Alexander Payne

Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Director

Best Director is a strange category, particularly because of its tenuous relationship to Best Picture. Does it refer to the best cohesive film, under the assumption that the director is responsible for overseeing nearly all aspects of how that film comes to be? Or does the award refer to a film’s most conspicuous control of visuals, tone, and style – the things that we most associate as evidence of a director’s guiding influence? The vague sense of what qualifies someone as worthy of honor in this category (we, of course, only assume what the director did by virtue of the finished product) is perfectly on display in one of this year’s most heated competitions: between Alfonso Cuarón’s enthralling real-time spectacle of a woman lost in orbit and Steve McQueen’s intricate, decade-long depiction of one man’s harrowing subjection. But let’s take a look at how the five nominees shake out, with my surprise predicted winner in red…

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Houseguest

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. First of all, let me disappoint everyone by clarifying that The Houseguest is not technically softcore pornography. It doesn’t even include nudity except for a man’s backside. But it is part of one of the anthologies put out by Playboy in the early 1990s called Inside Out, which are comprised of shorts that are predominantly of a a softcore nature. Alexander Payne, whose latest feature Nebraska is out in limited release today, directed three erotica shorts for the label. The earlier two were co-written by himself and regular collaborator Jim Taylor and one of them appears in the first video in the series while the other is lost or buried. The Houseguest, meanwhile, was scripted by Ken Rudman and appears on Inside Out III. But let’s come back to the film at hand in a moment. Technically, Payne’s short start is a 1985 student film titled Carmen, which is a silent, 18-minute take on Bizet’s opera of the same name updated and set in a gas station. You can find the whole thing on a British DVD from Cinema 16 compiling American shorts, including films by Tim Burton, Todd Solondz, George Lucas and D.A. Pennebaker. And you can watch a very brief clip from this short, showing a mentally challenged cashier being seduced by the title character, after the jump.

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review nebraska

Editor’s note: Our review of Nebraska originally ran during this year’s Cannes film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release today. From the old-school Paramount logo that opens the film, it’s clear that Alexander Payne‘s latest has no aspirations to being a hip meditation on the turmoils of modern life in much the same way that his previous film, The Descendants did. More a quaint drama with modest ambitions that nevertheless hits a sure stride, Nebraska should please the Payne devout despite this being the first of his films which he did not also write (instead relying on a deft screenplay from Bob Nelson). Needless to say, while entrusting the words to a confidante, this is another coolly controlled, wickedly funny and subtly heartfelt drama from the master filmmaker. Cantankerous, alcoholic, senile old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) has become convinced that he has won a million dollars on account of a (clearly phony) sweepstakes certificate mailed to his home. Son David (Will Forte) and wife Kate (June Squibb) try to talk sense into Woody, but he’s having none of it; he’s going to head to Lincoln, Nebraska no matter what, so David volunteers to drive him all 850 miles, in the hope that they might get to spend some quality father-son bonding time together along the way.

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It seems Alexander Payne will be trading the black-and-white melancholy of his latest feature film, Nebraska, for something far more colorful in his next project. According to Deadline, the acclaimed filmmaker is in talks to direct his next dramedy (as everything Payne touches turns to dramedy – About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska): The Judge‘s Will. Based off a short story written by author Ruth Prawer Jhabvala shortly before her death, The Judge’s Will finds a dying Delhi judge spending his final days locked in a battle of wits with his estranged wife, with the judge trying to ensure that his young mistress will be cared for after his death. The story seems to match up with all the elements normally found within Payne’s films. It’s got the same late-in-life struggles of About Schmidt, and presumably will match The Descendants’ colorful Hawaiian palette with a similar Indian color scheme.

