A summation about my favorite film of the decade.
Here we are, as I write, on the very last day of the year. I have just finished my Christmas Carol review moments ago, and I have yet to start on my 2012 review, which I probably will not get to until tomorrow. It's been quite a year, and I've been lucky enough to be granted an open forum for which I can spill my unchained and unhindered thoughts on the films that I see, and I've sort of been doing it casually. But dear reader, I have a resolution, and ... we'll see if I keep it. I'm sure you know what it is at this point. BUT! Enough out of the reflections of my inability to completely keep up-to-date on this lovely site, how about a little blurb on my most favorite film of the decade.
Yes sir, I do believe I shall bring you Sideways, the magnificent 2004 film starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as two college buds out enjoying their last days together before Mr. Church's character gets married. I'll spare you the details of the plot, for which I am sure you already know by now, but there is something about this film that just struck a chord with me. It is most definitely a touching comedy, and the frienship between Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Church) is so authentic and real, you almost feel that you are the third wheel in this crazy adventure, taking everything in from a subjective point of view. From Jack's first line away from his family, you can already tell that this character is more than what meets the eye. He's a trouble maker, he's sleazy, he's objectifying, but all at once, he is welcoming, warm, outspoken and funny. Church plays Jack so well that he disappears into the character completely, and in a crucial scene near the end we discover that this womanizing sleaze has a heart, and within that heart holds such regret. It was hard to not love Jack, despite his flaws, and despite his characters, and we are asked that we take a second look at a man most would toss aside as a jackass. He is a jackass, but he's such a colorful one.
Paul Giamatti's character, while funny in person, is tragic in conception. He's a failed writer who is divorced and middle aged. He's alone. He's sad. He has panic attacks. He steals money from his mother (though she seems to already know.) He can't play golf, and all he seems to be interested in is wine, most notably Pinot Noir, (though he doesn't much care for merlot.) There is such a sadness to Giamatti's performance that it borders on pathetic, and he even says so to himself in a mirror after a moment that he couldn't help but destroy. This moment is held with Maya (Virgina Madsen) in a discussion of, what else, wine. They sit on a patio outside talking amongst themselves when Maya asks him why he has this obsession with Pinot. He goes on about how rare a grape it is, and how tempermental it can be and how it needs constant attention and nurturing. Many filmgoers see this as unconscious self expression the way Miles describes the Pinot grape. He may not mean to talk about himself, but he is, and Maya obviously sees the description of Pinot as a description of himself. He finds something to relate to with Pinot, and expands upon his personality with the way he talks about it. And that is the pivotal moment where Maya and Miles meld into what could either be some fleeting fantastical thought for Miles, or an honest and unmistakeable blooming love affair between the two characters. Maya dives into her love for wine thereafter, and it takes more than a description from me to get the full benefit of what it might mean.
And that leads me to Virginia Madsen and her character, Maya. When we are introduced to her, we learn that Miles already knows who she is. They've spoken, shared wine, and it can be assumed without a shadow of a doubt that Miles longs for her. He's the kind of person who considers himself miles away from being worth one iota of attention, and his unwillingness to open up to Maya, until now, proves that loneliness isn't a choice, but a lifestyle bestowed unto him. He isn't lonely because he won't communicate, he's lonely because he can't. In fact, I'd be hardpressed to say that he would have made a connection with Maya without having Jack there to coax him into society, and at least MAKE him go out and try to enjoy himself. That is how he and Maya connect, and we discover that Maya is much more than what Miles (or Jack for that matter) had thought. More than what we, the audience thought. She's such an open spirit and such a warm entity that she's almost an anamoly. Mrs. Madsen was robbed.
Small pallate, yes, but I'd consider each character a pallate in and of themselves. Not to mention I'm forgetting a character, and that is somewhat promiscuous Stephanie (an incredible performance from Sandra Oh) who becomes chin deep in a love affair with Jack, and it's with Stephanie we come to realize that while Jack may be a good (nay, great) friend to Miles, he is first and foremost a manipulator. He manipulates Miles into tagging along on his escapades to getting laid, he manipulates Stephanie into bed, and the entire week is orchastrated into to pseudo-bachelor party for Jack's entertainment while everyone just orbits around him either oblivious to his act or trying to straighten it all out. Here, Stephanie becomes more than an object, and when she becomes wise to his act (which is no secret by now) it's as if she's overcome by an emotional whirpool of anger/love/hate/rage and unleashes it in a violent fury.
Each character is so thoroughly discovered that the audience feels as if they know these characters on an extremely personal level. Not to mention, it helps completely that Alexander Payne chooses to expose this story through a cinematic "dream-like" effect. Each frame is slightly angelic, allowing one to come into the film and immediately sink into the story. It's as if this film is a mature fairy tale, where our heroes are whisked away to wine country, which is presented as a majestic, dynamic, and colorful setting. It's greens are deep and luminous, reds are thick and rich, and the grapes are just aching for the touch of an enthusiast.
|Originality||You won't find a set of characters, or circumstances in another film.||5|
|Acting||Top notch, especially from Thomas Haden Church and Virgina Madsen.||5|
|Soundtrack||Rolph Kent's jazzy, quirky score is pitch perfect here.||5|
|Effects/Presentation||Shot in a way that romanticizes wine country in California amidst all the chaos.||5|
|Storyline||Original, heartfelt, hilarious.||5|
|Final Verdict: 5|