Clenching the Nomination - Nebraska - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Clenching the Nomination – Nebraska

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This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar.  *Some spoilers to follow*Come and get itAndrewCommentaryBannerShortIt wasn’t until last night that I realized the three films that I ended up writing about for the Best Picture nomination all have their defining scenes constructed the same way.  The main character confronts a room full of people who represent their greatest obstacle.  In Philomena that confrontation sheds light on the hypocritical moral core of the film, and Dallas Buyers Club broadly states the lessons that Ron learned through his business.  Nebraska has a similar confrontation, but the execution of the scene is so different from the other two that it shows the care shown for its characters.

Woody’s (Bruce Dern) nephews robbed him of the advertisement that awarded him one million dollars.  Once they realized that the paper isn’t worth anything they discard the ad, only to have it fall into the hands of Woody’s passive-aggressive acquaintance Ed (Stacy Keach).  David (Will Forte) comes with his dad to get it back, only to find Ed reading it aloud to Woody’s other fair weather friends and everyone having a good laugh at his expense.

The confrontation that follows is humbling and humiliating all at the same time.  Director Alexander Payne sets Wood and David alone against the dark back wall, trusting in the subtle acting of Dern to carry the scene.  That faith is beautifully rewarded as Dern takes his slow, wounded walk, outlined to strongly thanks to Payne’s decision to film in black and white.  The camera waits for him to arrive and then sets on Dern’s face, where his attempt to keep his dignity through his normally blank expression completely fails in his eyes.

The screenplay, from Bob Nelson, does not offer any dialogue for Dern to use.  Woody is a proud man, if mentally scatter-shot, and all he wants is to leave something behind for the son who’s witnessing this humiliation.  This is an excellent decision, keeping all of our attention on the humiliated man as he tries to reclaim his dignity and the impressive silent performance from Keach as he goes from looking like a pig in slop to the kid who got his hand caught in the cookie jar.  The eventual punishment, a swift punch from Forte, take so long to arrive that once it does we realize how empty it is.  Ed sits there bleeding, David will need to wrap his hand up in the morning, and Woody lost the illusion of dignity that his old neighbors allowed.

It’s a painful scene, and shows how much these little victories ring hollow.  Payne’s direction, Nelson’s writing, and the wordless performances of Dern, Keach, and Forte all contribute to a nearly perfect moment – and surely what the Academy will have to think of when it comes time to cast their votes.

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Posted by Andrew

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