A Hollywood movie about a Californian wine-tasting trip has opened to rave reviews across America – and UK critics are tipping it for the Oscars.
Sideways is a buddy movie about two characters ‘finding themselves’ as they visit wineries in the Santa Ynez valley. Miles (Paul Giamatti), a failed novelist, is taking his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a former soap star reduced to doing commercials, on a last fling before Miles serves as best man at Jack’s wedding.
It comes hot on the heels of Mondovino, a documentary pitting global wine producers in the shape of Michel Rolland and Mondavi against local, terroir-driven wines, which was up for best documentary at the Cannes film festival earlier this year.
The director of Sideways is Alexander Payne, who recently had a hit with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt.
As they visit tasting rooms across the valley, the protagonists (pictured above in a still from the film) variously fall in love and drink themselves into oblivion, throwing their life plans completely awry.
What has captivated critics is the low-key comedy and the anti-feelgood nature of the film. Rolling Stone praised its ‘bracing wit and emotional gravity’ which fuses into ‘something funny, touching and vital’.
‘You won’t have a better time at the movies this year,’ the venerable bible of hip America said.
Other news outlets have been as generous. The Onion called it ‘wonderful’ and compared it to The Big Lebowski, while the San Francisco Chronicle suggested the director should be seen as ‘an American treasure.’
There are notes of dissent – salon.com was dismissive of what it called ‘cheap shots’ – but in general the critics have been very positive.
As for the UK market, Dan Jolin at film magazine Premier tips the film for at least two Oscars.
‘It’s a really good, enjoyable film. I loved the characters. Alexander Payne is very good at what I call drab Americana. There’s no glamour to it – all the wineries they visit are weird, middlebrow sort of places, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be either of the characters.’
He added, ‘I think it could be up for Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and possibly Best Actor for Paul Giamatti.’
Although the wine element of the film is ‘definitely not glamorous’, Jolin, who knows little about wine, said he ‘learnt a lot about how to taste, what to look for and so on. I didn’t know Pinot Noir could be white, for example.’
He also said Merlot producers may be a little put out, due to the lead character’s dislike of the grape. ‘I came out thinking I wasn’t quite sure about Merlot either.’
Sideways opens in the UK in January.
Written by Adam Lechmere