Friday, January 10, 2014



Written by Tracy Letts based on his play
Directed by John Wells
Actors: Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham.

It is a tricky thing, adapting a stage play into a movie and making it feel real and cinematic. There have been some effective adaptations and some that feel phony and stage acted. I have not seen Tracy Lett's "August: Osage County" on stage but after seeing this film adaptation I feel like I have seen a part of it. The play won a Pulitzer Prize and it is very popular and lauded. Maybe something happened on the way to being adapted but I didn't get into this story as much as I thought I would. The movie can be hard to watch as we follow a dysfunctional family of some mean people. The play was even longer than this movie and I can't imagine that because this movie can be trying and too long.

This adaptation has a killer cast of some very great actors and a screen legend. They get to chew a lot of scenery and also get to play some larger than life,mean,vindictive people. The whole cast does an admirable job but some come off better than others. That has to do with two ends of a spectrum. Some of the characters are sane and grounded and written with subtle strokes and some are cartoonish. The problem is that in the theatre the actors can ham it up on stage but we are in movie land here. The cast is very solid but the two main roles are played by the two biggest actors and the characters come in two major categories. One of the characters came off as phony to me and the other one I really identified with and it affects the performances.

Meryl Streep plays the matriarch of the Weston family, Violet, and she is dying of mouth cancer and is also popping pills to deal with her pain, maybe too many. Julia Roberts plays one of three daughters to Violet and her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) and she knows her mother is unstable but she tries to deal with it the best she can. I love Meryl Streep, as we all do, but sometimes a role can trip her up and that is what happens here. The story here is pure Southern melodrama and some aspects of the story are over the top to me and Streep's character is over written, the only character here that is. Director John Wells, it seems to me, let Streep run wild with a juicy role and I always saw her acting. There is a difference here in performance than in two of her greatest, most subtle performances (Silkwood and Sophie's Choice). In her best performances she disappears in her roles, here I always saw her acting and that rarely ever happens with her.

Director John Wells lets Streep run away with her role and I suspect he controlled the others more because their characters were simpler and less theatrical. There needed to be more control but weirdly Wells gets the best performance of Julia Robert's career from the only character I liked and believed in. Julia Roberts gives a knockout performance here owning the screen better than Streep does. Part of that I think goes to the daughter character being the saner character and thus the most relatable one. Julia Roberts has matured here into a commanding actress of great control. I fell in love with her all over again after the excruciating "Eat,Love,Pray". I was glued to the screen whenever the movie concentrated on her character taking control, this is her best performance ever and one of the best of the year.

The movie does concentrate on this dysfunctional family and it leads to a big, extended dinner scene that could be nails on the chalkboard to some viewers. There is a lot of yelling and weird dialogue but everytime Julia Roberts spoke I actually enjoyed the scene. When Streep's Violet starts spewing hate and insulting others, I started to cringe or tune out. There are also some other great performances here and some actors come off better than others because their roles are more realistic. My favorite performances and characters here are played by Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Dermot Mulroney. The other characters are more stagy and phony but I loved Margo Martindale here as I always do. To me, the movie always comes back to Julia Roberts and I cherish her performance and would see this again just for her.

I suspect a lot of movie goers will hate this movie and some will just love the performances and might love Streep here. I do not hate this movie, I just didn't believe it all and maybe I would rather see it on stage. I came into this movie cold never having seen the play. The story seems familiar to me, I have probably seen this same type of Southern melodrama in other movies done much better. On a basic level I would recommend it for some of the performances but maybe a more cinematic director might have made a better movie (Director Wells is mostly a television director). We sometimes blindly want Meryl Streep to get nominated for an Oscar for this type of role and performance. I hope she doesn't get nominated because it would be a disservice to her fine career with her weirdest role to date. I hope Roberts gets some love here, I have never seen an actress control such a messy movie better than Roberts does here.



Written by Peter Berg based on the book about Marcus Luttrell written by Patrick Robinson
Directed by Peter Berg
Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Yousuf Azami, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrara.

