Oscar nominee movie review: Nebraska: Slightly macabre, painfully close to home


WASHINGTON, January 21, 2014 — With eight weekends between the announcement of the Oscar nominee’s and the award ceremony itself, many people will be going to the theaters to try and get caught up on the hottest films this winter.

Each week, we will spotlight one of the Oscar’s star films from the Best Picture Category by going out to the movies, and then recapping the film here on the site. This week, we showcase Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, and starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, and Bob Odenkirk.

Nebraska is a slightly macabre, painfully close to home, picture of the life of an American family from the Midwestern United States, to whom absolutely nothing extraordinary has, nor in all likelihood ever will, happen.

It has all the trappings of a film the Academy Awards would honor with a nomination.

This year’s token Little-Film-That-Could brings dark humor to the silver screen in all its black and white glory, and will undoubtedly leave the audience with more questions than answers for their drive home.

The film is the story of Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, an old, probably alcoholic, retired mechanic who has decided to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to collect a million dollar prize he’s won.

The only problem is he hasn’t actually won anything. The million dollar promise is a scam to get people to buy magazines, but Woody, who is either unable to unwilling to remember most things about his life, believes the prize to be real. Therefore, to appease his father, David Grant agrees to drive him to Lincoln to ask about his winnings, despite the protests of his mother, Kate (a hilariously vulgar June Squibb) and brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) if he promises to drop the issue after their trip.

En route, the pair stops in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska. Evidently old alcoholics don’t travel well so the two hunker down for a long weekend with extended family. Kate and Ross join them and the real plot of the film begins to develop. We hear about Woody’s past from everyone but him. Everyone has a convincing story about the man he used to be, but nobody’s really lines up with anyone else’s.

The main conflict of this film seems to become: Who Is Woody Grant.

We hear that he’s a drunk. A bad father. A pro bono mechanic. A philanderer. A bum who owes money around town. And a Korean War Vet who got shot down. But we hear all of this from people who are not Woody. In fact, the only thing that Woody really offers up about himself is that he’s a millionaire, which of course he is not.

The film’s black and white is a wonderful choice that suggests a bygone era. The family, immediate and extended, is convincing and hilarious. We feel for the right characters. We hate the right characters. And the best part is: nobody feels like a character. In a year when the other best picture nominees are all tremendous stories from exotic times or locations, Nebraska is nothing but average. An average story populated by average people, which allows you to fully immerse yourself in the story. And it makes for a story that’s superb.

Nebraska will probably not win this year’s Academy Award for best picture. It lacks many of the things classic Oscar Winners had. Besides, it was far too funny. But if you’re looking for a good movie to get your Oscar Season started with, Nebraska is a winner for you.

Did you see this film? Leave us notes in the comments about what you thought. And check back next week for the next installment in our countdown to the Academy Awards.

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