Oscars Countdown 2014 - Nebraska

Ensign Lestat's Oscars Countdown, 23/02/2014

'Nebraska'
Nominations - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Best Cinematography

I hadn't even heard of 'Nebraska' till the Academy Award nominations were announced. This wild card underdog snuck in quietly, exciting the myriad crowd of press people gathered around. I wondered to myself how this even found its way into the Academy's consideration when I caught the name of the director - Alexander Payne, something of a darling among the Academy.

'Nebraska' is essentially a road movie, but with a Father and Son duo. Woody (Bruce Dern) is adamant that he's won a million dollars. Despite being convinced otherwise by his wife Kate (June Squibb) and his sons Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and David (Will Forte), he insists on going to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. David finally gives in, only in the hopes that he comes to his senses once the truth is told to him.

The way to Lincoln leads them to their old hometown and they meet up with old acquaintances. Woody's addled brains worsen the situation and the family soon learn of the townspeople's true colours.

There's an oddly familiar feel to 'Nebraska' though it is relatively unusual. My sister likened it to 'Elizabethtown' a film she dearly loves despite its flaws. In a way I see what she means - it's about finding answers, closure, coming together as a family - it focuses on similar themes.

It's unconventional because it's shot in black and white. I felt that while b/w definitely added to the rustic smalltown feel the film was set in, at the same time, it seemed to distance me - like these characters didn't quite belong in today's world. The noticeable lack of cell phones in the film certainly added to the period-feel - though Ross being a television presenter felt out of place at the same time.

The film has bagged a whole bunch of nominations, most of them big ones. I'm not surprised by its screenplay nom, it's definitely unusual, as well as somewhat realistic - the dialogues are amusing at several points as are the many incidents and the depiction of the circling human-hounds.

I'm not sure about the directing nom, because, again, Payne is not able to get the best out of his entire cast. The dialogue delivery by a lot of the supporting cast is stilted, like they're reciting and not acting. I felt the same way about his 'The Descendants'. Granted Dern and Squibb are good in their roles. Squibb especially is something of a scene-stealer as the loud and rumbustious Kate. I'm not sure about her chances at winning, as the glamour value of Jennifer Lawrence is likely to rob her of it.

Dern however was believable as the addled and drunken Woody, but was often overshadowed by both Squibb and Forte. Forte, I have to say, was very likeable and very relatable. He was a joy to watch. Please note I don't believe I've ever seen any of the cast members in any other film (bar one person who had been in 'Supernatural'). I'm surprised by Dern's nomination, probably because it seems effortless and well, not much like acting at all (that's probably a good thing).

While I enjoyed the denouement, a particular moving scene that didn't quite inspire waterworks, but a warm feeling of happiness, the scene I most liked was the one outside the mistaken barn. It was particularly hilarious and brilliantly played by all parties concerned. I really enjoyed it. It was a bit ruined by the following scene, but I shall attempt to hold on to my love for that scene.

I never know with the Academy, but my feeling is that this film is so utterly devoid of any glamour and epicness (made that one up) that it's unlikely to bag many or any awards, especially not the big prize. There is no message, no moral - it's such a personal journey. It's been nominated because it's specific but also universal. It will no doubt resonate with Academy voters, who, if previous studies on the demographic are anything to go by, are worriedly watching what could be their own possible future (I'm catty and I'm mean, so shoot me). The odds are definitely not in the film's favour. But, one never knows, do one?

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