While watching a movie about war we will never experience what the hell of combat really feels like. No movie can really put us there especially when it's a movie based on a true story of war. Hollywood has made effective battle films that get close to realistically capturing the intensity of war and it's effects. There is Oliver Stone's masterpiece "Platoon" and the over rated "Saving Private Ryan" (the first half hour battle scene is intense beyond words but the rest of the movie is pure Hollywood hokum). The newest, intense movie dealing with a fight against the Taliban, "Lone Survivor", has a middle section that is relentless and gut wrenching.

"Lone Survivor" tells the real story of Marcus Lutrell and three of his friends and fellow soldiers who made up Seal Team 10. Marcus and his brothers in arms are dispatched to try to kill and capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. The mission was called "Operation Red Wings" and it seemed like a mission that could be carried out by this group of brave, skilled warriors. Though a man and his two sons, locals, stumble into Marcus and his group and the soldiers decide to let them go. This is discussed among the men in detail because if they let these men go, it is possible they could tell the others where these Americans are. This is what happens leading to the middle section of the story, an hour battle and capture of Marcus.

The beginning 15 minutes of the movie and the last remaining scenes are your standard war scenes that we have seen before depicted in the same way. Though just when we have thought we have seen every type of executed battle scene in countless war movies, "Lone Survivor" gives us a fresh, gut wrenching and long, relentless one. There is minimal dialogue in this movie and that is good, too much dialogue and phony story killed "Private Ryan". The gun fight and battle are thrillingly captured by director Peter Berg. The intense middle section involves the four soldiers jumping and rolling down an endless embankment of big boulders and rocks that punish and cripple their bodies.

The gun battles are realistically and graphically bloody and not for the squeamish. The bullet wounds and wounds from rolling down a death trap of boulders that these men endure will keep you on the edge of your seat while also making you cover your eyes. Actor turned director Peter Berg (The Last Seduction) has made very good movies before but this is his best, his directing is very impressive. The acting is also very realistic and subtly great including the first great movie role for Taylor Kitsch and another great performance by Ben Foster. Mark Wahlberg is dependably great here and when Marcus is saved after being captured it leads to a very intense ending.

Wahlberg has done a capture scene like this before in my favorite war movie "Three Kings". That scene in Kings is an one of a kind masterpiece but the capture scene here is a close second. Now Mark Wahlberg has been in two intense, masterpiece scenes depicting war and capture. We now know why film makers go after Wahlberg for intense scenes like this after another solid performance here. "Lone Survivor"might not be anything special and it is hard to watch. Sometimes we get desensitized to violence in war movies but here I squirmed in my seat, wanted to cover my eyes and felt a need to be on the edge of my seat. "Lone Survivor" is intense, beautifully directed and you will definitely shed tears.

Friday, December 27, 2013



Written and Directed by Spike Jonze
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday.

Most movies think they know about how real relationships work and how real love should feel. Most of these movies get it so wrong, it becomes pathetic. It takes an offbeat love story like the futuristic "HER" to become the most perceptive, real, honest and most beautiful story of love and relationships I have seen. Spike Jonze has written one of the best love stories of our time, a movie that will be remembered 50 years from now as timeless and groundbreaking. I mean groundbreaking in a written sense, this being a hauntingly beautiful, hilarious and real screenplay, some of the best writing I have experienced in a movie in ages. It is astounding that not one movie in at least 20 years has been as poetic and real when dealing with love and relationships as Spike Jonze's wonderful screenplay is.

"HER" stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Trumbley, a man who works writing hallmark like cards for any occasion. He is very great at writing these internet cards but is seems that he knows nothing about expressing his own feelings. He is recently divorced and the only real contact he now has with love is writing these cards. He downloads an OS which is a Operating System, sort of like Suri but way more detailed and life like. The Operating System he downloads is a female OS named Samantha. Samantha is there to fulfill every need that Theodore has. She reads his emails for him, deletes emails that are a waste of his time and suggests things that Theodore can do to make his life more comfortable.

