November 3, 2004

Whichways, Thataways, Sideways

In the tumult that is the days surrounding a presidential election, it's a good thing we have movies, to you know, distract us from everyday life. And fall 'tis the season, as you well know, cinecultists. So far, one of our favorites has been Alexander Payne's newest, Sideways which we watched last weekend. Solid adult filmmaking with complex characters, quirky circumstances and a third act which defies Payne's previous difficulties with resolving his baroque set-ups, Sideways is the kind of movie going that makes Cinecultist happy to be fueling this biz. Movies like this one, which makes us grin like an idiot all the way home, muttering "damn, that's a good ending," is something we want to recommend whole heartedly.

College buddies on a bachelor party road trip through the Santa Barbara area wineries, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) geek it up with soliloquies about pinot grapes but that doesn't prevent them from hooking up with wine pouring locals Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh). Like in their previous film Election, Payne and co-screenwriter Jim Taylor revel in the awkward moment born from inherent character traits, the ordinariness of our inabilities to be smooth much of the time. In a Woody Allen-esque take on romantic comedy, Payne finds the most drama in those moments when people can't connect. When the romance is palpable and we're practically jumping from our chairs yelling "kiss her you fool" but he can't. Hilarious and heart-breaking, no?

All four leads give quiet but stand out performances. Seattle Maggie got Cinecultist hooked on the bad ass mojo spun by Sandra Oh a few years ago, and if she were posting here, she'd urge you to run out and rent Double Happiness (1995) and Last Night, two of her other previous excellent roles. Oh is also married to Payne, so let's assume that means he will continue to write her excellent roles and we'll do a little happy dance in celebration.

Again as in About Schmidt the cast of extras or bit characters feel like authentic Americana, you expect them to be carrying around shopping bags film with stuff from Wal-Mart or ordering Franklin Mint commemorative coins off camera. Also a Payne trademark in evidence here, the perfect production design. Close-up of real live barbecue in a cheesy steak house it's comic gold. The filthy red Saab the guys road trip in couldn't be more perfect either and that's just two minor but memorable details in a finely crafted production.

In the days ahead, we're going to need things to cheer us up and lots of good fall movies is one way Cinecultist fills the void. Might we also suggest doing like Giamatti in the Talk of the Town piece on him in this week's New Yorker and spending lots of time at Junior's in Brooklyn eating cheesecake? Nothing assuages election grief like fat, carbs, sugar and le cinema.

Posted by karen at November 3, 2004 10:41 PM