Nebraska is a film directed by Alexander Payne, with a screenplay by Bob Nelson. The film tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old man from Montana who believes he has won $1 million in a sweepstakes. Even though he does not believe his father has won any money at all, David Grant (Will Forte), Woody’s son, agrees to drive him to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Along the way, the two Grant men encounter a wide range of characters, from greedy family members to a ruthless old friend of Woody’s.
I have only seen two of Alexander Payne’s films, Election (1999) and The Descendents (2011), and I love them both; in Nebraska, Payne has created another film that I can now add to the list of his works that I greatly enjoy. The entire film is shot in black and white, and honestly, I could not see this film working in color. The characters are either tremendously brash or exceptionally bland; thus, the “black and white” style works utterly well. The film is hilariously comedic but only in the subtlest ways, and Payne brings an established reputation to this tempestuous project.
As in many of the films that I rank highly each year, Nebraska thrives on a well-assembled, tremendous-performing cast. The film is led by a wonderfully refreshing performance from one of Hollywood’s greats, Bruce Dern. His character is plainly committed to traveling to Nebraska to collect his winnings, no matter how much his family tries to convince him of it being a hoax, and the innocent, blatantly ordinary man is highlighted on the screen thanks to a triumphant portrayal by Dern. Equally as terrific is Will Forte in his portrayal of Woody’s son David. An actor only known for his long stint on Saturday Night Live and his below-average film career, Forte significantly impacted this film for the better. He uses his comedic background to illuminate his character’s witty dialogue, but it was the dramatic scenes that will stick in my head the most about Forte’s performance.
One of the best performances in the film, though, comes from June Squibb as Kate Grant, Woody’s loud-mouthed, opinionated wife. The veteran Squibb gives an absolutely hilarious performance as Kate, hysterically elucidated in many scenes, including one where she flashes her downstairs mix-up (Old Gregg reference) to the tombstone of one of Woody’s relatives. When, at times, the film seems dry or bland, Squibb’s character quickly comes to the rescue in a blaze of straight-shooting glory.
Aside from Payne’s distinct filmmaking style and each actor’s skilled performances, the film’s hidden gem is the score—if ever a film’s musical composition matched the tone and color of the movie in such a brutally perfect way, it is this one. Nebraska is rated R for some language.
Nebraska trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5tqPojMtg
Academy Award nominations for Nebraska:
Best Picture (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers)
Best Actor (Bruce Dern)
Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb)
Best Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael)
Best Director (Alexander Payne)
Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:
10. Captain Phillips
13. Fruitvale Station
14. The Place Beyond the Pines
15. Dallas Buyers Club