Then Samantha will actually become more than just a secretary on a computer or I phone screen. She will be curious about Theodore's past relationships, what it is like to be married and separated and what it feels like to love someone. This is all I want to tell you because I want you to experience this cold, it is a movie that will surprise you and make you think. It is not all serious, it has some great scenes dealing with futuristic video games and computers themselves that are hilarious and some brilliant, laugh out loud scenes like a middle of the night sex chat scene. The movie has a futuristic feel (the movie is set in the near future) to it and the movie is beautifully shot but it doesn't feel cold like a science fiction movie. The screenplay is too real, warm, haunting and beautiful for the movie to feel cold.

The movie actually is scary for how perceptive it is when pin pointing flawlessly how hard it is to express what we really feel when it comes to relationships. It also brilliantly captures how little, petty arguments can ruin relationships. How we become lost and disconnected from others because we are so wrapped up in computers and social media, because it is easier not to deal with people. This realism comes from a movie dealing with a human and his Operating System, that is how brilliant this screenplay by Spike Jonze is.

The movie would also not work without the amazing performances by it's two lead actors. Let's start with Scarlett Johansson, one of our finest actors. She is doing a voice for a computer Operating System, we can't see her, we can not see how she reacts to the human emotions stirred up by Theodore. Even though we can't see her, Johansson is that much more brilliant with her performance. It is such a brilliant performance that I could actually picture her facial reactions and feel her hurt and amazement just by how she uses her voice. If she doesn't get an Oscar nomination for, let alone win Best Actress at the Oscars, it will be a tragedy and a travesty of justice.

Joaquin Phoenix has given us so many great performances but his performance here as Theodore is easily his best work to date. It is a subtly powerful, aching, touching and truthful performance. We also have to consider the fact that Phoenix is not in the room with Johansson but he makes it feel like she is in the room. That is a difficult job for any actor and Phoenix is perfect, one of the best performances I have seen by an actor. Spike Jonze gets great work from his actors, has written one of the best love stories of our time with brilliant dialogue and shoots the movie with beautiful precision. The story is not only breathtaking and powerful, the movie looks beautiful without Jonze ever showing off. He has now become one of the best and most original writers and directors of our generation.

The power and poignancy of "HER" is undeniable for it has stayed with me hours after I have seen it. It has made me look at love and the state of my past relationships with open eyes. It is so powerful and real that I can see a lot of what happens in this story happening in the future when it comes to computers and the loss of social interaction. The movie is touching, painful, real, honest, extremely funny and heartbreaking. It washed all over me, immersing me in it's world, making me experience feelings almost no other movie has ever done. It has everything, it will make you think and what incredible conversations will come from people who see this. "Her" is a masterpiece in writing, filmmaking and in making us confront our feelings when dealing with matters of the heart.

P.S. I kept thinking a lot about Stanley Kubrick after seeing "HER". Kubrick would have loved this story but Kubrick would have dreamed about having a screenplay this amazing when he was alive. "HER" is the best movie of 2013!

Thursday, December 26, 2013



Written by Terrence Winter based on the book by Jordan Belfort
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Christina Miliotti, Joanna Lumley.

The excess of Wall Street and it's sleazy stockbrokers are depicted in Martin Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street" with a fascinating and fast filmmaking style. I say this because if I had to spend time in real life with these jerks I would run out of the room screaming. Maybe I am generalizing too much here because I shouldn't compare stockbrokers in general to Jordan Belfort, I hated him though. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is full of boorish and hateful men and I found a few of the characters dull but Jordan Belfort is fascinating due to Scorsese's direction and Leonardo DiCaprio's bravura performance, maybe my favorite of his.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" tells the real life story of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort who preyed and made money off of people illegally. The half solid and half rambling screenplay by Terrence Winter is based on Jordan Belfort's book. This is a three hour movie about the rise and fall of Jordan and credit Scorsese for turning a could have been sluggish movie into a very fast three hours. Jordan's mentor at 22, when he started out, is Mark Hanna and Hanna is played by Matthew McConaughey who again has stunned me. Mark is my favorite character in the movie and he doesn't stay long and I missed him for the rest of the movie. Though again Scorsese keeps up the fascinating filmmaking throughout the rest of the three hours even without Mark Hanna.

