Editor’s note: This is part of a 37-part series dissecting the 86th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Nearly every day leading up to the Oscars, at least one new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. Also, every Best Picture and Best Director nominee gets its own post. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
BEST PICTURE: NEBRASKA
Almost 100% of the time, when someone chooses to write about a Best Picture-nominated film for LAMB Devours The Oscars, it is a film that they adored, and that they are willing to put their heart on the web for in their defense of it. Granted, I am writing about Alexander Payne’s Nebraska because nobody else volunteered to do it, but I still firmly believe Nebraska to be a four-star film if ever there was one. That’s not saying Nebraska isn’t a really well-made and substantially moving film- but under no circumstances is it amongst Payne’s best work (About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants all being favourites of mine), or one of the better of this year’s Best Picture crop.
In 1979, Bruce Dern was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the superb Vietnam drama Coming Home opposite Jon Voight. However, his best film by far is Silent Running- a contender in my opinion for the most underrated American science fiction film ever made, and the clear inspiration for work such as Wall-E and Duncan Jones’ Moon- which, and I hate to say this, is in essence an inferior remake of Running. In Silent Running, Dern plays Freeman Lowell, the resident botanist and ecologist on a space station who passionately aims to keep the Earth’s forests intact following a vaguely explained near-extinction of humanity. With its themes of nature-over-technology and the storyline involving Dern’s friendship with two robots, it’s somewhat easy to cynically laugh at Silent Running, but those who go in with an open mind will undoubtedly we in tears by the end.
And so we come to Nebraska, in which Bruce Dern makes his big comeback as Woody Grant, the senile father of Will Forte’s David who forces his son to take him on a road-trip across the film’s eponymous state to claim a jackpot he won in a scam draw. Dern gives an incredibly subtle performance, with only one or two ‘Big Scenes’, and completely deserves his Best Actor nomination. Forte, best known for his work on SNL and more recently as a Twilight-obsessed divorcee on Parks and Recreation, is also brilliant, sssshing and tssshing his poor father throughout the film, but always with love and empathy in his eyes, and his heart.
So what’s the problem with Nebraska? First and foremost, the cinematography is extremely unambitious and unengaging, with a Network TV standard involving quick close-ups of the actors and landscape shots largely only used to set up a location. Sure, the dark clouds of Woody’s hometown are shot quite beautifully at times, but this is very rare indeed. The use of Black and White (this was the third major film of 2013, after Much Ado About Nothing and Frances Ha to be in B/W) is unnecessary and seems to serve only to distract from (a) the poor visuals and (b) the weak script. Dragging in two token comedy characters (when Dern is funny enough to carry the whole film) in the form of David’s imbecilic cousins almost ruins the film, while endless scenes of June Squibb (undeservedly nominated for Supporting Actress as Woody’s wife) trash-talking her neighbours and childhood friends are extremely tiresome and agitating.
Nevertheless, Nebraska is a uniquely melancholic and nostalgic film with a certain timeless quality which places it above other recent middle-American family dramas (August: Osage County being an example). It’s not the kind of film that wins Academy Awards, and undoubtedly it will go home empty handed.
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