Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sideways (dir by Alexander Payne)


I’ve never really gotten the obsession that some people have with wine.

Some of that may be because I hardly ever drink.  I’m not quite a teetotaler but I seem to be getting closer with each passing year.  But, beyond that, I just don’t get the whole culture that’s sprung up around wine snobbery.  I don’t get the people who sit around and say, “Oh, this is an amazing Australian wine and, someday, my great-great grandchilden will get to open it when they’re 90 and on their deathbeds.”  Everything that I’ve seen about wine tastings annoys me, from the overdramatic sniffing to the big bowls of spit-out wine.  (I’m not a big fan of spitting in general.)

The 2004 film Sideways is a film that’s all about wine snobs.  It follows two friends as they take a week-long vacation in the Santa Barbara wine country.  Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a depressed English teacher who loves wine and who has never gotten over his divorce.  He’s also a writer, though a remarkably unsuccessful one.  He’s waiting to hear back on his latest manuscript, an autobiographical novel that he fears might not be commercial enough.  Jack (Thomas Haden Church) was Miles’s college roommate and they’ve remained friends, despite Miles feeling that they have nothing in common.  Jack is a former semi-successful actor who now works as a voice over artist.  Jack knows little about wine.  He’s just looking for a chance to indulge in some meaningless, commitment-free sex before getting married.

Miles attempts to teach Jack to appreciate wine.  Jack attempts to get Miles to actually enjoy life for once.  Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

Actually, they don’t solve crimes.  That’s not the type of film that Sideways is.  This is an Alexander Payne film, which means that it’s essentially a road film in which two different characters consider their own mortality and question whether or not there’s more to life than just what they see around them.  The difference between the two characters is that Miles obsesses on the meaning of it all while Jack doesn’t exactly ignore Miles’s concerns but he’s much better at shrugging them off and blithely moving from one experience to another.  Miles wears his neurosis on his sleeve while Jack is slightly better at hiding them.

During their week-long excursion into wine country, Miles and Jack fall for two women who undoubtedly deserve better.  Maya (Virginia Madsen) is a waitress who is working on her master’s degree in horticulture.  Maya shares Miles’s love of wine and is one of the few people to show any genuine interest in Miles’s book.  Stephanie (Sandra Oh) is as much of a free spirit as Jack and, after spending two days with her and her daughter, Jack starts talking about canceling (or, at the very least, delaying) his upcoming wedding.  Miles, meanwhile, is falling in love with Maya but there’s a problem.  Jack lied to Maya and told her that Miles’s book is about to be published and Jack has failed to tell Stephanie that he’s engaged….

And really, it would be very easy to be dismissive of both Miles and Jack if they were played by anyone other than Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church.  If you ever need a movie to cite as an example of how perfect casting can inspire you to forgive characters who do rotten things and make stupid mistakes, Sideways would be a good film to go with.  Thomas Haden Church brings an unexpected sincerity to the role of Jack, one that keeps him from coming across as being malicious but instead suggests that he just can’t help himself.  If nothing else, Haden Church’s concern for Miles comes across being genuine.  (“I guess because you were wearing your seat belt.”)  Meanwhile, in the role of Miles, Paul Giamatti again proves that he’s one of those rare actors who can take a rather annoying character and somehow make him totally sympathetic.  It help that Giamatti brings a lot of self-awareness to the role.  Yes, Miles can be whiny and self-absorbed but at least he knows that he’s whiny and self-absorbed and he’s just as annoyed with himself as we often are.

The actors even manage to make all of the wine talk palpable for non-wine people like me.  During Virginia Madsen’s lengthy monologue about why she loves wine, I found myself thinking, “That’s why I love movies.”  Just as wine tastes different depending on who is drinking it and when they opened the bottle, how one experiences a movie can change from time to time and depending on each individual viewing experience.  Just as the best wine was cultivated over time, the same can be said of movies, many of which are not recognized for their greatness until years after they were first produced.  Just as Maya thinks about all the people who played a part in creating the perfect bottle of wine, I think about all the people who played a part in creating the movies that I love.  You don’t have to love wine to enjoy Sideways.  You just have to love something.