Jordan starts up his own company out of a strip mall with a group of nerdy losers. I found these characters dull and there are too many scenes that include them that I would have cut out. One of the nerds is Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill, and Azoff starts out as a boorish nerd who turns into a richer, more powerful, boorish nerd. Jordan and Azoff will make most of their money illegally at the expense of weaker minded clients. A federal agent, Agent Patrick Denham, catches on to the two and there will then start a game of cat and mouse between Denham and Jordan. Add to the mix Jordan's second wife, a bombshell blonde, named Naomi who will fall under Jordan's spell.

Now I wasn't that interested in most of the supporting characters but I was fascinated by Jordan and his relationship with his wife. I was fascinated by the story of all the dirty dealings and the movie did grow on me and most of that credit goes to the wonderful Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has not lost his masterful touch, directing fast, energetic scenes that roll by in a glorious cannonball of momentum. This movie is three hours but it flew by for me and what could have become a bore stays on course thanks to Scorsese's never ending energy and control of the camera. I also thought that Leonardo DiCaprio has never been this fascinating in a movie and he has done a lot of fascinating stuff! DiCaprio is a force here and he turns what could have been a boorish dullard into something higher. I have never seen DiCaprio this much on fire, this could be my favorite performance of his.

I might not be that interested in all of the characters but the supporting acting is all wonderful. McConaughey is brilliant, fun and forceful in such a small part. Margot Robbie is sexy, beautiful and hot, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley plus a hilarious Rob Reiner are all genius. Jonah Hill is also very funny and full of energy here but his character can become really annoying. Hill is great but Winter's screenplay makes Hill yell a lot so his performance suffers just a smidge. The editing here for a three hour movie is amazingly cut just right by the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker and the movie is beautifully shot. In other director's hands this would become dull fast what with a lot of boorish characters populating the movie. Only Scorsese can turn a movie with risky plot material into gold.

Martin Scorsese has made some masterpieces and I mean a lot of them. Of course I will have my list of Scorsese's masterpieces, his fascinating failures and his middle tier movies. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is on my middle tier Scorsese level along with movies like "Casino" and "New York, New York". Those were wonderfully made Scorsese movies but they have weaker stories so "Wolf" becomes not as memorable as the best of Scorsese just like "Casino". Though Scorsese can make the most despicable characters like Jordan become somewhat likeable and make us want to follow them. Scorsese and DiCaprio do some amazing things here, Scorsese with his filmmaking greatness and energy and DiCaprio with his energy and charm.

There is a scene in the middle of this movie that is hilarious and jaw dropping. It involves some slapstick and some shockingly weird visuals. Only artists as amazing and skilled as Scorsese and DiCaprio can take a weird sequence and turn it into a comic masterpiece. Scenes and performances like this are as good a reason as anything to go see this on the big screen. A few amazing scenes, a few amazing characters and bravura performances by DiCaprio and McConaughey are worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, December 20, 2013



Written by Eric Singer and David O'Russell
Directed by David O'Russell
Actors: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Elizabeth Rohm, Said Taghmaoui.

Sometimes a movie comes along that has such energy, freshness, enthusiasm, joyful and thrilling filmmaking that gets you pumped up! "Pulp Fiction", "GoodFellas" and "Boogie Nights" are three of those type movies and three of my favorites, classics. Now you can add "American Hustle" to that glorious, perfect list! I was never bored, had a wide grin on my face the whole time, laughed my butt off and just sat back and watched the best acting I have seen from an ensemble cast in years! Add to my pleasure the fact that this story is set in the 70's, my favorite period of time in history. Yes, I said that, I love films from the 70's and I always say that if I was in a movie and was stuck in time I would pick the 70's to be stuck in, before technology robbed us.

