Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne’s next planned film, Nebraska, is about “a geriatric gin-hound of a dad who takes his estranged son with him from Montana to Publisher’s Clearing House headquarters, with a detour through Omaha, Nebraska, in order to claim his million-dollar sweepstakes prize.” Personally, I love Alexander Payne’s painfully realist aesthetic and pitch black humor, so this is a project that I’m interested in. When I hear that Payne wants to shoot the film in black and white, I get even more intrigued. Pre-production has already hit a snag, though. Apparently the studio will only let Payne film it in black and white if he gets a big name star to attach himself as the father. That might be a problem, except that we’re dealing with a director whose upcoming release The Descendants is doing well on the festival circuit, gathering some Oscar buzz, and improving his already well-respected position in the film industry. Surely he must have someone in mind for this role that he can convince to sign, right? Well, word has it that he has a few people on his short list, and any one of them would be awesome. The list reportedly consists of Robert Forster, Robert Duvall, and Jack Nicholson. Any of these actors would be great news in my mind, and Nicholson has already worked with Payne for About Schmidt, so that pairing isn’t unlikely at all.  There is, however, a fourth name on the list that’s really got me excited. Apparently Payne is looking to get the retired-from-acting […]

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This weekend’s 38th annual Telluride Film Festival has just announced their slate, including a number of buzzed-about titles from the likes of Cronenberg, Payne, Ramsay, Kaurismäki, Scorsese, Herzog, and McQueen. Telluride differs from other film festivals by keeping mum on its lineup until the day before the festival opens, though speculation runs high in the weeks before opening, with a bevy of well-educated guesses often revealing the festival’s top picks well in advance (an example from this year would be We Need to Talk About Kevin, as star Tilda Swinton is a consistent Telluride favorite). The festival will continue to announce additions to its lineup throughout its run. The festival seems to have a taken a number of cues from Cannes and Venice, with Cannes picks The Artist, Le Havre, Footnote, The Kid with a Bike, Bonsai, and We Need to Talk About Kevin showing, along with Venice films A Dangerous Method and Shame. The festival also announced that they will be bestowing the Silver Medallion Awards (which “recognize an artist’s contribution to the world of cinema”) to George Clooney (starring in The Descendants at the festival), Swinton, and French filmmaker-actor Pierre Etaix. The festival runs this weekend, from September 2 through September 5. Check out the full lineup for the festival’s main program, which also includes Albert Nobbs, Living in the Material World, and The Tuirn Horse, after the break.

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If you’re like me, then you probably don’t pay much attention to what goes on in towns outside your own. As far as I knew, the only thing Toronto had going on was gripes about Maple Leaf hockey and reminiscing about when The Kids in the Hall used to play that tiny theater down the street. But what do I know? I haven’t been there since The Ultimate Warrior pinned Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6. Turns out they have a really awesome film festival every year. This year the events go down between September eighth and the eighteenth, and the first fifty or so films announced for the lineup have me wanting to take a trip. There are too many to discuss, but just to give you an idea of what we’re working with, let’s look at a few.

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Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is a much-needed corrective to the twee adolescent indie dramedy. The film maintains many of the recognizable bells and whistles of that exceedingly tired subgenre, but like the potential available in any catalog of clichés, Submarine finds a way to make them work. Instead of simply presenting us a socially outcast teen protagonist who speaks and thinks like somebody possessing cleverness and insight far beyond his years, Submarine provides specific reasons why its protagonist is so articulate while still giving us plenty of evidence that he is indeed an inexperienced teenager who has a lot to learn. Instead of assembling random visual quirks into a Jared Hess-style landscape in which decades of fashion are collapsed into one oppressively ironic and ahistorical moment, the setting and style of Submarine is (mostly) consistent in presenting a historical moment informed by nostalgia, even if we don’t quite know when that moment is (but we don’t really need to). In short, Submarine is refreshingly sincere. It’s an all-too-familiar coming of age tale, but the film gives us plenty of reasons to give a damn – its story in particular.

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When I heard that Alexander Payne’s next film was going to be starring George Clooney, what I was picturing didn’t look anything at all like what we get in the new trailer for The Descendants. Payne is a director who finds inspiration in the mundane. He casts regular looking people and shoots them in real life settings. There is always a relatably human element to the way he presents his characters, but there’s a sort of mocking, exploitive undercurrent as well. His films can be funny, but the humor is dark, it comes from exploring the baser nature of the human animal. Whether it’s an alcoholic Paul Giamatti drinking the spit bucket at a wine tasting in Sideways, a thrifty Jack Nicholson cutting corners on his wife’s funeral in About Schmidt, or a perverted Mark Harelik seducing a teenage girl with a Diet Mug Rootbeer in Election, Payne has always presented us with characters that you couldn’t 100% sympathize with.

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It’s been seven years since Alexander Payne has directed a feature length film, and he’s coming out of the gate with The Descendants – a film featuring George Clooney that apparently isn’t a biopic of the punk band. Instead, it’s the story of a father trying to forge new bonds with his daughters. According to the fine folks at The Playlist, Payne will continue to explore those paternal instincts (and his road-tripping ways) with Nebraska, a story about a father taking a trip to Nebraska to claim his Publisher’s Clearing House Prize with a son (who doesn’t believe the ticket is really a winner) in tow. The bonding ensues. It’s exciting to see so much work from Payne after a nearly decade-long drought. The director has an incredible talent for choosing subject matter and getting dynamic performances out of actors taking on emotionally corrosive material. Somehow, he does it all with a smile on his face. That’s a skill few possess, and it’ll be a sunny day at the theater when both The Descendants and Nebraska get released.

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