The Barenaked Archives: Sideways

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Sideways posterOscar nominations have been announced, and with the big awards themselves less than a week away, many studios are rolling their independent films out into a wider release than Los Angeles and New York (thank GOD).

Perhaps the most notable of these is Sideways, nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It’s been garnering loads of praise from critics across the country and sweeping critics’ awards since December.

How it will stand up against awards’ darlings The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby at the Oscars is anyone’s guess, but Sideways is indeed a wonderful little film.

Adapted from the novel by Rex Pickett, Sideways is part comedy, part drama, about two buddies taking a road trip through California wine country. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed novelist and wine connoisseur, who has planned this weeklong trip to be his best-man gift to Jack (Thomas Haden Church), an actor on the way down who mere days away from getting married.

While Jack honestly appreciates the trip, he sees it as one last chance to get laid before he’s tied down, and figures it can’t hurt to make sure Miles gets some action too. The trip may turn out to be just what they need.

One of the first things mentioned about this movie is the acting, and it’s no secret why. Many think it’s a crime that Paul Giamatti wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, as his performance is clearly worth a nod.

His Miles is a man who’s reached middle age with nothing to show for it, having failed at his marriage and at his writing. He has a lot of trouble believing that Maya (Virginia Madsen), a divorced waitress at a restaurant they frequent, would be interested in him. He’s pessimistic and a little annoyed at having to watch after Jack, who is like a frat boy trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. It’s really a standout performance, one that makes the movie, and it’s a shame that the Academy didn’t recognize him.

Speaking of Jack, Thomas Haden Church did get a Best Supporting Actor nod. He is funny and charismatic as an actor who used to be in television, and is reduced now to doing the voice-overs on drug commercials (“Side effects include…”).

Jack has yet to grow up, and he knows that his fiancée may be the best thing to happen to him, but he can’t seem to help living up his last week as a single man. The moment where he finally realizes how much he needs his fiancée and can’t lose her is both funny and heartbreaking, and Church was the best actor to bring Jack to life.

The movie isn’t an out-and-out comedy the way some of the previews have made it out to be. Granted, there are some hilarious parts (Miles going crazy during a wine tasting, Jack wrecking the car, and getting chased by a naked angry husband…oh, that’s classic), but the movie is primarily a character drama and a very good one.

Director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) does a great job handling this small quartet of characters (Miles, Jack, Maya, and Stephanie, played by Payne’s wife Sandra Oh) and every one of them is much more than the two-dimensional caricatures that we get in so many films today.

In the end, Sideways is a film that’s as much about examining your life as it is about finding romance, and learning that it’s never too late to make a new start. It’s definitely one of the best movies of 2004, and everybody should make an effort to see it while it’s here in Norman.

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