt, his deep yearning for his divorced wife, his frustration with a dead-end job as a schoolteacher and his fervent hope to get his first book published.

The story truly begins with the double date Jack engineers with Maya, waitress and graduate student, and Stephanie who pours wine at a tasting counter. Jack and Stephanie hit it off just like that and provide the lighter side of the plot. Miles and Maya, on the other hand, bring us the true beauty of the movie.

One of the most fascinating things a movie can try is to portray is how two perfect strangers can click, and then carry on to develop a much deeper relationship. Look at Bridges of Madison County. Look at Before Sunrise. Both excel, in different ways, in bringing this about. Sideways does this in a dialogue that movie critics universally hail with unanimous praise. Miles and Maya have known each other casually during his previous visits to the restaurant where she works. But it's that one evening in Stephanie's house, when the other two disappear in their fiery pursuit, that Miles and Maya start to talk about wine, a hobby and passion for both, and about themselves. To try to tell someone how wonderful the dialogue is would be akin to trying to explain how great is a legendary painting or an immortal symphony. Watch it. Then watch it again as you would savour a vintage wine.

Make no mistake that this is also a very funny movie, with some excellent lines, such as after Miles makes an impulse call to his ex-wife after the first double-date dinner, Jack quips to him, "You drink and dial again". But Sideways goes a lot deeper than just a few good laughs.

Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen are as perfect a combination as you can find for Miles and Maya. Watching them, you understand why you don't need ear-splitting screams and shrieks that are often futile claims of "hey look, I can act". They're probably too good for the Oscar. Thomas Haden Church and Sandra Oh as Jack and Stephanie deliver more than just laughs, and allow you to see some of the ironic, poignant helplessness underneath the laughs in the characters they play.

And then there is of course wine, which I have always enjoyed but know very little about. Connoisseurs would undoubtedly get even more out of this splendid film.
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Was I the only person that DIDN'T like this movie???
Cpartak14 February 2005
First of, I'd like to start by saying that Sideways was one of the biggest disappointments that I've experienced in a very long time. I went into the movie theater with great expectations of a comedy that was funny and bittersweet at the same time (similar to Payne's previous film, "About Schmidt"). I came out feeling that I had been cheated. There were so many things that I disliked about this film that I don't even know where to begin. First, neither of the two characters is remotely likable. I know that Payne was trying to show the desperate nature of Giamatti's character in the scene where he steals money from his mother. But in all honesty, can any normal self-respecting person relate to that??? I'm not trying to sound high and mighty, but I cannot think of ANY reason to steal from my mother, much less doing so in order to fund a wine-tasting trip with one of my friends. Likewise, am I honestly supposed to believe Church's character when he begins to cry about losing his wedding rings and in doing so possibly losing his fiancée? Am I supposed to overlook the fact that he had sex with two women 6 DAYS before his wedding? Give me a break. Throughout the movie I did not feel that any of the characters were real, but that scene was the most ridiculous. The second thing that disappointed me was the fact that the movie was not funny. Before I go any further I should say that I enjoy dry and subtle humor ("Being John Malcovich", "Curb Your Enthusiasm"). That being said, I found absolutely nothing funny in this movie. There were a few moments that deserved a small chuckle, but that's about it. Perhaps I would've enjoyed the movie more if I was a wine connoisseur, which I must admit I'm not. As a matter of fact, the wine is the best and most likable character in the movie (aside from Virginia Madsen, who was very good). On that same note, one of the only redeemable factors of this movie was the cinematography and views of the California wine country which were beautiful. Also, although I did not like or feel any sympathy towards Giammatti's character, I have to admit that he's a good actor and delivered a solid performance. My overall description of this film is that it's a mediocre buddy pic that does not deserve any real acclaim. If, however, anyone who has not yet seen it decides to do so I have this advice...Do not believe all the hype surrounding this movie and do not expect a funny comedy. You will be disappointed. I know I was.

