DVD Review - Nebraska

Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay and Best Directing, this film is absolutely delightful, absolutely sweet and absolutely warm, even against the cold, black-and-white camerawork. This movie is a comfortable blanket, perhaps a bit scratchy from maybe the thick wool, but so comfortable. It is refreshingly funny, or in the way that most filmmakers aren't funny or in the way that movies haven't been funny in decades, at least not in this country.

I want to go through each of the nominations and address why each may or may not be deserved. First, I need to start with the musical score, which is pitch perfect. The tones that composer Mark Orton created fit so well into the movement of this movie and accentuates it and moments within it so incredibly. I wish it would have been nominated and not any of the other scores.

Starting with the screenplay by Bob Nelson, which is rather brilliant, the movie drops us into the middle of this elderly man's journey that he stubbornly refuses to give up, despite his wife and son's objections. We're initially led to believe this man to be one thing and possibly only one thing, but as we go along on his journey, we learn him to be so much more and by the end you come to love him.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, a septuagenarian or maybe an octogenarian who is most likely a retiree living in Billings, Montana. Woody believes that he's won a million dollars because he got a sweepstakes letter saying so, but what everyone else realizes except him is that the sweepstakes letter is a scam, trying to get people to buy magazines.

Will Forte co-stars as David Grant, the son of Woody who tells his dad that it's a scam but Woody refuses to believe it's a scam. David loves his dad and is frustrated at his dad's repeated attempts to get to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the sweepstakes letter originated. Yet, David decides to drive Woody to Nebraska in order to satisfy Woody's curiousity and illogical determination.

Along the way, during the road trip, David and Woody have to pass through some small towns between Montana and Nebraska. One small town in particular in Nebraska is Hawthorne. It's where Woody grew up. David and Woody stop in this town to visit some friends and family that Woody used to know. These visits reveal who Woody is and what kind of man he was and still is. The assumption is that he's a dithering and confused old man, but layers are unpeeled.

That being said, I honestly don't see Dern as derserving the lead Oscar nomination. I understand that Dern is a veteran actor who has been a workman steadily appearing in a film every year for over 50 years. He's highly regarded. He's been nominated before and he's actually very good in the role here. Yes, he's the first person and the last person you see in Nebraska, but a lot of this story is told through Will Forte's character and his performance. Forte should be nominated as the leading actor.

June Squibb who is nominated as Best Supporting Actress for playing Kate Grant is more of a memorable presence. It might be because she's the most vocal and the loudest at that. She's very feisty and strong spirited for someone in the same age range as Betty White. She nags and wisecracks. She's always talking about sex and even isn't afraid to lift her skirt for a laugh. She can even argue and fight with the best of them. Squibb is a definite screen presence.

She's certainly one of a great ensemble, including Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad and Mr. Show) who plays Ross Grant, Woody's eldest son who works as a local TV news anchor, Stacy Keach (The New Mike Hammer and Titus) who plays Ed Pegram, an old friend of Woody but now nemesis, and Devin Ratray (Home Alone and Surrogates) who plays Cole, Woody's chubby adult nephew who like other family members wants a piece of Woody's so-called sweepstakes money, and who as Kate puts it swarms like dumb vultures.

Paramount Pictures gave director Alexander Payne the go-ahead to shoot this film in black-and-white after the success of Oscar-winner The Artist (2011). Normally, I would consider something like that just a gimmick, but Phedon Papamichael is nominated for Best Cinematography and I think it works because it does help to convey the general feeling that this film could have come out of Woody's generation, giving not a stale feeling but a timeless one.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 55 mions.

Favorite quote: "What's the statute of limitation on bullshit?" - Will Forte to Stacy Keach.


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