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review nebraska

The difference between Will Forte‘s aging father in the trailer for Nebraska and any of our elderly loved ones is that this man makes good on our fear that they’ll follow through with phone scammers or that poor Nigerian prince who emailed them last week. And despite his son’s insistence that this sweepstakes does not actually exist and he is not, in fact, an overnight millionaire, dear old dad (Bruce Dern) just tunes out the news like it’s coming from one of the more liberal TV stations. The Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) film could end there, but it takes a sweet turn when Forte’s character decides to humor his dad and pretend that the $1m prize exists, setting off on a road trip to claim it. That decision in itself is worth it just to make up the bulk of the trailer where you get to see the weird and wonderful faces of their family members, who all look like roughly varied versions of Forte’s dad wearing flannel. Adding to the strange surreality of the trailer is the fact that the film is shot entirely in black and white, which makes their roadtrip and that $1m seem so much more dire. Check out the trailer for yourself here:

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inside llewyn davis 04

Three-hour lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color was announced the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a choice that many foresaw as likely but not a sure thing. The jury that awarded the honor was led by Steven Spielberg and also included Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz and Lynne Ramsay. For the second place Grand Prix winner, they picked the latest from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, while for Jury Prize (considered the third biggest deal) they chose Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Like Father, Like Son. Like Father, Like Son was also recipient of an honorable mention from the Christian-based Ecumenical Jury, whose top prize went to The Past — the star of which, Bérénice Bejo, was named Best Actress by the main Cannes jury. Blue is the Warmest Color also earned multiple honors from the fest, taking the critic choice FIPRESCI Award for the In Competition category. The biggest surprise of today’s announcement seems to be Spielberg and Co.’s naming of Bruce Dern as Best Actor for the new film from Alexander Payne, Nebraska. After the jump, you can find a full list of main jury winners (from the festival website) and other honorees announced over the weekend accompanied by links to our review of the film where available.

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Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach

As if the news that The Descendants director Alexander Payne was going back to his filmmaking roots and making a low-key road trip movie set in Nebraska wasn’t exciting enough, when the news broke that he had cast Bruce Dern and Will Forte as his main characters, a curmudgeonly old man and his estranged son, suddenly Nebraska really started to get interesting. Which is probably the first time anyone has ever expressed that sentiment, ever.

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Alexander Payne probably achieved his greatest level of success and recognition after casting a huge movie star, George Clooney, in his most recent film, The Descendants. Given the taste of mainstream acceptance that this director of pitch-black dramatic comedies got by working with a well-known name, you might think that he would be tempted to go back to the well and snag more big stars to play the father/son duo in his upcoming road movie, Nebraska. It seems like we should have been hearing rumors over the past few months that he was courting Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Douglas, or something of the like. Not Payne though, who seems to be wholly concerned with finding the right actors to fit the parts, and if a report from Deadline Benkelman is to be believed, he’s found an off-the-beaten-path duo that look on paper like they could make for a delightful pair. The report says that Payne has been meaning to make Nebraska his next film for quite some time, but he didn’t want to move things forward until he could find the right actor for the father role. For the longest time he was fixated on Gene Hackman, but that screen legend’s continued retirement made his casting an impossibility. Payne feels like he’s found his man now though, in Bruce Dern, and he also wants Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte to play the son.

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Editor’s Note: This article will be updated in real time as the winners come in during the Academy Awards broadcast. Please join us for our Live-Blog tonight (because we ask nicely), and while you wait for the winners, check out our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. It’s finally here! The time of year where I can write a paragraph that no one will read because they’ve already scrolled down to see who’s won. But even though this won’t be seen by humans, here’s a personal reminder that this night may be about politics and back-slapping, but it’s also about the splendor of cinema. It’s about the magic of movies. The genius of thousands of images all strung together with blood, sweat and tears to create characters and a journey through the heart of a story. There are some great stories on display tonight. That’s what matters second most. What matters most, of course, is crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentation of their women. Let’s get to the winning, right? And the Oscar goes to…

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In a couple of hours, we’ll start live-blogging our little hearts out as Neil pretends to know what “chiffon” is, and after the red carpet, we’ll sink into that fifth drink while reveling in the sheer majesty of the 2012 Academy Awards. Stifling cynicism can take a taxi outta town for a while, because no matter what, if you want to see it, there’s still something magical about this night. Part of that magic is being completely wrong. We’re confident now, but when the winners are announced, there’s always the tiny possibility of a big surprise. So who did you put down in your office pool to take home gold tonight? Our team spent all week tossing out their best analyses, and it all comes down to this. Here’s who we picked. Would you take us up on these bets?

