Oscar Nominee Movie Review – “Nebraska”


Review by Charlie Tarabour

Movies are tricky. There always seems to be this disjuncture between movies we consider our “favorites” and those we consider the “greatest.” When asked to do the latter, a short parade of canonical titles speed through our heads at very little notice, but with the former, something very different and more internal happens. We dive into our personal preferences, feelings and memories associated with our favorite movies. It’s a deeper and messier emotional/psychological process compared to rattling off “’Birth of a Nation’, ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘The Godfather’.”

OscarsSo Oscar season comes around and people sacrifice their entrenched preferences to access the so-called “Best” of each year’s movies. Awards divide movie people even though we were all pretty divided to begin with. It forces us to choose a major movie political party. Sometimes they align with our “secret” preferences deep down, but more often they don’t. The Oscars spur on particular, celebrity-driven discussions about best movies, but limit it by drastically narrowing the field of movies to discuss. Even smaller than the field of nominees, is this field of actual Oscar season considerations, the people who stand a chance of winning and thus, worth praising each February. Think about movies like “Philomena” and “August: Osage County” with substantial nominations and impressive casts, but how they’ve barely been spoken of at all.

From what I’ve gathered over Oscar coverage, “Nebraska” doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning Best Picture. But that won’t stop me from proudly declaring how I feel this is the greatest movie of the year. And I won’t feel shame at not having my personal preferences fall out of line with Oscar party logic.

Nebraska“Nebraska” may just have hit me particularly hard as a quiet mid-western boy. The emotional beats hit so close to home, like bombs going off around personality and memories growing up in the Flatlands. The way the characters hold it in or let it out, the way conversations just taper off, but also hold such emotional implication (I wrote an earlier piece about Bruce Dern’s career and his performance in Nebraska HERE). The story slow burns with dry drama. And one of Alexander Payne’s great strengths as a filmmaker is in showing how great drama is always meshed with surrounding comedy. He was one of the filmmakers who set the new vogue in dramatic comedy around the turn of the millenium. Payne, along with Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson and David O. Russell, among others, made what were ostensibly irreverent comedies, but with acute dramatic motifs. They mastered the “dramedy.” And they remain masters of that type of film today.

Nebraska But in the formal way, Payne might be the most fearless and, surprisingly, the most readably personal of these filmmakers. The black-and-white cinematography, the toned-down energy and the more somber emotional caverns distance this from his earlier movies, although the latter two elements were also developed in “The Descendants”. But he’s clearly moved on to new paths. He is clearly not trying to make the same movies he was making 10-15 years ago. “Nebraska” represents miles of maturity beyond “Sideways” and “About Schmidt”. He is trying to move forward. I think he led the pack this year. I don’t want to keep it myself. I want “Nebraska” to win this year. Sigh. I doubt it will.

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Country: USA
Rated: R
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

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