Nebraska

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Director: Alexander Payne.
Screenplay: Bob Nelson.
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk, Angela McEwan, Rance Howard, Mary Louise Wilson, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Kevin Kunkel.

These boys grow up staring at the rear ends of cows and pigs, it’s only natural that a real woman will get them chafing their pants“.

If he’s not already there yet, there’s no doubt that Alexander Payne is a director who’s name is fast becoming synonymous with quality. I’ve yet to see his 1996 debut “Citizen Ruth” but from “Election” in 1999 to the “The Descendants” in 2012, Payne has delivered a consistency that few directors can match. With every film, he just gets better and better and “Nebraska” is no exception.

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After receiving a letter from the lottery sweepstakes, elderly Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is convinced he’s won $1 million and decides to travel to Nebraska to collect his prize. His son David (Will Forte) realises that his fathers growing senility has gotten the better of him but decides to accompany him on the journey to look after him. As they make several stops along the way, David learns more about his father’s distant past and how it’s shaped the person he is now.

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After tackling the road-movie in “About Schmidt” and “Sideways“, Payne successfully returns to that sub-genre. Like those aforementioned films he, once again, astutely focuses on the interaction between odd and eccentric individuals who are struggling to come to terms with how their life and relationships have worked out. The beauty of Payne’s work is his palpable sense of realism and his consistent ability to capture believable character’s in all their frailty and vulnerability and “Nebraska” is no different. In fact, it’s arguably his finest work yet.

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Working from a cleverly nuanced script by Bob Nelson, Payne’s casting choices are what really stand out here. A lot has been said about the Oscar nominated performance of Bruce Dern and I can only add that the plaudits and superlatives this veteran actor has received are all very well deserved. Dern is simply marvellous as the cantankerous old-timer Woody, who’s stubbornness and determination drives the narrative. That being said, as good as Dern is, he’s not the only one on form here. As his patient and good-natured son, Will Forte delivers solid support and another veteran actor in Stacy Keach brings a reminder of his outstanding qualities and begs the question as to why his talents are not utilised more these days. Added this already fine line-up is the marvellous (and also Oscar nominated) June Squibb, as Woody’s pugnacious and passionately pragmatic wife. With Jennifer Lawrence already gathering awards for her performance in “American Hustle” and Lupita Nyong’o seemingly the viewers’ favourite for her performance in “12 Years A Slave“, I’m very surprised at how little Squibb’s work has been mentioned. I’ve made my mind up that this unsung actress deserves to go home with the coveted golden baldy. She really is that good.

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Primarily, though, this a beautifully touched upon father/son relationship tale played against the backdrop of a satirical depiction of Americana. For a film that has a seemingly sombre and melancholic appearance, it’s actually a bittersweet and often hilarious examination of family dynamics, memories and the passing of time which is reflected wonderfully in Payne’s decision to shoot in black & white. It’s a very wise move and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s desaturated look not only reflects ageing memories but also the character and mindset of Woody himself, with his outlook and opinion on life consisting of few grey areas.

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Payne has crafted a very rich and nuanced character study here, that’s not only one of his finest moments but contains some of the best work by everyone involved and is rightly regarded as one the years best films.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: As casting for the film began, Payne met with more than 50 actors because Paramount studios demanded a big name star. Gene Hackman, Robert Forster, Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro were initially short listed for the role but Payne eventually decided on Bruce Dern.

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67 Responses to “Nebraska”

  1. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Great stuff Mark, enjoyed the review and I think you’ve summed up the film’s themes really well. As you know I am completely in agreement with what you say – it’s an excellent film. I also think it’s Payne’s best to date – the first time he has bettered Election for me.

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    • Cheers Stu. Fabulous film. Just fabulous. I always enjoy Payne’s work and have to admit, that I find him better and better every time. Election was an outstanding little film even though I normally can’t stand Broderick or Witherspoon. Now, though, I reckon Nebraska is his best.

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  2. WOW! Big score but I’m glad to see it. “Nebraska” was either #3 or #4 on my Best of 2013 list. I absolutely loved it and you hit on numerous reasons why. Dern is fabulous. He’s big and funny at times and he ratchets it down and almost falls into the background when he needs to. I also adored for Papamichael’s cinematography. I honestly wouldn’t mind if he took home the Oscar for it. It’s that fitting and it’s that beautiful.

    I did have a slightly different reaction about Squibb. iPhone she was very funny and she had some good emotional moments later on in the film. But I almost felt as though they overplay her spunky and pugnacious personality. It reached a point to where every time I saw her I was expecting that funny line or the ‘old lady cursing’ gag. Don’t get me wrong, she was still funny. I just wish they didn’t hit the same note so often. I was still thrilled to see her get an Oscar nomination. I liked her that much for sure.

    Anyway, absolutely agree on this movie. In fact I’m anxiously hoping to rewatch it with my wife this week. I can’t wait.