Sideways was nominated for Best Picture but it lost to Million Dollar Baby.  Amazingly, Paul Giamatti was not nominated for Best Actor.

Here Are The Winners of the 24th Annual Critics Choice Awards!


TSL writer Patrick Smith has referred to The Critics Choice Awards as being his “fifth favorite awards show” and that seems like the perfect description of where they fall in awards season.  People do pay attention to them and, in the past, they’ve been a pretty good precursor as far as the Oscars are concerned.  At the same time, there always seem to be confusion as just who exactly votes for the Critics Choice Awards.

Well, the answer to that question is that the Critics’ Choice Awards are voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and, tonight, they announced their picks on the CW.

It was interesting night — two ties and Christian Bale was named Best Actor twice, which of course meant we had to suffer through his “I’m just an ordinary working bloke!” routine two times too many.  By far, my favorite winner was Amy Adams for Sharp Objects.

(On another note: Taye Diggs was an interesting choice to host.  I thought he did okay but, with his talent, he really should be receiving the awards instead of talking about them.  Someone write a great role for Taye Diggs ASAP!)

Here are tonight’s winners!  (Check out the nominees here!)

Movie

Best Song — Shallow from A Star is Born

Best Young Actor or Actress — Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Best Supporting Actor — Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Best Supporting Actress — Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Movie — A Quiet Place

Best Acting Ensemble — The Favourite

Best Action Film — Mission Impossible: Fallout

Best Animated Film — Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse

Best Foreign Language Film — Roma

Best Original Screenplay — Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Adapted Screenplay — Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Actress In A Comedy — Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Best Actor In A Comedy — Christian Bale, Vice

Best Comedy — Crazy Rich Asians

Best Cinematography — Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Production Design — Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther

Best Editing — Tom Cross, First Man

Best Costume Design — Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Best Hair and Makeup — Vice

Best Visual Effects — Black Panther

Best Original Score — Justin Hurwitz, First Man

Best Director — Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Actress (tie) — Glenn Close, The Wife and Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

Best Actor — Christian Bale, Vice

Best Motion Picture — Roma

Television

Best Supporting Actor (Drama) — Noah Emmerich, The Americans

Best Supporting Actress (Drama) — Thandie Newton, Westworld

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy) — Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy) — Alexis Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Supporting Actor (Limited Series or Made-For-TV Movie): Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal

Best Supporting Actress (Limited Series or Made-For-TV Movie): Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects

Best Movie Made For Television — Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert

Best Animated Series — BoJack Horseman

Best Actor (Limited Series or Movie Made-For-TV): Darren Criss, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best Actress (Limited Series or Movie Made-For-TV): (Tie) Amy Adams, Sharp Objects and Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora

Best Actor (Comedy Series) — Bill Hader, Barry

Best Actress (Comedy Series) — Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor (Drama Series) — Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Best Actress (Drama Series) — Sandra Oh, Killing Eve

Best Limited Series — American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best TV Drama Series — The Americans

Best TV Comedy Series — The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

 

Here Are The 64th Annual Golden Globe Winners!


Here are the winners of the 64th annual Golden Globes!

(Check out the nominees here.  Needless to say, the film winners have all received a huge boost to their Oscar chances.)

Best Actor (TV Series, Musical or Comedy) — Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method

Best Animated Feature Film — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Actor (TV Series, Drama) — Richard Madden, Bodyguard

Best TV Series (Drama) — The Americans

Best Supporting Actor (TV Series or Miniseries) — Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal

Best Actress (Limited Series or Made-For-TV Movie) — Patricia Arquette, Escape from Dannemora

Best Original Motion Picture Score — Justin Hurwitz, First Man

Best Original Song (Motion Picture) — “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Best Supporting Actress (Motion Picture) — Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Actress (Drama Series) — Sandra Oh, Killing Eve

Best Supporting Actor (Motion Pictures) — Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Best Screenplay (Motion Picture) — Peter Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book

Best Supporting Actress (TV Series or Miniseries) — Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects

Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) — Christian Bale, Vice

Best Foreign Language Film — Roma

Best Actor (Limited Series or Made-for-TV movie) — Darren Criss, American Crime Story

Best Director (Motion Picture) — Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Actress (Comedy Series) — Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best TV Series (Musical or Comedy) — The Kominsky Method

Best TV Limited Series or Movie — American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best Actress (Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical) — Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) — Green Book

Best Actress (Motion Picture Drama) — Glenn Close, The Wife

Best Actor (Motion Picture, Drama) — Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Motion Picture (Drama) — Bohemian Rhapsody

 

Film Review: Permanent Midnight (dir by David Veloz)


Meh.  Who cares?

That was largely my reaction to watching the 1998 film, Permanent Midnight.  In this film, Ben Stiller plays Jerry Stahl, a real-life screenwriter who had a fairly successful career going in the 80s and early 90s.  He came out to Los Angeles looking to be a serious writer but, instead, he ended up writing for silly puppet show and getting addicted to heroin.  He also married a British television executive named Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley), so that Sandra could get her green card.  When the star of a show that he writes for tells him to kick his habit or lose his job, Jerry ends up smoking crack cocaine with a new dealer (Peter Greene).  When Sandra tells him that she’s pregnant, Jerry responds by shooting up in the bedroom.  When he’s trusted to spend the day taking care of his baby daughter, he drives her around the seediest sections of Los Angeles while he searches for his drug dealer.  As the baby cries beside him, Jerry shoots heroin into his jugular.  Jerry ends up unemployable and abandoned by every friend that he had.  He works at a fast food restaurant, or at least he does until he meets another recovering addict (Maria Bello).  She’s the one to whom he tells his story, in between sex and bouts of impotence.  In the end, what’s left for Jerry Stahl to do but write a book and then a movie about his life as a junkie?

It’s a harrowing story and I guess Stahl deserves some credit for writing the screenplay for a movie that doesn’t exactly make him look good.  However, Permanent Midnight runs into the same problem that afflicts most movies about drug addiction.  With very few exceptions, drug addicts are just not that interesting.  The only thing more boring than watching someone shoot up is then having to listen to that person explain why he shoots up.  (Trainspotting is the obvious exception but Trainspotting benefits from Danny Boyle’s frenetic direction, Ewan McGregor’s explosively charismatic lead performance, a witty script, and a killer soundtrack.  These are things that Permanent Midnight lacks.)  The film attempts to build up some sympathy for Stahl by telling us about his difficult childhood, his father’s suicide, and his mother’s instability but, in the end, Jerry is a junkie who shoots up in front of his baby.  Regardless of how crappy his childhood was, it’s hard to care about whether or not he ever gets his shit together.  Mostly, you just want someone to step in and make sure he never gets near that baby again.

Permanent Midnight makes another mistake, one that is all too common when it comes to films about troubled artists.  It continually tells us that Jerry is a talented and important writer without ever showing us any evidence of that fact.  We’re supposed to feel bad that Jerry is stuck working on a sitcom called Mr. Chompers but, at no point, does the film really convince us that he deserves anything better.  Everyone says that Jerry is talented but we don’t really get to see any evidence of that fact.  It’s hard not to feel that maybe Jerry should just be happy that, unlike the majority of writers in Los Angeles, he actually has a steady job.

(Jerry does get one good line, when he appears on The Maury Povich Show to promote his book and says, “People always ask, ‘What’s the worst thing heroin drove you to do?’  I always answer, ‘showing up on Maury.'”)

Of course, for most people, the main appeal of seeing Permanent Midnight will be the chance to see Ben Stiller shooting up heroin while soaked in withdrawal sweat.  Stiller gives a serious performance, good enough that you regret that his acting career now seems to mostly consist of starring in bad movies and making cameos in even worse ones.  There’s actually a lot of familiar faces in Permanent Midnight: Elizabeth Hurley, Maria Bello, Fred Willard, Owen Wilson, Sandra Oh, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and others.  They all give good enough performance but ultimately, this is aimless and ultimately rather frustrating movie.