“Nebraska” is one of the best films of the year.
Now that it’s been said, you can either choose to read the article to find out why, or you could just stop now and go see it as soon as possible. Either way, a viewing should be in your near future.
Director Alexander Payne’s now- Oscar-nominated film tells the story of Woody Grant, an elderly Montana man who has one heartbreakingly endearing problem: He believes people.
This is a problem because, upon receiving a letter in the mail informing him that he’s won $1 million for no apparent reason, he believes it.
Despite the fact that everyone else in Woody’s life knows that the letter is clearly some marketing agency scam, Woody’s optimism wins out, and he decides that he’s going to Nebraska to claim his money with or without his family’s help.
Luckily, though, his son David (played with surprising simplicity by Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte) realizes that perhaps this grandiose delusion could be his father’s last chance at feeling accomplished in something.
Missed opportunity and time gone by is a theme that is dealt pretty heavily in “Nebraska.” In one way or another, every character in the film recalls their past – either with fondness, regret or, in Woody’s case, indifference.
That theme only seems appropriate, given the film’s stylistic and tonal infatuation with the films of the 1970s.
This influence never becomes more than just that, though. It doesn’t even approach plagiarism or parody.
The film has many elements that, despite being homages to the golden years of cinema, stand on their own as strong artistic choices that do nothing but enrich Bob Nelson’s fantastic script.
The most readily apparent standout of the film is, in fact, the look of the film itself. Despite the film’s modern-day setting, Payne opted to shoot it in black and white.
While this choice may seem odd, considering the lack of contrast in the Midwest, it makes for one of the most magical viewing experiences I’ve had. Having seen the film on the big screen, I can’t imagine it being filmed any other way.
Even the casting of the film is a subtle nod to the films of yesterday, with Payne choosing to cast noted-but-under-appreciated ‘70s character- actor Bruce Dern as Woody, instead of casting bigger names like Jack Nicholson or Robert De Niro like the studio requested.
Another strong choice by Payne.
Dern plays Woody as exactly as he is. No irony. No flash. No force-fed sentimentality.
He simply is Woody. The role is anything but talkative, but Dern carries the film on his hunched shoulders, even in the face of potential scene-stealers like June Squibb, who plays his unabashedly blunt wife.
To call Dern’s performance anything less than award-worthy would be to underappreciate him even further.
Casting, cinematography, writing and music aside, this film works mainly because of the assured brilliance of its director.
With only six films under his belt, Payne has already established himself as one the industry’s foremost talents.
Much like other modern directing prodigies Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Wes Anderson, Payne began his filmmaking career in the ‘90s.
Since then, Payne and the rest of that crew have consistently proven that they are destined to become American masters, much like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Hal Ashby did in the ‘70s.
Watch the next wave of cinema history unfold, folks. Go see “Nebraska.”