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SIDEWAYS (article first published : 2005-03-14)

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church appear in the must-see Sideways, a widely acclaimed film that was been nominated for Oscars for best film, director (Alexander Payne), adapted screenplay, supporting actor (Church) and supporting actress (Virginia Madsen)

Cleverly titled to refer both to the way wine bottles are stacked and the way its two dysfunctional lead characters traipse laterally through life, Sideways is a glittering little gem of a movie from writer-director Alexander Payne, who gave us the memorable Election and About Schmidt.

Nominated for seven Golden Globe awards and nominated for a clutch of Oscars, Payne's new film is a rich and very credible character study centred on two men, college roommates from two decades back, who have turned into two very different people over the years, but who have nonetheless long retained their friendship.

Now one of them, the rogueish Jack (Oscar-nominee Thomas Haden Church, remembered as Lowell in TV's Wings), is about to be married and the other, Miles (Paul Giamatti), is organising their last week away together. They're taking a road trip to the vineyards of southern California, time in which they intend chilling out by hopping between motels and wine estates to sample wines, getting in some rounds of golf en route.

Well, that's how the week is planned by Miles, a podgy eighth-grade teacher and failed novelist still bruised by his divorce two years earlier. Long-haired Jack, a good-natured sometime actor who is low on intellect and high on libido, has a different agenda, however. His plan is to have a last fling or two before his march to the altar - something which hints of happening when he hits it off with a vivacious wine-pourer (Sandra Oh, the director's wife) and gloomy, self-deprecating Miles reluctantly befriends her quieter waitress pal, Maya (Virginia Madsen, an actress who has been out of the public eye for yonks).

Boasting a glorious script co-penned by Payne and Jim Taylor; fine performances all round and some truly delightful comic moments, Sideways veers between hilarity and poignancy with a refreshing ease and deftness.

And the satirical stabs at wine snobs and the pretensions of wine-tasting are priceless, Miles constantly waxing lyrical and most singing the praises of the Pinot Noir grape which, like he himself, is "thin-skinned and temperamental and needs constant care and attention". Gung-ho Jack, on the other hand, couldn't care less what he's drinking, as long as it's alcoholic and will make him feel good.

The adventures and misadventures of this mismatched duo makes for a wonderful two hours at the cinema. A very real story with very real characters, based on a novel by Rex Pickett, it's a film summarised well by one British reviewer as a “road movie with heart, a brain and a funnybone”. Don't miss it! Rating 9/10. - Billy Suter




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