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From now until the Friday before the Oscars we'll be running daily pieces about why a film does or does not deserve Best Picture. Today, Eric explains why Nebraska deserves the big win during the Academy Awards.
Alexander Payne has had some success at the Academy Awards. His first nomination came in 2000 when he and Jim Taylor found their screenplay for Election competing in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, and while he found himself walking away empty handed that night, he has earned trophies in his two trips since, sharing Best Adapted Screenplay prizes with Taylor and Jim Rash & Nat Faxon, respectively, for Sideways and The Descendants.
Well-deserved as both of those prizes were, however, it’s also hard not to ignore the categories in which those same films list: namely Best Picture. Despite being top-tier contenders that collected numerous awards on the road to the Oscars – including Best Motion Picture prizes at the Golden Globes – both Sideways and The Descendants wound up falling short on Hollywood’s biggest night, losing to Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, respectively, in 2005 and 2012. That makes twice that Payne’s films have had to settle for the Best Adapted Screenplay consolation prize, and the director deserves more for being one of the most well-rounded talents in the industry. It’s time to celebrate Payne not just as a writer, but as a filmmaker who constantly produces unique, meaningful, tonally-beautiful pieces of art – and there is no better way to do that than by rewarding his latest work, the gorgeous, funny, fantastic Nebraska, with the Best Picture prize.
One has to look no further than the number of Academy Award nominations Payne’s films have received over the last decade to understand just how deep the greatness exists in his projects of late. While both Election and About Schmidt were able to collect a trio of nods, combined Sideways and The Descendants were up for 10 prizes – and only walked away with the aforementioned well-deserved two. In the Best Picture race, retrospectively, both Sideways and The Descendants are still real gems, while both Million Dollar Baby and The Artist lean towards the "should they really have won?" side of history. It’s time for the Academy to stop undervaluing Payne’s work and give him the prize that it deserves.
Given that Payne has many filmmaking years ahead of him, a Best Picture win can’t be entirely political, but Nebraska has more than enough merit to stand on as a film that excels in all areas. The script, written by Bob Nelson with key contributions by the director, is both a wonderful and heartbreaking look at both what it means when you get old and how life changes; and stars like Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, and Bob Odenkirk perfectly bring their characters to life with real personality and a special brand of vibrancy (even when speaking in three-word sentences). As Payne has done with all of his titles, there’s a stunning blend of tones, able to make you laugh out loud one second and suck the air out of the room in the next. And that doesn’t even touch on the breathtaking cinematic look of the Midwest in the movie, Payne perfectly encapsulating the splendor of the flatlands in his direction and Oscar nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael capturing it all in elegant black and white.
This year’s race marks Payne’s third feature in a row that has found its way into the Best Picture conversation, and while the field is certainly a crowded one (including a third match-up against Martin Scorsese), the filmmaker once again has a movie worthy of not only its nomination, but a win. In celebration of a beautiful, balanced, funny, dramatic film and Payne simply being one of the best filmmakers we have who deserves more, Nebraska should take home the top prize. Every year we see movies given awards for both real quality and Oscar politics, and this is simply a mix of both.