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    • I couldn’t give the film any less of a rating, bro. Remember the conversation we had about saving top marks for films that really resonate and hit the spot? Well… This was one of those films for me. Absolutely loved it. One moment I’d sit in quiet contemplation and the next I’d be pissing my pants with laughter.

      I can see your point about Squibb but personally, I enjoyed every single scene that little lady appeared in. I thought she brought a very welcome element of humour. She’s now my favourite female performance of the year.

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      • My quibble with her is minor. I mean I can gripe about them overusing her gags, but the truth is I laughed at almost every delivery she gives. And she is so committed to it. She sells it as good as anybody and she fits right in with that dysfunctional family.

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      • Absolutely! She was so believable as the little matriarch that held everything together. The real comedy came from her own little secrets of the past, though. Like you say, she sells it so well and her delivery couldn’t have better.

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      • And forgive me for going on and on (I’m just excited that you loved it so much), but Papamichael’s cinematography is so proper for this story. It’s almost lyrical in how it flows with the mood of the story. But it also has a fading beauty which I adored.

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      • Haha! Feel free to go on as much you like, bro. I welcome it. Totally agree about Papamichael’s cinematography. The faded beauty that you mention is perfect. Like I mention in my review, it evokes old memories keeping in touch with the theme of the film and I also seen if to reflect Woody’s mindset. His thinking was very black & white. There was no middle ground with him during any conversation he was involved in.

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  3. Great review Mark! Really loved this movie and it definitely rivals Sideways (2003) as my favorite Payne movie

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  4. Love your review, Mark. Can’t argue with a word you said. I’m a big fan of Payne. His dark comedies are sad, funny, gripping and the scripts are so smart and the characters quirky and believable. it’s all I ask for in a film, and he delivers as though he writes for me alone. I’m thrilled for Bruce Dern. A quality actor hiding in the shadows for decades, it’s great to see him perform so well that people sit up and take notice. πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks Cindy. I too feel that there’s a very personal connection when watching a Payne movie. The characters are always so believable and his casting always seems perfect for the role. Like you, I’m happy for Bruce Dern. I’ve always liked him but he’s never really got the reputation that he deserves. The same goes for Stacy Keach. Another top quality actor.

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  5. It’s such a shame this really has no chance of winning Best Picture or Best Director at the Academy Awards. Payne is brilliant – I love each and everyone of his films (…okay, since Election!). Perhaps this will achieve Best Screenplay or Best Actor..?

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    • Were it not for the competition Nebraska faces, I might agree. But 12 Years a Slave is an all-time classic in my mind, so I can’t regret other movies losing to it.

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      • I can see other films pipping it at the post too but I’d be quite happy to see this get it. My favourite of the year is actually Her but I still wouldn’t refuse Nebraska for it.

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    • I agree Dan. It’s unlikely it’ll win Picture or Director but I also wouldn’t argue if it did. Actor and Screenplay are it’s best chances but in also hoping for June Squibb to steal that Supporting Actress award. I loved her in this.

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  6. Good review, Mark. I think there a handful of flaws, but I agree that the principal actors are terrific, the cinematography truly impressive and the screenplay often immersive. All in all, this is definitely a quality film.

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    • Cheers Josh. There were some moments that could be nit-picked but overall I found it to be very solid. I could identify with the father/son relationship and loved the humour throughout. It had a bit of everything for me.

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  7. Top stuff mate. Missed this at the cinema but am itching to check it out. High praise here indeed and that’s enough for me! Sounds right up my street.

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  8. Nice review. Also really enjoy his work and can’t wait which movie he comes up with next.

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  9. Good review Mark. Though it’s not his best, it’s still the kind of film I expect to see from Payne and there’s no problem with that whatsoever. It’s charming and pleasant enough to definitely be seen.

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    • Cheers Dan. After giving it some thought, I reckon it is Payne’s best. That’s not an easy decision to make and he’s done so many good flicks but I identified with this one the most.

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  10. Great review, Mark. This is the only film nominated in the major Oscar categories that I haven’t seen but I’ll fix that today!

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  11. Glad to see the high rating here Mark! I really enjoyed this film, more than I thought I would. It won’t win much at the Oscars but I’m glad it was nominated, deservedly so.

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    • I was chatting to Keith a little while ago about how I’m trying the top ratings to a minimum, Ruth, but with this little gem, I couldn’t see it going any other way. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

      I do agree that it’s unlikely to scoop many awards but I really hope that June Squibb wind for Supporting Actress. She gave one of my favourite performances from anyone all year.

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      • I gave it 4.5/5 so it certainly deserved a high score. I was completely engrossed in the story and characters. I actually like Dern and Forte a lot, whilst Squibb was funny indeed.

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      • The story and the characters were wonderful. Dern and Forte were outstanding, as was Stacy Keach bug I took a real shine to Squibb. I say with a big grin on my face every time she appeared. She was hysterical. πŸ™‚

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  12. Victor De Leon Says:

    This was a wonderful read, Mark. My review is coming soon. (I have been a bit late to the party with some of these films) Good job, man!

