There are several keeper scenes in Alexander Payne‘s Sideways, but this is the best, I feel, because it really sinks into classic manboy immaturity and a messy emotional collapse.
At first, right after Thomas Haden Church‘s “Jack” tells Paul Giamatti‘s “Miles” that “they” have to return to the home of the plus-sized waitress (Missy Doty) to retrieve his wallet and more particularly the wedding rings, Giamatti is going “naah” and shaking his head and waving it off. But then Church’s pleading and wailing becomes more desperate and adolescent, and at 2:30 Giamatti’s expression suddenly shifts from one of sadness and resignation to astonished pity and compassion.
This is great, world-class, pool-of-human-experience acting, and the great Giamatti wasn’t even Best Actor-nominated that year. The ’04 nominees in this category were Jamie Foxx in Ray (the winner), Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland (c’mon!), Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby.
I remember agonizing over the Giamatti snub, and deducing soon after that he didn’t get nominated because of that first-act scene in which Miles helps himself to some cash out of his mother’s bureau drawer. I actually shared this suspicion with Giamatti at Olio y Limone during the ’05 Santa Barbara Film Festival. I did so out of compassion and a keen resentment of life’s unfairness. He apparently hadn’t considered the stealing-from-mom angle, as it seemed to hit him for the first time: “Damn! Damn!”