One of the best films of the past decade was Alexander Payne’s acidic and poignant comedy-drama “Sideways.” While much of it is funny (painfully and raunchily so), it’s also very sad. Having been lost in my own head and ill-conceived creative ambitions in my 20s, let’s just say this film is very much of a “There but for the grace of God go I …” kind of film.
Paul Giamatti does a brilliant job in the lead role of Miles, a failed author and wine snob who is spending his days teaching middle school English and going to too many wine “tastings.” Giamatti does a brilliant job making you like a character who is not particularly likable. I can’t describe how Giamatti is able to do it, but you do find yourself rooting for Miles, despite your better instincts. Why Giamatti’s performance was not even nominated for that year’s Oscars is one of many examples of why the Oscars have very little credibility for me.
However, the Oscars didn’t get it completely wrong that year. “Sideways” was nominated for Best PIcture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church) and Best Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen) and won its sole Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film’s best scene is the one where Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, explains to the lead character Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) what she finds meaningful about wine, though she’s really talking about herself. This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about love between people who are, well, of a certain age. A truly amazing speech from a very special and wonderful film.
While “Sideways” doesn’t have a traditional happy ending per se, it does give the long-suffering lead character a push towards happiness, and sometimes, that’s all you need.