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    • Thanks again Vic. I’ve been a little late myself but so glad I finally seen this before the Oscars. Captain Phillips is all I have left now.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        You are going to really enjoy Capt Phillips, Mark. Just a tip, though, Throw away everything, in your mind, you have heard or read about it in order to get a real reaction from it and in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film, you will be so moved by Hanks’ performance.

        So much like Redford’s turn in “All is Lost”
        Enjoy, man!
        Let me know your thoughts on the film if you remember to. Enjoy!

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      • I’ll do that, Vic. If truth be told, I haven’t read that much about it and it didn’t really catch my eye but I’m hoping that goes in it’s favour and really surprises me. I’ve got a copy, so I may try and view it tonight. If not, hopefully at some point this week. Cheers, man.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Cheers, Mark and also check out “A Hijacking” as well. Not sure if you’ve seen that one.

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      • I haven’t seen that. Don’t think I’ve even heard if it. I’ll look into that as well.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        It is a Danish film from 2012 about a Danish freighter captured by Somali pirates. Really good drama. Directed by Tobias Lindholm.

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      • Aah! I’ve heard of that now. I’m sure a read a review from Leonard Maltin about it. In fact, it’s already on my list to watch. Thanks for the reminder bro!

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Anytime my friend! πŸ™‚

        By the way I just watched Cape Fear and I wanted to give you my e mail address and ask your thoughts about the film. I am going to start a “Scorsese Films” topic for Vic’s Movie Den and I’d love to have you share your insights about some of De Niros films.

        I’ll send you my contact info on Twiiter thru the DM!

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      • Yeah, I’d be right up for that Vic. As you know, I’m a big DeNiro fan and very happy to share my thoughts on anything he’s involved in. Particularly his work with Scorsese.

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  13. Yesssssss! So glad you liked it. Heart-warming and melancholic, beautifully shot and such wonderful performances. I sort of feel a bit sad for anyone who didn’t like it.

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    • Haha! I couldn’t have said it any better. Those that don’t take the beauty, humour and pathos from this marvellous little life story are really bereft of something. I thought it was superb! One minute, I was reflecting my own experiences with my late father, the next I was holding my stomach in fits of laughter. It struck every chord and struck them with great precision. Glad to hear you feel the same. πŸ™‚

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  14. Yeah, this movie really did nothing at all for me. I also personally don’t really understand the praise that Squibb’s received for this movie, as she came across as over-acting and trying way too hard throughout the whole thing to me, giving an ingenuine feeling performance, IMO at least. But, eh, can’t agree with everything I suppose. πŸ˜›

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    • Chris, I love you, man, but you’re wrong!! πŸ˜‰

      Jesting aside, I appreciate your view here, but that’s not how I seen it all. I thought Squibb was very natural and entirely believable in the sense that it would have taken such an extreme and honest matriarch to even have lasted the pace with such dysfunctional male characters. If the mother or wife that Squibb played was a wallflower then I wouldn’t have bought that. She had to be a little outrageous and Squibb captured that and also came across as a loving supportive partner to the ornery character of Woody. Who really would have put up with him?

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  15. Brilliant review Mark. Nebraska is only one of two Oscar nominated films i’ve yet to see (less than a week now!), and your eloquent write-up here has made my scald myself for missing the film in cinemas. Top stuff!

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    • Much obliged. I only have Captain Phillips to see from the nominated films but I’m glad I managed to catch this before the big day. Marvellous film and it’s thoroughly deserving of it nominations.

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  16. Well I pretty much can’t say anything here because you’ve said it already so perfectly yourself. I was stunned by how good Nebraska was. I am in love with it as well, and thought the father-son relationship was really special in its development. Loved the decision to shoot in grayscale, it’s so beautiful and worked better for me than the decision to shoot something like Francis Ha! in the same.

    As for the trivia bit at the end, is this to suggest Bruce Dern is a big-named actor? I’ll confess right now that before this thing came along, I wasn’t even aware of him as a performer. . . . oops.

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    • Thank you sir! I haven’t seen Frances Ha yet but I reckon Payne’s decision to shoot this in b&w was spot on. It does actually add the story and isn’t just for looks. Fantastic little film and definitely one of the years best.

      You hadn’t heard of Dern before? He’s great character actor. Always has been and he’s been Oscar nominated before in the Jon Voight/Jane Fonda film “Coming Home”. He’s also the father of actress Laura Dern.

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  17. Great review. I’m really looking forward to catching up on this one, hopefully this week!

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  18. Great review Mark. I’m looking forward to this, I really enjoy a film that as time progresses you begin to see what’s underneath the character.

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  19. Another cracking effort Mark. Man, I need to catch this. You can’t beat Bruce Dern!

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    • Cheers Mark. You need to catch this as soon as possible. Dern is outstanding. I’ve always been a fan of his and it’s great to see him get a role that’s worthy of his talents.

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  20. I’d rate it slightly lower than you, but I still really enjoyed it. June Squibb stole the show in my opinion giving a heartfelt and hilarious performance.

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