One of Hollywood’s most acclaimed director of his generation, Alexander Payne turned 59 earlier this year. Payne’s movies can be incredibly moving and quite darkly funny at the same time. In just two decades from his debut movie “Citizen Ruth”, he has covered topics like abortion, the crisis of men, mid-western pithiness and with his 2017 movie “Downsizing” he addressed the lengths humans will go, to stay alive as a species.
2017 also saw him ranked 2nd on a list of the 25 best film directors of the 21st Century, a list released by Metacritic. Alexander Payne has received seven Oscar nominations while winning two Oscars for writing “Sideways” and “The Descendants”. He has also received four Golden Globe nominations in directing for About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska.
To honour his work, The Hollywood Tribune presents Top 5 Alexander Payne movies.
5. Election (1999)
The movie written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne takes a satirical take on the American electoral system through the lens of a high school election for the student body president. The screenplay written by a duo landed them their first Oscar nomination.
Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, an overachieving student who is determined to win the election. Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a school teacher who selects Paul Metzler played by Chris Klein, to run against Tracy.
‘Election‘ is a smart comedy of the 90s and according to the director himself is former US President Barack Obama’s favourite political film. Thus it’s on our list of Top 5 Alexander Payne movies.
4. About Schmidt (2002)
Alexander Payne gets the great Hollywood veteran Jack Nicholson to play the protagonist Warren Schmidt. Schmidt is an elderly retired insurance salesman, who at a loss as what to do with the rest of his life.
Warren Schmidt purchases a Winnebago Adventurer, but his wife dies suddenly. He is also of the firm belief that his daughter’s fiancé is not the right man for her. Payne’s third film is more of a character study, unlike his first two films which had elements of political satire. The film is said to be a comedy, it deals the subject of life after retirement but gets quite nihilistic from time to time.
3. The Descendants (2011)
The movie focuses on Matt King played by George Clooney, a wealthy land-owner who is under pressure from his siblings to sell off his share of the family insanely valuable Kauai estate. Matt’s wife is Elizabeth is in a coma after a boating accident, and he learns that his wife was cheating on him and was also planning to leave him.
Matt also has two daughters Alex played by Shailene Woodley, and Scott played by Amara Miller, only makes his job handful. The film received an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and two Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Actor for George Clooney.
2. Sideways (2004)
Set as a comedy-drama-road film directed by Alexander Payne, follows two men in their forties, Miles Raymond played by Paul Giamatti, a depressed teacher who is also an unsuccessful writer and Jack Cole played by Thomas Haden Church, an actor who is passed his prime, as they take a week-long road trip to Santa Barbara wine country to celebrate the latter’s upcoming wedding.
Within the first fifteen minutes, you’ll get to see how different these two friends are and maybe their friendship endures because they add up to a complete person. Overall, Sideways turns out to be an intelligent, charming, funny, mature comedy and surprisingly moving as a result of it. Alexander Payne won his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
1. Nebraska (2014)
The director pays tribute to his home state Nebraska in this road film, which follows the ageing Woody Grant played brilliantly by Bruce Dern, who is convinced that he is a winner of a million dollars in magazine sweepstakes. Woody asks his son David played by Will Forte, to go on a road trip to Nebraska, so that he can collect his winnings.
David though knows that it’s a scam but he still agrees to it, and the film proves profoundly moving and well worth a watch. The movie received six Oscar nominations; though it did not win one, it was included in American Film Institute’s “Best Movies of the Year” list. Thus it tops our list of Top 5 Alexander Payne movies.
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