Moreso than standout acting or directing, great writing makes a film.
You can fill a screen with Robert DeNiros, beef it up with a John Williams score and still fall flat without a tight script.
Words, the right ones, frame characters, give them texture. They offer the audience a reason to care.
Flipping through the channels today, I came across Sideways, the 2004 comedy-drama directed by Alexander Payne.
I’ve seen this flick a half-dozen times, and but it always stops me in my tracks.
Beautifully shot and acted, it follows two friends as they take a week-long, wine-tasting trip in California. Paul Giamatti plays a beaten-down writer, and Thomas Haden Church is his horny friend determined to get laid on his last fling before marriage.
Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh are the two women they meet along the way.
Toward the end of the movie, as Church and Oh go at it in a bedroom, Giamatti and Madsen retreat to a porch to talk about wine and what they love about it.
Madsen undresses him with a soliloquy.
Drink in the words, for they are exquisite.
“I like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining, if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now.
“I like how wine continues to evolve. Like, if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive, and it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.
“And it tastes so fucking good.”
Let’s raise a glass to excellent filmmaking and the writers who make it possible.