Alexander Payne

I Got to See “Nebraska”

I love the UW Cinematheque. I mean, I LOVE the UW Cinematheque. These guys are awesome! Over the years, I’ve gotten to see some A-Class films. Usually on 35mm, too. Oh, and did I mention… for free!! How cool is that? I’m not trying to brag or anything, I’m just really happy I found out about this when I did. Among the films I’ve gotten to see: “The Third Man,” “The Bicycle Thief,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Rope,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho.” But this isn’t about those. No, this is about an event I attended earlier this month. A special presentation of Alexander Payne’s latest film, “Nebraska.” On 35mm. For free. Oh, and Alexander Payne himself IN ATTENDANCE!

I got to see this film with who I consider to be one of my two best friends. It was this friend, who just so happened to introduce me to the works of Alexander Payne. The exact title is up in the air, but discussion after the screening prompted us to believe it was “Election” that we both saw first. We have both been fans for the better part of a decade now, and Alexander Payne is one of the few directors who, in our opinions, has never made a bad film and who retains a perfect track record with us. As another bit of coincidence would have it, this friend and I saw his last film, “The Descendants” on my birthday of that year. Possibly on 35mm, I’m not certain.

The day they made the announcement, you couldn’t imagine just how stoked I was. The movie was one thing. But to have the man himself there? That was better than my birthday and Christmas combined!

The buildup to the event was enormous. The event itself was big. A huge turnout. I would imagine it was a packed house. They asked several times for people with open seats next to them to put their hand up. Then, after mad anticipation, Alexander Payne came out and introduced the film, thanking everyone for the huge turnout, and letting us know that since this was the first film he’d shot digitally, this was the first time outside of the lab that he was going to see a film print of it. Then the lights dimmed.

“Nebraska” was a terrific film. Like all of Payne’s works, it was witty, dramatic, and most importantly, heartfelt. The summary is quite simple. An elderly man (Bruce Dern’s Woody), aided by his son (Will Forte’s David), tries to claim a one million dollar sweepstakes he received in the mail.

It was a terrific romp. Bruce Dern, who briefly appeared in 2012’s “Django Unchained” stole damn near every scene he was in. Will Forte, formerly of Saturday Night Live, gives a great performance as well. I’m hoping he’ll be able to land a few roles akin to this in the future.

The film itself was fantastic. My only quips were a few scenes in the beginning that felt a little too on-the-nose and expositional. But thankfully, those are just in the first five or so minutes. From that point on, it becomes a journey trying to answer the question brought up in “Back to the Future”: How well do I know my own parents? Here, Forte’s David goes about his father’s boyhood town and learns about his dad’s past, both interesting and sometimes a little more than he needed to know. A truly great scene is near the end when the family visits Woody’s family’s home, which he remarks, his dad built himself. The scene is silent with members of the family exploring the now weathered remains. This is an example of nostalgia done right. The entire film is a case study in how you can create distinct and memorable characters.

Following the screening, Alexander came out and there was a short Q&A. It was only able to be a few minutes since there was a screening of another film afterward. He stated that he was glad the film played as well as it did as he was in high spirits. He much more energetic in person than one might expect from past interviews.

As luck would have it, I was one of the lucky few to ask a question. After the Q&A, my friend and I got to shake hands with him and thank him for coming. My friend’s friend who accompanied us to the event even got an autograph. I had hoped we might get a photo with him, but alas, time did not allow for it. We all left the event in high spirits and agreed that this was the highlight of the year.

Once again, Mr. Payne did not disappoint, adding yet another perfect title to his repertoire. The man’s record remains untarnished in my eyes. I cannot recommend the film enough. It’s a masterpiece worth watching over and over again. Like all of Mr. Payne’s films, it should be used as a learning tool for figuring out how to craft your own voice.

I cannot begin to thank the UW Cinematheque enough for this momentous event. I hope they are able to do more like this, but if not, this was a smashing success that I guarantee will live long in the memories of all those in attendance. With regard to Mr. Payne, I eagerly await his next undertaking.

Not pictured: a satisfied audience.

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