"American Hustle" starts with the hilarious opening title, one that made everyone laugh out loud at the screening I went to, "Some of This Actually Happened". I knew after seeing that title that this would be one hilarious thrill ride! Actually in the late 70's the FBI recruited a con man and woman to work with them on a covert operation called "Abscam". This is really based on a true story and the story gets so nutty you know writers Eric Singer and David O'Russell had to embellish some of it but you never know about stuff that happened in the 70's. FBI agent Richie Dimaso, Bradley Cooper, recruited this couple, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, to help him catch corrupt politicians. Add to the mix the wife of Irving, Rosalyn, played wonderfully by the amazing Jennifer Lawrence.

Richie, to the frustration of his boss Stoddard Thorsen, played wonderfully by comedian Louis C.K., creates a fake Arab Sheik to catch some crooked congressman. The con couple are quite a pair and when the Mob, Irving's loopy wife and the crazy Dimaso come together in this "Abscam" debacle it's a glorious mess! That's all I will tell you because I want you to be on the edge of your seat following this fascinating story and movie. I had such a fun time during this movie, I couldn't remember the last time I had this much fun! David O'Russell has made a thrilling, flawlessly recreated, shot, costumed and spellbinding movie! He also includes the best use of 70's songs in a 70's set movie since "Boogie Nights" because he doesn't use songs that others have used ad nauseum in other movies set in the 70's.

David O'Russell has become my favorite writer and director right now because he obviously loves movies. Starting in 1999 with my favorite war movie "Three Kings", he has made thrilling, fresh, hugely entertaining movies and he gets amazing performances from his perfectly cast actors. Last year "Silver Linings Playbook" was my best movie of the year and it had Russell's unique stamp on it, it's like I never saw that kind of movie before. Now he might earn my pick as best movie of this year because I have seen a lot of 70's set movies and this is not like any other I have seen. The movie is a delicious, black comedy that gets more outrageous as it moves along but it never loses control and never goes over the top. It's just this side of blowing a gasket but Russell steers it to delightful perfection.

Russell also has perfected a smart, crazy, hilarious, fascinating screenplay with Eric Singer. He also hits a home run for the umpteenth time with casting a great ensemble of some of the best acting of this or any other year. It starts at the top with the ladies, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, and man are they incredible! Amy Adams is sexy, fierce and funny as Sydney and Adams plays this con woman with such control and beautiful grace. My favorite performance of the movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence and yes folks she is the real deal. What a hilarious, crazy, energetic and scene stealing performance and she isn't stealing scenes from chumps here. Now following her amazing performance last year in "Silver Linings Playbook" she has created two performances two years in a row of pure perfection, better than any actress ever has and I actually smiled and cried with joy everytime she was on screen.

The men are equally great and like Lawrence, Christian Bale has maybe cemented himself as the best actor of his generation. The movie opens with a gut busting opening scene as Irving is trying to fix the ugliest, messiest comb overs in history. Bale acts this scene about as perfect as any actor has acted out a particular scene. His performance here is fascinating and detailed and his chemistry with Adams is flawless. Also if you thought Bradley Cooper gave the best performance of his career with "Silver Linings Playbook" last year think again. He bounces off the wall wonderfully here as an FBI agent that tries so hard on this "Abscam" operation that he actually might ruin the whole thing.

These are four of the best performances you will ever see and it is lead by the dynamic performance of Jennifer Lawrence. You also have a great cast of wonderful actors that also contribute great supporting work. It starts with my favorite comedian Louis C.K. who plays Richie's FBI boss. The scenes between him and Cooper made me laugh longer and harder than I have in any comedy this year. You have character actors giving some of their best work here and you also have rising stars in the making. Jack Huston and Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire), Elizabeth Rohm, Colleen Camp, Alessandro Nivola, Jeremy Renner, Micheal Pena and Said Taghmaoui are all excellent!