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Director

Film directors are responsible for every single aspect of their movie. That doesn’t mean they actually do each and every task on set, but it’s their job (and prerogative) to get each element just right. It’s a lot of responsibility, and judging by the nominees for this year’s Best Director, it’s clearly too much for a woman to handle. Sorry, Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Ramsay, and Sarah Polley…maybe you can bake something nice for the boys who were nominated? For the record, the director who should walk away with the Oscar this year isn’t even nominated. Nicolas Winding Refn deserved (at least) a nomination for Drive as he was able to craft something of raw beauty from some seemingly disparate parts. The film’s look and style, its exquisitely jarring shifts from calm to explosive, and its unexpectedly affecting score and soundtrack all make for a unique cinematic experience. The nominees are listed below with my prediction for the winner in red…

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

While it’s inevitable that one day, perhaps one day soon, the Best Adapted Screenplay category will be jam-packed with reboots and comic book stories and robot superheros flicks, it’s not quite that day just yet. For now, Adapted Screenplay (which, over the years, has also been called Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published) is the refuge of book nerds and theatre wonks. And, also, weirdly enough, sequels (did you know that all sequels are automatically considered adaptations because they must be based on the original story?). This year’s category includes some of the year’s best films (and one I absolutely hated, mainly because I love the original material so much), from a family drama to a kiddie flick for grown-ups, all the way to a political drama and a sports drama and a big, smart spy flick. But, in my mind, there’s just one clear nominee deserving of the award – but do you agree? Read on for the nominations and my predicted winner in red…

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Jonah Hill

As you may have noticed if you’ve gone online or been anywhere near a TV today, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards were announced this morning. Along with that always comes the scrambling to contact those nominated to get their reaction to the honor. Usually what they have to say is pretty boring, but hey, it’s a tradition. And it’s one that Variety has been hard at work keeping all day long. As a service to the world, I’ve compiled some of the more high profile reactions they’ve received here in one place.

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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Not much has been reported about The Descendants director Alexander Payne’s next film, Nebraska. So far the only info floating around the net about it has been a brief plot synopsis and some casting rumors. Last October, we reported on a rumor saying that Payne wants to shoot the movie in black and white, but the studio is requiring him to get a big name in the starring role if he’s going to take a chance on turning off mainstream audiences like that. There’s also some rumors that they’re looking at convincing Gene Hackman to star, but that’s probably a pipe dream. Now that The Descendants has come and gone, however, it’s probably getting to be time for Payne to hunker down and start work on this project in earnest; and ComingSoon sat the man down and had a chat with him about just that. Payne described Nebraska by saying, “It’s a father/son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, but it gets waylaid at a crappy town in central Nebraska where the father grew up and where he has some old scores to settle.” He went on to explain, “It’s just a little comedy. It’s nothing fancy. Nothing too ambitious. It’s a nice little comedy.” That’s not exactly the most exciting way I’ve ever heard someone describe one of their movies. Payne’s talking to the movie press here, doesn’t he want to build up some buzz?

