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Posterized: The films of Alexander Payne

by Nathaniel R

Nebraska's most successful auteur son, 56 year old Alexander Payne is back with his seventh feature. Downsizing, his new satire about a man (Matt Damon) who joins a community that have shrunk themselves, premiered at Venice to the kind of reviews that seem startling until you remember all the reviews for all the other Payne directed movies. Raves are par for the course. He's won two Globes and two Oscars for his screenplays. His films have won an incredible 3 Best Picture prizes and he's also won four personal prizes from the normally spread-your-wealth folks at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association over the past 20 years.

The film opens in movie theaters on December 22nd and is expected to be both a box office hit and a major Oscar player. Could it finally be his year to win Best Picture?

How many of his films have you seen? The posters (and more about Oscar) are after the jump...


SIDEWAYS (2004) | PARIS JE T'AIME (segment "14e arrondissement"... he's behind the most beloved segment of this omnibus film, the one starring Margot Martindale as an American tourist learning French) | THE DESCENDANTS (2011)


Like many critical darling auteurs Oscar was a bit behind the critics but eventually fell in love with increasing Oscar nominations as it went. Consider the momentum of these stats: Citizen Ruth (0/0), Election (1/0), About Schmidt (2/0), Sideways (5/1), The Descendants (5/1), Nebraska (6/0). So given that trajectory we should maybe expect Downsizing to get 7 nominations and 2 wins? Tee hee. (current Oscar predictions here) Not that Oscar stats are that mathematically predictable but you catch the drift. He has become an inarguable pet of AMPAS voters. His last three features have earned Best Picture nominations.  

Curiously, I still think maybe his first two films are his best, give or take Sideways

What are your expectations of Downsizing, not just Oscar but your own enthusiasms? And how would you rank Payne's filmography?

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Reader Comments (18)

Shocked I've seen everything but Nebraska. His best movie is his short with Margo playing the dumpy American tourist in Paris.

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I, too, think his first two films are his best (Citizen Ruth, in particular), but Sideways *is* the one I revisit most often (what, with its perfect, masterful ending). Virginia Madsen was robbed.

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I've seen 'em all, including Paris, je t'aime, where he had the best segment.

I think Election is probably his best, but I adore Nebraska and Sideways (and, yeah, Virginia was robbed.)

And I pretty much loved him for life when Citizen Ruth had Swoosie and Mary Kay in great parts in the same movie!

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Virginia was great, but she wasn't robbed. Blanchett was superb as Kate. I can't think of another actress as brave as she was in attacking such a difficult and complicated role, and I am not talking about mimicry.

Paul Giamatti was robbed.

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Virginia was robbed, but Paul was robbed and left for dead. How in the world did that happen?!?!?

I've seen all but "Citizen Ruth" and "Paris, Je T'aime", and would pick "Sideways" as my favorite. One of my favorites of the entire decade, in fact.

I also think that was one of Nicholson's best performances,too. But I can't really complain about Adrian Brody stealing it from him.

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Here's my list so far though I didn't count his great piece from Paris Je T'aime. I pretty much like all of his films and I'm looking forward to Downsizing.

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Seen them all my favorite is Election & weirdly enough my least favorite is Sideways (which everyone seem to love I even watch it a second & a third time & no I don't see what's the big deal)

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Here's how I would rank the ones I've seen (haven't seen Citizen Ruth or Paris Je T'aime):

5. The Descendants (this film's Adapted Screenplay win continues to baffle me, it's not just a bad use of voice-over, most of the dialogue is unbelievably expository and on-the-nose)

4. Nebraska (I enjoy it when it focuses on the father-son dynamic, but most of the characters surrounding them are simply annoying)

3. About Schmidt (the best late-period Jack Nicholson performance, for just how un-Nicholson it is, though it also suffers from those annoying supporting characters)

2. Sideways (a little slow and a few instances of those grotesque side characters, but the core group is solid and I love how the story keeps uncovering layers to these characters, this is a deserving Adapted Screenplay win)

1. Election (it's rare that a book and the movie based on it are this different, and each so brilliant in their own right, what makes this one so good is how commited everything about it is to its tone and atmosphere, from the High School environment to the performances, everything that doesn't work in a Payne film that's trying to be moving and sincere is simply perfect in a film like this)

September 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I've seen all expect for his first and the Paris film. Election is my favorite but Nebraska is a close second. The Descendants is the weakest but I do love Shailene Woodley in it. Now Sideways is the one I don't get all the fuss over. I found it solid but also unremarkable. There's a lovely scene on a back porch where Virginia Madsen talks about wine but besides that I was bored with much of it. I'm curious to see Downsizing. It's seems like something out of his wheel house.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJess

My favourite is Nebraska which I just fell in love with.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

I've seen all of them, obviously. I'm not crazy about The Descendants, but I don't hate as much as you did back in the day. Election is the one I've seen the most. About Schmidt is my favorite and Nebraska gets better in every viewing.

Downsizing intrigues me. At first I thought it would have the same tone as Nebraska, but apparently it's satire -as his best films- and we know the Academy doesn't respond well to those.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

No. I've seen the film in Venice... not the typical Oscar movie by any measure, plus the reactions from Italian critics were generally quite cold or even negative. In my opinion, it's his weakest film ever (the whole second half is a big mess).

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

His movies are never winners with me. I like them well enough, there are usually two or three stellar scenes in each that really blow me away, but in general I am pleased but not wowed by his output.

The acting is sometimes outstading, like the Sideways quartet and the father/son duo in Nebraska. I like Shailene Woodley also in The Descendants. Reese Witherspoon in Election is the best of all Payne performances, though.

And re: that 2004 supporting actress race, I think Cate Blanchett is atrocious as Katharine Hepburn. It's her second worst Oscar nominated performance, right behind her wind commanding second stab at Elizabeth Tudor. I'm not a Blanchett agnostic, I believe one can easily argue that she was the best of the line-up on four of her Oscar races (Elizabeth, I'm Not There, Blue Jasmine, Carol), but that Aviator performance is uneven at best. In 2004, I'd vote easily for Natalie Portman in Closer, with Madsen as runner-up.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

I've seen Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants. The only one I didn't like (but also not disliked) was Sideways. I just couldn't connect with it somehow.
I like the other three quite equally, but I'd give Election overall an edge.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

My Alexander Payne film rankings

1. Election
2. Young Adult
3. About Schmidt
4. Citizen Ruth
5. Up In The Air
6. Nebraska
7. Sideways
8. Thank You For Smoking

I never saw The Descendants.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterian

I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen CITIZEN RUTH yet.

Of the ones I've seen, I go:

1. The Descendants
2. Sideways
3. Election
4. About Schmidt
5. Nebraska

I don't include PARIS JE T'AIME since it was a series of shorts, but I thought his short, and the fabulous Margo Martindale in it, was the best thing in the movie by fucking far.

September 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Seen all but the first two. From what I can glean post-Election, Alexander Payne is legitimately one of the worst screenwriters working, with a healthy ego yet no empathy to back it up. He writes caricatures to reassure himself - and his peers - that they left their hometowns for good reason. On the nose, condescending trash.

September 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

The only one I haven't seen is Paris Je T'aime but I saw Ruth so long ago that I don't really remember it. Otherwise I think I'd rank them:

1) Election
2) Sideways
3) About Schmidt
4) Nebraska
5) The Descendants

September 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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