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A good friend of mine was interested in seeing this film. I had never heard of it, and was therefore a bit wary. But then I read this:

If you’re like most moviegoers, meaning you don’t live in a big city and you don’t get to the art-house theater every month, you’re probably wondering one thing this week: what the heck is so great about this “Sideways” movie? It’s an understandable question. This is a film about two middle-aged bozos—the guy who played Pig Vomit in that Howard Stern movie and the guy who was on the show after “Cheers,” like, last century—who yap about wine and their dead-end lives. Neither of the guys is particularly handsome. Neither is particularly likeable. But trust me on this: if “Sideways” isn’t quite as good as advertised, it’s close. It’s sweeping the critics awards and it racked up seven Golden Globe nominations this week, including best picture (musical or comedy), and it will probably win. So in a down year for movies, this tiny film about two drunken schlubs is suddenly an Oscar front runner.

Or is it? So far, only the critics have spoken. The Golden Globes are handed out at a lavish and star-studded ceremony, but they’re selected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. In other words, more critics. The Academy Awards are a whole different animal. Its voters are actors, producers, directors and film craftspeople. At the end of the day, they’re often voting for friends and colleagues, not just movies and performances. The critics’ lists and Golden Globe nominations narrow a bit, but they don’t really solve much about Oscar night. So what are the big, burning questions about the 2005 Academy Awards, slated for late February? Here are five—and my answers. Bear in mind that I’m only wrong, at an absolute maximum, 60 percent of the time.

Can ‘Sideways’ win the Oscar for best picture?

No. All the critical esteem and exquisite craftsmanship will get “Sideways” plenty of nominations and maybe even some statues, but not the big one. Ultimately, it’s a tiny, unglamorous movie about regular folks and regular lives, and they just don’t give out best-picture Oscars for those.

So, naturally, at this point I’m interested. We drive 30 miles to the nearest theater that’s bothering to play this flick, and we have a look-see…

Color me entertained, if not enthralled.

It has funny parts, as well as “deep” parts. It covers important territory with regards to the lives of single men who are rapidly passing their prime.

As the movie begins, you feel like you’ve walked into the middle. And the ending feels like it comes about 15 minutes too early.

Still, there are some parts worth remembering, especially the somewhat disturbing post-cuckolding scene where the protagonist is searching for his friend’s lost wallet. (I shall describe this one no further…)

So, out of five stars, I’ll give it three and a half. Hardly award-winning stuff in my book. But then again, I’m just a layman…

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About RJ

  • Nick Jones

    I’m not overly concerned with the Oscar race, I just like to see excellent work rewarded, especially of those in the indie field. As far as I recall, one of my favorite ‘small’ films in the last ten years (Big Night) was not nominated at all, but I don’t think less of it for all that. And if you haven’t seen Big Night, please do. Just eat before you see it, or otherwise the fantastic meals made in the penultimate scenes will have you drooling.

  • You seem very concerned about the Oscar ramifications for this film. With all respect, does that really matter or have much at all to do with how good the film is?

    In my mind, it’s been the small, indie-minded films that have really blown me away over the last several years (Lost in Translation comes to mind first and foremost). Only a few big budget blockbusters, like Lord of the Rings (directed by an indie horror director), have matched up in my book.

    Eric Berlin
    Dumpster Bust: Miracles from Mind Trash

  • Nick Jones

    Having seen this two days ago, I agree with you that it won’t get the Big Prize. But the performances, especially Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh, certainly deserve any nominations they get. I’d even go so far as to assert that Giamatti deserves a Best Actor win.

    It’s not like we haven’t seen this story before: Mr. Ego and Uptight Guy meet some Chicks on a roadtrip, and Uptight Guy learns to Seize The Day. But the performances, the screenplay and the patient direction raise this several notches above your typical roadtrip flick. Like a good wine, Alexander Payne allows his film to breathe, and that makes all the difference.