Follow us:

Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

December 30, 2009 at 11:02 AM

Looking backwards at “Sideways”

Last night, I watched “Sideways” again, after going through my DVD collection (which is not vast, but is bigger than I ever thought it would be) in search of something comfortingly familiar that I hadn’t seen in a while. (The cold, you know.) And I was reminded, yet again, of how amazing Paul Giamatti’s performance is in this movie. I’m really not a listmaker, so I’m trying to stay out of all the Best Movie Moments of the Decade noise that’s floating around this week (though I did throw out a few titles last month, and if you forced me to pick one favorite movie of the decade, I think I’d probably settle on “The Best of Youth“). But there’s a brief scene in “Sideways” that I think stands among the greatest moments of movie acting I’ve seen, and is worth revisiting. (Colin Firth has a moment not unlike it, on the phone in “A Single Man”; if you’ve seen it, you know exactly which one I mean. Both are brilliant.)
Miles (Giamatti) is standing outside the church after his friend Jack’s wedding, near the end of the movie, making awkward conversation with his ex-wife Victoria. They’ve been divorced for two years, and Miles is clearly still carrying a torch; he’s only recently learned that she’s remarried (an announcement that devastated him), and is trying hard to keep their wedding chitchat light and social, even smiling and shaking hands with Victoria’s new husband. The husband (who, we notice in just a few seconds, seems to be Miles’ opposite in every way) disappears to get the car, and Victoria drops an unexpected bombshell on her ex-husband: “I’m pregnant.” Giamatti’s face here becomes a study in loss; his hardworking smile becomes hollow and almost frightening, like the teeth of a skeleton clenched together. Hope drains from his eyes, even as blood seems to drain from his face; she’s knocked him sideways, you might say, and what remains standing seems a shell. Yet somehow, he manages to hold it together and say the right thing. “Congratulations again, Vicki,” he says, in words that seem to cause physical pain as they emerge from his throat. “That’s wonderful news.”
It’s a brief scene, just a minute or two, but Giamatti — playing a writer — makes an entire novel of it, as we watch Miles live and die before our eyes. That scene dazzled me when I first saw it five years ago, and it still dazzles me now, giving me yet another reminder that my favorite special effect is just an actor, a camera and a story told with few words.
So, what was your favorite acting moment of the decade? This one just might be mine.

Paul Giamatti, with Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways” (photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Comments

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►