Monday, February 3, 2014

NEBRASKA - 6 nominations


Actor in a Leading Role - Bruce Dern
Actress in a Supporting Role - June Squib
Best Picture - Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
Cinematography - Phedon Papamichael
Directing - Alexander Payne
Writing (Original Screenplay) - Bob Nelson

I begin by sharing that I have a personal connection to this film - Executive Producer Doug Mankoff is a personal friend.  He and his wife Marcia have been friends of mine for over 15 years.  Doug was at my wedding, and I've been to his home so many times I've lost count.  Naturally, the first time that I endeavor to make my dream of publicly sharing my love of all things Oscar, his film is nominated for multiple awards. (Of course, most people won't recall that another of Doug's films, Tsotsi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film many years ago, but I'm an Oscar nerd, so I do.)  Now this doesn't mean that I worried about my ability to be candid and impartial, but it did make me very concerned that I wouldn't like it and I'd have to say so publicly.  

Thankfully, after seeing Nebraska, my fears were put to rest.  In fact, I have now seen it twice during a season when I rarely have time to devote two viewings to a single nominee.  Let me tell you why.

Bruce Dern plays an aging father with what appears to be the middle stages of dementia, and he has received a "you may already have won a million dollars" letter in the mail.  Not understanding that he is not actually a winner, he insists that he must go to Nebraska to claim his prize.  Will Forte, one of his two sons (the other is Bob Odenkirk of Breaking Bad fame) whose life has hit a bumpy patch decides that the best thing to do would be to humor his dad and take him.  They are waylaid by Dern's health issues, and they stop in their hometown to see family.  The tiny town finds out that Dern is going to be a "millionaire," and that's when friends and family come out of the woodwork with claims of debts long past due.  June Squibb plays Dern's cranky wife and she is the true standout in the film.  I won't reveal the ending, but I will say that it's a lesson to all of us that we may not be able to make outrageous dreams happen in our parents' lives, but sometimes we can help with the little things just to make them happy.  That was my real take away from the story.

But that description just doesn't do Nebraska justice.  My husband always complains that there are no funny movies in the Oscars race, or that they are far too rare.  This is a film in which you almost never stop laughing.  Whether it's June Squibb hiking up her dress and shouting at former suitor's grave, "this is what you could have had if you had just shut up about wheat!" or Forte's cousins claiming that they've driven over 850 miles in 8 hours, and when he points out that would mean driving at over 100 miles an hour they retort, "ok, 8 1/2 hours."  

The acting is phenomenal, though it took Will Forte a few scenes to get his mojo going.  (I don't know if the film was shot sequentially, but with Forte's acting being a little shaky at the beginning, I suspect that at least those scenes were among his first in the film.  When he got going though, he was wonderful and how lovely to see him in a different kind of part.)  Dern has garnered so much acclaim for this role and it is well deserved.  His performance is authentic, it's gritty, and it's hilarious.  But June Squibb was the gem of this film, in my opinion (is it wrong that I have made her my new best friend in my head?  Don't worry, June, I'm not a stalker.)  A quick look at her acting history and we are reminded that she is no newbie and that she's got chops (remember how much we hated her character in About Schmidt?).  Where Meryl Streep fell down as the angry, truth-telling misanthrope in August: Osage County for lack of humanity, June Squibb pulls it off for the both of them in Nebraska.  This is not only a tribute to her performance, but to the writer of the brilliant Original Screenplay who managed to create her as an irascible character who we can still love.  A woman who kisses her husband gently while he is lying in his hospital bed and then quips, "You are an idiot."

The writing and directing are fantastic, but I really have to point out the exquisite Cinematography and how much you can see the collaboration between the Director and the Director of Photography in this film.  I would go so far as to recommend Nebraska as a teaching tool to those who aspire to both roles on what can happen with a productive partnership.  Let's face it - this beautifully shot movie is an unlikely winner of the Oscar with Academy members moving toward hybrid films like Gravity (which you know I don't support).  But this is the only film in this category that I've seen so far (I have only one left) that really deserves the award.  I couldn't stop myself from constantly pointing out the most amazing moments that the DP captured (sorry to the folks seated close to me in the theatre) throughout the film.  He took what's beautiful about middle America and reminded me of the words to America the Beautiful with almost every shot.  And he did it all in black and white.  There are no gimmicks, just good solid movie making.  See it, you won't be disappointed.

Haven't seen the film?
Watch the Nebraska Movie Trailer

No comments:

Post a Comment