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Culture Warrior

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Young Adult, Shame, and The Descendants. 2011’s holiday movie season ended the year with a barrage of relatively conventional heroes. From Ethan Hunt saving the world from yet another MacGuffin to Sherlock Holmes solving an additional mystery to a cyberpunk and a journalist battling wealthy Swedish career-misogynist neo-Nazis, December was packed with varied iterations of good triumphing over its clearly delineated evil opposition. In contrast, the holiday season’s slate of smaller-scale filmmaking brought forth several protagonists who function in strict contrast to your conventional hero. These protagonists are (decidedly) so toxic, broken, unheroic, and even unlikeable that they can’t even be deemed antiheroes. These characters (to varying degrees of success) challenge the assumed connection that filmic convention makes between the “main character” and the “film itself” by presenting protagonists who don’t triumph over adversity, who don’t fight or win a “good” battle, and who frankly don’t warrant an act of rooting. These protagonists trip up an oft-unquestioned notion conditioned by cinematic tradition: that films should serve as a means of rooting for a clearly demarcated, pre-telegraphed, unassailable idea of goodness. These are three protagonists that we aren’t often asked to spend ninety minutes with.

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Editor’s Note: This review was published on October 18 as part of our New York Film Festival 2011 coverage. With The Descendants hitting (limited) theaters this week, we’ve gone ahead and republished it for those of you who need further reason to check out a George Clooney film that takes place in Hawaii. After seven years of waiting, Alexander Payne finally has another feature film coming to the big screen. While the wait has been tumultuous and tedious, seven years for films like The Descendants makes the anticipation worth it. Heartfelt, sweet, funny, touching, and every other adjective that describes Payne’s movies applies to his fifth feature. Like his past work, this is another exploration of a search for manhood and meaning. Payne has a real knack for writing men who have been reduced by women. Matt King (George Clooney in another career-best performance) has a line about how all the women in his life bring him down; that applies to the thought process behind all of Payne’s leads, from Sideways to About Schmidt to Election. Both uncomfortably and honestly, the writer-director understands emasculated men who, for lack of a better phrase, are simply trying to get their shit together.

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George Clooney in The Descendants

Sure, what we’re about to show you is a 30-second commercial for The Descendants, the George Clooney led indie comedy that’s beginning to spark up some Oscar buzz. And sure, it will likely be preceded by a 15-30 second advertisement, courtesy of our advertising company and our robust hosting bill. But isn’t it nice, just knowing that you, the reader of Film School Rejects, are seeing something that people who read /Film aren’t seeing… like a commercial with a big pull-quote from Peter Sciretta at /Film? It’s the must-see TV spot of the night, especially if you’re into things that involve George Clooney.

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When I first read on Empire that Alexander Payne was looking at a project called Wilson for his next film, I thought to myself that finally, finally somebody was going to take a long overdue deeper look at the always obscured, wisdom filled neighbor from Home Improvement. But then I read a little further and realized that’s not what this project is going to be at all. I was disappointed. But then I read a little further and realized that what this project is could be even better. “Wilson” is a graphic novel created by Daniel Clowes, who film fans will probably recognize as being the guy who wrote “Ghost World,” another comic that went on to become a Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi-starring feature film. That film was much loved, so much so that the Clowes and Terry Zwigoff penned screenplay was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar at The Academy Awards that year. Seeing as Clowes is once again working on the adaptation for this project, and Ghost World had a dry, biting sense of humor that seems to fit very well with Payne’s sensibilities, it looks like this could be a project to watch.

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Last month the Oscar season officially kicked off, and this month we’ll be getting plenty more Oscar baiters and real contenders to add to the mix. We’ll get another Brett Ratner film, the 25th film of the decade from Clint Eastwood, another upbeat audience friendly film from Lars von Trier, and the most expected and clichéd, a Martin Scorsese “kids” film. A fairly promising month, right? I’ve already seen a few films coming out this month, and there’s plenty of good-to-great films to see, even one or two that didn’t make it on this list. Honorable Mentions: My Week with Marilyn (an extremely enjoyable film with a great performance by Kenneth Branagh), Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, and London Boulevard (a solid anti-cliché gangster film). But here are the names who made it all the way to the top ten:

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