Friday, November 19, 2010

981. Sideways (2004)

Running Time: 116 minutes
Directed By: Alexander Payne
Written By: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, from the novel Sideways by Rex Pickett
Main Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh


With only nine movies to go before another "Top 20" was in order, I decided to throw a little monkey wrench into the list and watch an old favorite of mine, "Sideways". I thought it'd be interesting to see how an old favorite fit in with all of the new discoveries and where it placed on the list.

Miles (Giamatti) is an 8th grade English teacher and failed writer living in San Diego. His best friend and old college roommate is Jack (Haden Church), who is going to be married in one weeks time. As a wedding present Miles is taking Jack on a trip into Northern California and through wine country, a place that Miles knows a thing or two about, being an amateur wine connoisseur. The film is broken up by a series of title cards showing us the days of the week, as we take the trip with Miles and Jack. On the first night of the trip, Miles and Jack dine at The Hitching Post and Jack eyeballs a pretty waitress named Maya (Madsen), whom Miles already knows from previous visits. Jack promises to get Miles into the sack with a woman before the week is over and is determined to cheat on his fiance, as a way of cutting loose on one last wild weekend before the big marriage. Jack eventually meets Stephanie (Oh) and the two hit it off, as Jack tries desperately to help Miles advance things with Maya. Miles, only wanting to play it cool for the weekend with some golf and some wine tasting, gives off an almost jealous vibe as the women invade his time with his buddy Jack. But soon Miles warms up to the idea of having Maya around and the depressed, mid-life crisis ridden Miles begins to show signs of life.


No wonder this is a personal favorite of mine, it is such a great film and right up my alley. I love life movies where we just get to follow some real life characters around and watch how they interact in their personal and public relationships. The character of Miles will always be a favorite film character of mine, as I'm so fascinated with the guy and really want the best for him. Paul Giamatti does an excellent job of turning Miles into a real life man, with real emotions, desires and flaws. The rest of the main cast is really great too, even Thomas Haden Church, who turned "Sideways" into a breakout performance for himself. Madsen and Oh are great too, but especially Madsen who delivers her dialogue with such passion that she almost puts me to tears.

In fact there is one scene in particular that always brings me extremely close to crying and I'm always surprised by it myself. The scene is with Miles and Maya, as they chit chat on the back porch. Maya asks Miles why he is so into Pinot and he responds:

Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.

Perhaps this description of Miles love for Pinot wine is a description on how he wishes his life was. Perhaps he's eluding to the fact that he wishes he could find a "grower" (lover) who had the patience and nurturing to put up with him and still love him. Perhaps he's trying to tell Maya that he's not an easy man to put up with, but, in his opinion, the payoff could be big. Miles then asks Maya why she's so into wine and she responds:

How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.

This speech always gets to me. This is near perfect writing right here from Payne and Taylor. It's also perfect acting. If you watch Miles' face in this scene, as Maya tells him why she likes wine, it's the subtle expressions on his face and his barely there smile that help move the scene further. And if you watch his face, I believe it's one of the few scenes ever where the character becomes as real as possible and we can actually witness a movie character falling in love. His face says it all and combined with her words and the music, it's a perfect scene and while I don't cry when watching it, I come very close...every single time.

I guess I've spent the majority of this review focusing in on one scene, instead of the film as a whole. The character development is off the charts and it's that scene that really makes you smile along with Miles as he listens to Maya. Everything about this film is perfect...for me anyway. Maybe it's just one of those personal favorites that I can find great things in where others can't, although the film is quite heralded as being great. For me, everything clicks and there's no parts of it that I could do without. I love this movie and actually got excited when I put it into my DVD player today and saw the characters for the first time again. I got excited that I was going to get to spend yet another two hours re-living this wild trip through wine country with Miles and Jack. That's the sign of a great film: a movie that literally gets you excited when re-watching it.

RATING: 10/10 Did you really expect any other rating after all that gushing? It's going to make the "Top 20" even more difficult to make.


November 19, 2010 3:06pm


  1. Absolutly spot on. That one scene alone warrents it's inclusion. So thanks for including this..
    (I thnk you are using the 'Indiana Jones cover' edirion as your standard text?.. and youhave snook this one in as a personal favour to yourself? Well, 'Sideways' is in the 'Joker cver' edition, so you havn't really cheated at all....)
    Ray. back again after a break

  2. It's definitely in the book and a personal favorite that I wanted to slip in. Thanks for returning Ray, I thought you were peeved because of my thoughts on "If..." and "Cat People"


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