Since I wrote this review, I've spoken to several members of my family about this film and have been disappointed to find out that all of them liked it. I felt compelled to come back to IMDb and add another paragraph to my review because I honestly can't understand what it is that people see in this movie. Then, I read a very interesting review of "Sideways" that gave me a different perspective. The writer commented that characters in a film do not necessarily have to be likable in order for someone to enjoy watching them on screen. I thought about this and decided that it's a true statement, yet still thought that "Sideways" was boring and in my opinion completely unbelievable. This lead me to ponder the question of what makes a film, or more precisely what makes a character, interesting to watch. I came to the conclusion that a great film character doesn't have to be good or evil, likable or repulsive, funny or somber. The only thing that they should have to do is grab your attention and make you want to root for, and in some cases against, them. They should elicit some kind of emotions from you, whether those emotions be good or bad. Ralph Cifaretto from the Sopranos is a great example. He was a completely repulsive character that no normal human being could possibly like or have respect for. But Joe Pantoliano played him so well that you couldn't take your eyes off the screen. You had to keep watching to see what he would do next. The two main characters in "Sideways", on the other hand, are not the deep and complicated personalities that critics would have you believe. They're boring, overly simplified (in Jack's case), and unbearably dreary (in Miles' case) characters that give you no reason to want to know or care what they will do next. Personally, I could have cared less if Maya ends up with Miles at the end of the film. For me, that is the biggest failure of this movie. The only emotion that I felt, other than anger for having spent money on this dud, was remorse for Jack's wife for marrying such a prick and a similar sadness for Miles' mother for raising such a failure. In the end, this film fails because it's a character study of two completely hollow, one-dimensional, and uninteresting characters. I suppose I would not feel so strongly about "Sideways" had it not received such glowing reviews. I felt the need to express my opinion simply to show others who hated it that they're not the only ones that feel like someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes with this over-hyped garbage.
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a mellow elixir that goes down easy
Roland E. Zwick6 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Alexander Payne's "Sideways" is what is known in the movie business as a "Little Movie That Could," a low budget, independent film without major stars or dazzling special effects that, nevertheless, achieves a measure of success at the box office and, in this case at least, an Oscar nomination for Best Picture of the year.

Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, "Sideways" tells the story of two middle-aged men, Miles and Jack, who head to the wine country of Central California for one final fling before Jack gets married. Miles is an aspiring writer whose recent failures in life have left him bruised, cynical and deeply depressed. In fact, he feels like a loser on two fronts, both as an author and as a husband, for he has yet to have a single work of his published, and he has recently gotten divorced from a woman whom he obviously still loves deeply and whom he can't quite seem to let go of. The one aspect of life in which Miles really seems to excel and in which his passion is given free rein is his connoisseurship of fine wine. His buddy, Jack, is a has-been TV actor who has spent the last few years doing voice-over work for pharmaceutical commercials. Jack wants his final week as a bachelor to be a non-stop orgy of wine, women and song, but Miles prefers a quiet week of three parts wine tasting to one part self pity.

Like a rare, vintage Pinot Noir, "Sideways" is a film best appreciated by those with a finely developed taste for the subtle and offbeat. What often happens with a "small" film that achieves an unexpectedly wide crossover success is that it tends to suffer a certain critical backlash from people who go into it with soaring expectations and come out wondering what all the fuss is about. The ideal way to experience a film like "Sideways" is to allow it to sneak up on you, to let it catch you unawares with its uniqueness and charm. But since none of us can turn back time to that particular moment of nascent discovery, we are forced to watch it through the filter of our own preconceived notions and expectations.

All this is preparatory to saying that "Sideways" is a very enjoyable little film for those willing to give it a chance. Not only are the premise and the setting novel and unique, but the film boasts some of the finest ensemble acting in any movie of recent years. Paul Giamatti, long one of our most talented and underrated actors, gives a performance of tremendous understatement and restraint, creating an entire character as much through facial expressions and body language as through dialogue. Miles isn't even all that likable at times - he actually steals money from his own mother on her birthday then leaves without saying goodbye - but his lack of self-image, his clear-eyed rationality and his puppy dog vulnerability win us over anyway. As the playboy, Jack, Thomas Hayden Church reveals a layer of sensitivity buried under all that cold-blooded crassness. Playing the two women who enter into their lives that week, Sandra Oh and, especially, Virginia Madsen provide a sweetness and warmth that contrasts nicely with these two emotionally stunted middle-aged "losers." In a perfect blending of form and content, Payne and co-author Jim Taylor have created a tasty mixture of revelatory conversation, understated humor and lyrical camera-work. So sit back, uncork a bottle of your favorite vintage and enjoy the aperitif that is "Sideways."
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Swingers on ripple
ricanwarrior22 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
It is hard not to notice the similarities between the principals in this film and that of Swingers. However in Swingers the main characters, Mike and Trent, were a much more likable duo and far more interesting dimensionally. The character of Mike evolves from doubt and self loathing to becoming more confident and in the end forgets his former love and moves on.

In Sideways, Myles and Jack venture on what was to be a one week journey to the Wineries of Coastal California. Right at the onset of the film, you see Miles as someone who has a hard time telling the truth and Jack as someone who has a hard time accepting reality. Myles lies about his drive to Los Angeles to meet Jack, lies about his 'soon to be published book' and steals from his mother. During the course of the week, they meet up with Maya and Stephanie and lie to them about their intentions (Maya believes Jack about his plans to move to the Central Coast with her, and even Jack begins to believe his own lie while all along preparing for his marriage in a few days to his fiancé in LA).

