This year's …
What's it all about?
Nebraska stars 1970s veteran Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, a befuddled alcoholic who sets out on a mission to redeem what he believes is a winning lottery ticket. Along the way, he and his son become becalmed in his old hometown of Hawthorne, where the paint peels off the house-fronts and home loan hoardings preside over Main Street. And so the stage is set for a bittersweet tale of blood ties and the financial crash, with Woody cast in the role of an aging American everyman - an exhausted Tom Joad who has lost his bearings.
How did it happen?
Very slowly. When Alexander Payne first leafed through Bob Nelson's script nearly 10 years ago, he was fresh from making About Schmidt, all set to direct Sideways and altogether resistant to the idea of shooting yet another road movie. But after The Descendants, he felt the time was right. The retired Gene Hackman reportedly turned down the chance to play Woody Grant, allowing the underrated Dern the chance to secure his best role since Coming Home way back in 1978.
Nominations it wants
We're guessing Payne already has his seat reserved at the Dolby theatre. Both The Descendants and Sideways won the best adapted screenplay Oscar, while About Schmidt picked up nominations for stars Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. The Academy likes Payne. Nebraska stands a good chance of staking its claim right across the all-important best film, actor and director categories.
What it might win
Dern caught most pundits by surprise when he won the best actor award at Cannes. But he still remains a long shot in a crowded Oscar field. Nebraska's rewards will come elsewhere. If it doesn't win for Nelson's screenplay, Phedon Papamichael's luminous black-and-white cinematography may just take the prize.
Reasons to fall for it
Nebraska throws a sweet human story against a broad social canvas, implicitly spotlighting the economic rot in the American heartland. It looks gorgeous, is directed with a loose, easy swing and boasts a terrific performance from Dern as a modern-day pilgrim chasing an impossible dream.
Reasons it might fail
The family tensions, the off-beam comedy, the carefully arranged Americana. Haven't we driven this road before, in the company of the same director? Nebraska may be soulful and satisfying, but Payne is hardly breaking new ground here. He's done all this before, and possibly better.
When can we see it?
Nebraska premiered in competition at the Cannes film festival back in May. It opens November 15 in the US and December 6 in Britain. It is, in other words, perfectly timed for Oscar season.
In four words
Winning ticket, slightly torn.
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