Since Cannes my attitude toward Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska has been one of…uhm, muted respect. And that’s not a putdown. It’s certainly worth seeing (especially for Bruce Dern‘s performance, which he and his Paramount backers are doggedly calling a lead, and Phedon Papamichael‘s black-and-white photography). I figured Nebraska might get a Best Picture nomination (what the hell) but it’s not among the creme de la creme of Payne flicks so maybe not. But during Telluride I kept hearing how much people like it (along with Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day). And I began to imperceptibly slump and resign myself to the fact that we’re all stuck with it. Nebraska is going to snag a Best Picture nomination and go all the way to March.
In a two-day-old Variety piece called “Can Telluride Continue to Steal Venice and Toronto’s Thunder?,” Peter Debruge suggests that Nebraska is actually faring better than Labor Day as we speak. “Benefiting from a new score and some tiny nips and tucks since Cannes, where it met with mixed reviews, Nebraska hit the sweet spot with Telluride crowds,” he writes. “Three months ago, I wouldn’t have factored it into the Oscar race; now, it’s clearly a contender.”
So we’re looking at six more months of Nebraska pondering. Six more months of looking at it this way and that. Re-tasting, re-sampling, raising glasses, kicking it around and hopefully chatting as much as possible with Dern, who for my money is one of the greatest 21st Century raconteurs about Hollywood in the ’60s and ’70s. At least Nebraska doesn’t bother me like The Artist did. It’s way better than that minor curio, that irritant. So I need to ease up and come to terms. “If everybody else loves the shit out of Nebraska, terrific. I’m not one to stand in the way.” — from my initial 5.23 Cannes review.
My initial Cannes response: “I don’t want to put Nebraska down too much. I ‘liked’ it as far as it goes, but so much of it is about capturing the banality of sedentary midwestern lifestyles, and the whole thing just feels overly measured and mid-range and almost resigned. Bruce Dern‘s Woody Grant reminded me of my cranky, cantankerous dad during his last days, and Will Forte does a very decent job as a loving if somewhat conflicted and resentful son. It’s a very commendable mood-and-atmosphere piece from a respected, first-rate filmmaker, so I don’t want to be snide or dismissive.”
“Nebraska is a ‘good’, well-made film. It’s just not as good (which is to say smart, lively, intriguing, touching or deep) as Sideways or Election or The Descendants or Citizen Ruth…sorry. Respectable but minor. And that’s not a tragedy because there’s always the next one.
“A lot of the time I was crossing myself and thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t born into some banal, middle-class community in Nebraska or Montana or North Dakota. The sense of emptiness and watching life tick by as you slurp another beer at the local tavern…Nebraska really delivers that in spades. Welcome to the empty quarter, to the land of backwater nothingness. Oppressive.”
The “aaahh, crap…what is all this?” look on Bruce Dern‘s face: “Older guys often wear this cranky expression. Fucking crap, getting older and older, my pants are too lose around my waist, eff me, I need a snort. My late father, who stopped drinking in his 50s, used to walk around with this pissed-off, crabby-ass attitude….’aaaahhhh!’ He basically hated what age was doing to him.”