When the bubble bursts and the women find out that their stay is transitory, Stephanie delivers the beating of a lifetime to Jack. At this point you think that maybe the characters would evolve into an awakening but nothing changes. Even as one of the only funny moments in the film transpires, Jack is at best shedding crocodile tears while brewing up a story he can tell his bride as to what happened to his face. As wedding day approaches, it appears everything is A-OK and Jack gets what he wants (delivering a wink to Myles at the altar). Myles meanwhile learns his ex is not only married but pregnant which sends Myles over the edge, drinking his vintage 61 in a styrofoam cup at a cheap burger joint.

It was hard to really feel any affection for any of the characters, even though the female roles were well written and Sandra Oh performed the scene where she confronts Jack with realism (you could feel her hurt). The principal characters never evolve or learn from their experiences. As good as a friend Myles is supposed to be to Jack, he cannot tell him the truth either.

Overall I give the film 3 out of 10.
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Awful. What are people thinking?
TooShortforThatGesture21 December 2004
This is a terrible movie.

Some Spoilers below (but if it keeps you from watching this particular movie, I don't think you can really say it's been "spoiled.")

We follow two forty-something losers (Jack, a has-been minor actor and Miles, a divorced wine geek/wannabe writer middle school teacher who drinks too much) through a bachelor trip they take together to the Santa Barbara wine country during the week before the actor's wedding.

There are lots of problems with this movie, but most of them lie in the area of credibility. I understand that this is not meant to be precise realism but:

  • It seems impossible that these two guys have ever wanted to spend 5 minutes with each other. They nothing in common and personalities that intersect at no point whatsoever. Furthermore, they are both unbearable. Jack is an ass. Miles is the kind of deliberately unhappy man who makes you want to slit your own throat to escape his moaning. The idea that they've been best buddies since college is ludicrous.

  • The idea that Jack -- a classic "good-time Joe" (who's main goal for the trip is to get laid) agreed to a tour of the vineyards of Santa Barbara County as his "week before marriage" trip is dumb. (You don't go to wine country to meet someone for sex -- you go to wine country to have sex with someone you already know.) Jack is Mr. Vegas (or Acapulco or even Tijuana), all the way. It's like the idea of George W. Bush going to Sta. Barabara to party.

  • It is admittedly not my area of expertise, but I just don't believe that two forty-something straight guys would EVER plan a week-long wine tasting trip with each other.

So to my mind the movie tries to build itself from a central relationship and a central plot device that are equally incredible.

As for character development, well... Jack turns out to be little more than a "horndog former pretty boy" stereotype. He is allowed to cry at one point while claiming to love his fiancée, but it's sort of a shock and hard to buy given his complete indifference to her at every other point in the movie. Miles, on the other hand, does seem to go from being a tedious depressed sot to a tedious somewhat-less-depressed sot. (Really, he makes you yearn for the cheerfulness of Giamatti's Harvey Pekar character in "American Splendor".) But, from everything we see, it seems unlikely that Miles will ever manage to pull a worthwhile existence out of this particular life. He's such a self-involved, emotionally unattractive person that when, at the end of the film, he takes the step of chasing down Virginia Madsen's character (a warm, wise and beautiful woman who is way far out of Miles' league in any universe, fictional or real), not only is it difficult to cheer for him, one wants to yell at the screen to warn her not to answer the door.

As for the women -- well they are all there pretty much just to be mistreated, demeaned and/or talked about like meat.

As silly as it is, the "wine country" trip is, of course, supposed to be a metaphor. Many of the characters are obsessed with wine (to an extent that makes you think that maybe they fall in together because nearly everyone else runs away when they see them coming) and they use the language of wine to discuss other issues in their life. A lot.

(Basically: People, like wine, are complex and you should take the time to savor them properly. Also, you have to be sure to act on things in your life at peak moments, just the way you must drink fine wines at their peak. There. I've saved you 2 hours.)

The movie is jam-packed with wine stuff -- tastings, discussions, tours of wineries, walks through vineyards. At one point the screen splits into four parts seemingly because the filmmakers shot so much second-unit footage of wine country scenery that they just can't get it all out there without using some distracting pointless student-film device. Now metaphors are great and, eptly used, they can resonate with an audience and deepen the meaning of a creative work. But someone needs to tell Mr. Payne that there is a line beyond which metaphor becomes bad documentary ... and in this case that line is somewhere back in his editing room.