"American Hustle" is a glorious masterpiece that is flawless in every facet of it's filmmaking. It has an infectious charm, energy and craziness that most movies would dream of having. It made me laugh throughout the entire movie, it has one of the best performances you will ever see by an actress. It is a fascinating slice of history that I sure didn't know about. I had so much fun learning about and absorbing this story. David O'Russell is building a fascinating career here and he is constantly thrilling us with the freshness of his movies. He again gets wonderful performances by a beautiful cast of great actors giving it their best. Movies like this don't come along that much, most movies go through the same old lazy, formulaic motions. "American Hustle" is one of the best times I have ever had at a movie and it will definitely become a classic!



Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Actors: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Max Casella, Justin Timberlake.

Sometimes Joel and Ethan Coen can make a movie that becomes a mainstream hit, sometimes a bomb that becomes a cult classic and then there are their personal stories that they direct. That is why I love them as filmmakers because you never know what you will get, what an eclectic, glorious team they are! "Inside Llewyn Davis" is more of a personal, character study and valentine to folk music and the journey of a self indulgent artist. You can call it an art film but no one tells a story better than these guys. It is not a huggable movie but it is perfectly executed, amusing and a very well acted movie.

Oscar Isaac, in a breakthrough, bravura performance plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who is very self obsessed. He is not a joy to spend time with but by the end I felt sorry for him, call it the artist in me sympathizing with another artist who is going nowhere. Llewyn is not a star and he is struggling to sell his record after his partner killed himself. Llewyn Davis is estranged from his girlfriend who is pregnant, played by Carey Mulligan, he doesn't have a winter coat and he travels, sleeping on many friend's couches, having no home himself. He then will try to sell his album and try to play a few shows at a famous joint in Chicago. His is a depressing life traveling from small venue to old dives playing his music to little applause and clinking glasses.

Alleviating the depressing journey is Llewyn's encounter with a cat that escapes his friend's apartment and winds up traveling with Llewyn on subway cars to different gigs and to his girlfriend's apartment. The scenes with this cat are funny, charming and touching because this maybe the only creature that connects with Llewyn, maybe not, the cat does try to run away a few times. The story follows Llewyn as he plays his music, pisses off his friends and gets rejection after rejection. He gets bullied by a traveling partner, John Goodman, and we kind of know what will happen when Llewyn gets to Chicago.

Llewyn is not a happy person, he is lost and he rubs a lot of people the wrong way but after the first hour I started to like him. I felt the rejection that an artist who is not mainstream can get on the road and then I started to feel empathy for Llewyn. This is a character study and some movie goers will feel bummed out but I found the movie entertaining and fascinating and that can be credited to the Coens, Oscar Isaac and the rest of the great cast. The Coen brothers are masters at sucking us in and this maybe one of their most perfectly made movies and it is really funny.

The movie has wonderful music and great folk songs lovingly created and produced by T Bone Burnett, who did the same thing with the songs for the Coen brother's hit "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" Oscar Isaac sings them beautifully and the rest of the songs are authentic. I am a big fan of "The Kingston Trio" and there is a great performance by a group that perfectly reminded me of them. The movie is edited perfectly, I never felt there was an unneeded scene. That editing is by the Coens who go under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. The movie is also shot beautifully by Bruno Delbonnel and I had to also check if that was a pseudonym for the Coens. The directing and storytelling are also perfect and there is not one bad camera shot.

Yes Llewyn is hard to like but you don't have to like a lead character to enjoy a story like this and a movie that is so well made. I never understood why some critics hate movies just because the lead character is a louse or jerk. I can identify with Llewyn so other movie goers will too, not everyone will hate him. The Coen brothers keep getting better and you can always expect something fascinating from them even if the movie isn't as great as some of their classics. "Inside Llewyn Davis" has some great storytelling, it looks beautiful, the performances by everyone shine and inside Llewyn you will find a strong will to survive through adversity.

