Saturday, December 03, 2005

REV: Sideways (2004)

Sideways (2004) (dir. Alexander Payne)

Well, i came to this some time after its Oscar nomination and loss. When i was doing my pre, post, and redux Oscar critiques i didn't give the film much due, largely because the critical backwash was pretty lukewarm. Or should i say it balanced out a bit lukewarm -- some reviews were scalding, some ice cold. In any case, i made only a perfunctory effort to see the film in a theatre, and being shut out managed to watch Million Dollar Baby instead -- another movie i wouldn't have tried to see but it was all that was available to me that particular day (i have to drive 60 miles to see a top-flight movie generally).

All that to say, it took me until it came out on dvd to get a handle on this contender.

I can't say i was not entertained. The movie is certainly a funny, and satisfying, look at a range of characters -- none of whom seem really meant to spend time with another. I bought into each, cared about each at some level, and enjoyed the film -- though similar to my dislike of Million Dollar Baby's boxing, the world of wine-tasting to me is both foreign and pretentious. It is however, a decent enough vehicle for this story to unfold upon.

In retrospect though it is a film i would have considered an Oscar contender only if there were not the likes of The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby. I am not beyond loving small independent quirky films, but this one did not cover enough emotional or intellectual territory to beat the elegant story-telling of MDB (which is where i think The Aviator lacked somehwat as well). Had i seen it in advance of the ceremony i probably would have railed a bit more about how it came to be so considered, even in an ackowledged weak year for film.

The delights of the film are many, but a plot device and a performance stand out in my mind. I was especially impressed by Sandra Oh -- her Stephanie carries some scenes without overwhelming, she never comes across as false, and she carries herself from scene to scene in such a way that you can almost see the color of her aura. The device is the ending of the story, the distant look at Christine with no hint really of her expression or of what comes next. It is a perfect ambiguity. And it left me unsure of whether to root for Jack or not.

Biospoilers
Essentially a perfect film in the biology category, as it was filmed on location, and using natural background. I detected no foleyed sounds that struck falsely.

However, there is a funny story included in the deleted segments section of the dvd. The director recounts how, in a scene in which Miles has to spend the day alone, he is driving and aimlessly playing with the radio when he hears a thump, a whine, and comes to the realization that he's hit a dog. We see a dog run off, tail between its legs. Well that scene was later deleted. Then, in a scene which was set up to be a sort of payoff, we see the dog again, only this time it's laying on the side of the road dead with a vulture pecking on it. That scene had to go as well.

Two issues present themself. First, the "dead" dog (what looks like a stuffed version) is radically different looking than the dog we saw run off.

The second has to do with the vulture. Kudos here to Payne who, based on the explanation at least, tried to get the right thing done. But, as he explains, he found out it was illegal to use native birds as trained animals and so they resorted to what he labels a "Paraguayan" Vulture. Undoubtedly at some point someone told him the bird came from Paraguay (which he uses to set up a one-liner), but the bird is one of the Yellow-headed Vultures (so much so that in the scene it appears to have a breeding-season enhanced yellow head). Apparently only the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes burrovianus (related to the Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, that would have been the native version) has been recorded from Paraguay, so that's what this should be, assuming that the bird actually was from Paraguay. It would have made a heck of a biospoiler in the movie -- but alas was cut in the final edit.

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