This "wine documentary" feel adds to the generally uneven tone of the picture -- it can't seem to decide whether it's a realistic drama, a fantasy, a fairy-tale or brutal hyper-reality. So it tries a little of each.

Oh - and it's not funny.
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Expected more from independent cinema
gascapgt18 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"Sideways" simply angered me. I have seen a lot of garbage films over the years but none has made me want my money - or time- back more than this film, and I only paid $1 to rent it. How this movie achieved such popularity is almost beyond me. It is the type of mass-produced, "been there, seen that" type of garbage that one expects from Hollywood... making it a horrible disgrace to independent cinema. There was a line in the movie that goes something like "book publishers don't care about the quality of the story, the only want marketing value nowadays". Now that's ironic. That line describes perfectly what is wrong with this film - it's got no content, but boy did the press make you want to see it.

Independent film is innovative and daring. There was nothing new about this movie, it was a weak film born from the "road trip" mold where a couple of characters travel together who are complete opposites and ultimately learn something from each other. The characters are horribly developed, anyone with half a brain can predict what's going to happen in every given scene. First graders who have only ever performed a Christmas pageant could out-do the actors in this film, maybe even the sex scenes.

Let's not forget that this movie was advertised as a comedy. There was absolutely no humor in this movie, or if there was, it was completely lost on me because I was in a frenzied state of rage.

Spoiler: People note the funny" scenes like the car being driven into the tree, the guy saying "I'm not drinking any f-ing merlot", and the woman saying "I need to be spanked". How is any of that funny? The whole movie is equally juvenile and pointless.

Words can hardly describe how much I hated this movie. I would have liked it moderately more if it weren't so popular, but it's popularity just goes to show how stupid and immature the general public is. Sideways ranks below such garbage as - Scooby Doo 2, Shaft in Africa, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Saved! If you want quality laughs, classic storyline, character development and drama, Sweatin' to the Oldies is a much better bet.
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Possibly the most overrated movie in the history of film
corrie_anne_traveler28 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was so excited to see this movie. After all, how many comedies get nominated for a "Best Picture" Oscar? Well, apparently one too many. Not only was this movie nothing like I expected it to be, it wasn't even funny! I sat through the whole thing, just waiting to see if it ever got good, or at the very least, interesting.

It didn't.

Neither of the male leads is the least bit likable. Thomas Hayden Church's character sleeps around in spite of his upcoming wedding--and gets away with it, even going so far as to wreck his best friend's car to cover for himself. Not only that, Paul Giamatti (a complete loser himself) goes along with it all.

Ugh, not to mention the eye bleedingly wretched sex scenes.

In the end, this movie had only one redeeming quality: Virginia Madsen. She was absolutely luminous in this role, and a talented enough actress to actually convince me she LIKED Paul Giamatti's Eeyore-esque lame-o.

I am honestly stumped as to what all the fuss is about. This movie was painful to sit through. The best part was when Church's character got the crap beat out of him when his new "girl on the side" (Sandra Oh) found out he was getting married. That was great.
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Has one of the funniest lines ever
Derek23726 November 2005
Alexander Payne's movies, though always thought provoking and well written, tend to have a vulgar side. Just when I thought seeing Kathy Bates get into a hot tub nude with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt was the most outrageous thing I've seen in a mainstream drama/comedy, along comes Alexander Payne to top himself with another insane scene. Think of that part in Jurassic Park where the T-rex is right up against the car window with the terrified kids inside, replace the kids with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church, replace the T-rex with a naked fat dude, and you get the general idea.

Sideways has that perfect balance of comedy and drama, which I love to see in movies, since that's closest to how life really is. It can't be serious all the time, and it can't always be wacky and sit-comish either. It's the story of Miles and Jack's trip to wine country and all the little dramas that unfold during the few days. The acting was perfect by Giamatti, Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh. Hayden Church in particular gives an excellent performance as the idiotic Jack. Everyone probably knows a "Jack" in their own life and I didn't think he was ever once unconvincing as this character. He's just a bit dim, he makes some pretty stupid decisions (most of which were made by his penis), and you actually end up pitying this poor fool.

I also have to praise Sideways for one of my favourite movie lines/exchanges in recent years. It's right near the end, after all the excitement is just about over, and Jack decides to crash the car (to make it seem to his fiancé at home that he got his broken nose from a car accident and not from an enraged Sandra Oh who found out he was getting married). They had left some of the wine cases they had bought in the trunk of the car and when it crashed some of the bottles broke. Miles is clearly frustrated when he discovers this, while Jack just shrugs, "Whatever." Miles, angry, tired, and just generally fed up with their whole experience and Jack's carelessness snaps, "No, no, it's not 'whatever,' you f***in' derelict!"

My rating: 10/10
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