Friday, November 22, 2013


'NEBRASKA' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written by Bob Nelson
Directed by Alexander Payne
Actors: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Rance Howard, Mary Louise Wilson.

In gorgeous black and white we see an elderly man walking aimlessly down a street, looking disheveled and lost. We will find out that this man is named Woody Grant. We are also seeing the start of a performance by one of out national treasures in cinema. Bruce Dern has always been seen as a supporting character actor. When he tried to stretch as a leading man with 1973's "The King of Marvin Gardens" his quest failed. That movie became a curio and a cult movie but Bruce Dern has always given great performances no matter the role. Now with "Nebraska", Dern gives his best performance of his career as a lead character. You can tell he has been licking his lips for decades for this opportunity and he hits a home run!

Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, who believes he has become a millionaire when he is sent one of those marketing letters telling him he may have the winning number to win millions. His son David, played by Will Forte, tries to convince his old man that this is a scam. Woody, who lives with his wife in Billings, Montana, wants to go to Nebraska, where the letter came from, to collect his money. Woody is stubborn and dementia is starting to sink in and he won't listen to his son so David will take a road trip with his father to Nebraska. His wife Kate, June Squibb, is a great match for Woody even though she berates him and calls him crazy and lazy. Woody will go with David to Nebraska and on the way they will visit Woody's old town where he used to live and where he will try to settle old scores.

As Woody visits the town he used to live in the word spreads that Woody is a millionaire and Woody's creepy twins, his old partner(Stacey Keach) and old friends come out of the woodwork asking for money. "Nebraska" deals with small towns where living is easy and people just want to relax and just live. "Nebraska" is beautifully shot in black and white by Alexander Payne who just relaxes and let's us soak in the atmosphere. The screenplay by Bob Nelson is very deadpan but also brilliant and hilarious. I laughed out loud a lot during this movie and I was amazed that the movie treated it's characters so honestly and didn't ridicule them. A lot of writers would have poked fun at these simple town folk because let's be honest, movies about small towns and the South are usually full of stereotypical rube type characters in Hollywood.

Director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson love Woody, his family and all these people. The movie successfully captures the simple beauty of the country, the small stores, the hole in the wall type bars. There are some priceless lines of dialogue and some wonderful, tender moments and this movie wouldn't have worked without it's wonderful cast of actors and their performances. Bruce Dern has acted in some iconic movies and given such wonderful performances but this is definitely his best performance of his career. He does not have much dialogue but when he does speak he carefully delivers each line with precision and poignancy. June Squibb is his equal and her performance is a hilarious gift of put downs but also some nuggets of honesty. Kate is not afraid to speak her mind and when she does I laughed my butt off! Squibb just might run away with Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, she is pitch perfect and steals the movie.

I also was surprised by the wonderful performance by Will Forte as David. I wasn't surprised that he was capable of a great performance in something substantial. I know Forte could become a great actor but I was surprised that he would give such a deep and measured performance that would be Oscar caliber. He works wonderfully off of Dern and I hope to see Will Forte tackle more big roles in more movies in the future. There are also some great supporting performances of well written characters by Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach as Woody's old partner who wants the money Woody still owes him.

This is Alexander Payne's best movie since "Sideways" and it reminded me of his other movie dealing with old people "About Schmidt" but this is deeper, more entertaining and ten times better. I also found this to be just right in it's focus and much more compelling than Payne's "The Descendants". It is beautiful to look at, charming, poignant and downright hilarious. The performances are beautiful and this movie won't insult a much older audience's intelligence like the terrible "The Book Thief" did. This movie could have gone so wrong but Payne and writer Bob Nelson care about their story and it's characters. Then there is Bruce Dern who I couldn't be more happy for getting a lead role that displays how amazing an actor he is. I love actors and the feeling I have watching a performance of a well written character by someone as great as Dern, that was long due in a movie like Nebraska", lifts me up and touches me.