In the end, I don’t care what the Academy does. Hell, I might even take a certain satisfaction in seeing my favorites robbed of what I think they deserve. But in the moment, it’s gratifying and honest to put your heart out there for the underdogs you love and to experience the punch in the gut when they lose. So I did right by Sideways tonight: let myself really hope it might win a few, and let myself feel the sting when it mostly didn’t.
Meanwhile, Michael Blowhard finally saw Sideways–just in time to see the Academy give it the dismissive little pat on the head that was its single award, for Best Adapted Screenplay–and we should all be glad, because he’s written a wonderfully perceptive appreciation. His post deftly breaks down a pivotal scene in the film, giving it the really close reading it merits, and then turns into a wider-ranging reflection on the joys of the movie close-up:
My one small film-pedant reflection on seeing this film? I was grateful to be reminded of how powerful movie closeups can be. Sandra Oh isn’t in the movie as much as I hoped she’d be. But she and Payne sketch in a convincing portrait of a confident yet vulnerable, frisky yet intelligent woman with just a few well-chosen actions and closeups.
The film’s most beautiful closeup is of Madsen. She and Giammatti are on Oh’s porch, getting used to each other’s company. Payne gives Madsen a short monologue about what wine has meant to her, and he discreetly moves the camera in as she speaks with feeling and reverence. Everything is quiet. It’s evening in wine country. Your senses are awakened; the fragrances in the air are gentle, the night’s sounds are distant, the evening’s food and wine are having their effect. And a luscious, generous woman is–with warmth, fervor, and grace–opening herself up. I don’t know how the audiences you saw the movie with reacted to this brief passage, but some of the people around me were sniffling. Wait a minute, I was sniffling.
I think we weren’t moved because the scene was sad, except in its awareness that life itself is finally sad. (Payne is of Greek descent, and he seems to me to have a Mediterranean, deep, and inborn acceptance of life’s tragic sides.) I think that people were moved instead by the moment’s combo of beauty and gentle appreciation. Without utilizing any advanced-technology whoopdedo, Payne and Madsen were working magic. Something transfiguring was happening; radiance was pouring through the screen. (The Wife whispered to me after the scene was over, “That’s my kind of special effect.”) When Giamatti bolts–he can’t handle what’s being unwrapped and offered to him–we know for damn sure how deep his sad-sackness and depression go, and how far he’s got to come back. We’re left alone for a second with Madsen, feeling the moment fade away.
Movie histories tend to make much of careers, spectacle, economics, business, and technology. Important topics, of course. But the fact is also that closeups have always been experienced as one of film’s most amazing gifts…
Read the rest! I’m tempted to quote more, but better you go read it over there. Sideways-wise, I’ll just say that despite my stubbornly voting for both Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church while knowing they were bad bets, I still won the pool at the party I attended. The prize was made out of chocolate, which is always okay with me.