Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa
“Nebraska”, a black-and-white jaunt into the lives of a family residing in Montana, the entire film follows lead Bruce Dern playing an aging man named Woody Grant that believes he’s won $1,000,000 from a sweepstakes, all he has to do is make it to Lincoln, Nebraska to accept the money. Heartwarming and laced with a dark comedic element that is present in most of Alexander Payne’s work, the film then becomes an adventure on the road that sees Woody’s son, played by Will Forte, driving him to Nebraska to appease his confused father, stopping through his old hometown to visit old relatives. The film studies family dynamics and the idea of wealth in such a unique way that the film is a success in more ways than one and proves that with six nominations this year. Although I’d be hard pressed to say the film will take home any of the awards it is considered for, it lands in many of the major categories including Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Directing, and Best Original Screenplay.
Nominated Role: Bruce Dern portrays Woody Grant, a difficult older man who is convinced that he has won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes.
Believe it or not, but it’s been over three decades since Bruce Dern was nominated for an Academy Award. It was 1978 for his role in “Coming Home” that brought him a nomination and no win, and the same will be said for his 2013 role in “Nebraska”, playing an old man suffering from dementia. Now, Dern plays this role so well that it takes seeing him in his normal, cognitive state to really appreciate the performance he delivers in “Nebraska”. His blank stares and old man mentality carry the theme of the film perfectly and his interaction with the rest of the cast throughout the film is so subtle you can barely tell where Woody ends and Bruce begins. However well he carries the film, other actors take on a much bigger transformation in their roles, like Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years A Slave” and Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf Of Wall Street”, but it’s Matthew McConaughey’s role in “Dallas Buyers Club” that will likely take the cake. That being said, many wild card guesses will be an acknowledgment of Dern and all he’s done for film over the years and with that, there might be enough support in Hollywood to bring him there, but I feel like those chances are slim.
Nominated Role: As Kate Grant, June Squibb plays the feisty, outspoken wife of a difficult man now suffering from dementia.
June Squibb’s nomination is her win (although many pundits place her in a third place position for the win). Having really become active in Hollywood around 1990, she has played the older person roles for quite some time, but it’s her unabashed, free spirit, and definitive role of Kate Grant that brings her the nomination she’s been waiting for. With a great speech towards the end of the film in which she ends with an “eff you” more or less, her words are quick witted for someone well into their 80s. However, Best Supporting Actress is a two horse race between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o who prove with such a young age that they have the wherewithal to do this for ages. But it’s great to see such a veteran actress be acknowledged with all the young actresses and it will be great to see her at the ceremony.
“Nebraska” was made with a distinct choice of creating a black-and-white picture. In doing so, the film feels like it could take place at anytime, present or earlier. There’s a reminiscent quality about the desaturated look that feels like a home video, of course with the film grain quality of an actual Hollywood film. In black-and-white, lighting becomes key for a cinematographer and Phedon Papamichael does an excellent job. However, at least in my first viewing of the film, I questioned the idea of making the film black-and-white, which I do with most films that make that choice because without a real distinct reason, it tends to leave itself open to questioning. But upon a second viewing, it bothered me less and brought up the idea of reminiscence and looking back and I commend the film for taking that chance. Many believe “Gravity” will take this technical award along with many others and I’d have to agree, placing “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Prisoners” above “Nebraska” as well. This is Phedon’s first nomination.
Many believed going into the nominations, that Spike Jonze should have been nominated for his directing work on the film “Her”. It, too, received a Best Picture nomination, as well as Best Original Screenplay, but for some reason Alexander Payne squeezed into the category instead. Having been nominated twice before for his work on “Sideways” (2004) and “The Descendants” (2011), Payne has never won the directing award and will give it up to either the favorite Alfonso Cuaron or Steve McQueen. But Payne does an excellent job once again with directing of the film, bringing to life these down-home characters that breath authenticity and the choice for black-and-white in the visuals is achieved quite well for the most part, delivering a uniqueness that sets the film apart from its fellow nominees. But Payne’s greatest work is ahead of him and he will be honored with that time comes around, but for now, a third directing nomination is nothing to be let down about.
Written by Bob Nelson
This is Bob Nelson’s first nomination but had director Alexander Payne penned the film, he would have received his third writing nomination. Payne was two for two in his writing nominations winning Best Original Screenplay for “Sideways” (2004) and “The Descendants” (2011). But Bob Nelson takes the pen this time and delivers a strong screenplay with memorable characters but overall is lacking when compared to much more original films like “Her”, written by Spike Jonze and “American Hustle”, written by David O. Russell. I question why Alexander Payne didn’t at least co-write this film and wonder how it would have differed because of his involvement but without it, I do not see a win for the film.
// Produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa // Directed by Alexander Payne //
// Dated Viewed: Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 // DVD // 3 films – 6 days //