Over the course of his 13-year directorial career, Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt, “Election”) has successfully and repeatedly managed to capture the ennui of Middle America with the assistance of wonderfully quirky storylines and eccentric protagonists. Payne finally tackles California in his latest film, “Sideways,” and ends up with his finest work and the best film in years.

Film Reviews
Look at the legs on that one. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Starring Paul Giamatti (“American Splendor”) as Miles, a divorced struggling writer, and Thomas Haden Church (TV’s “Wings”) as Giamatti’s engaged friend Jack, the film chronicles the middle-aged pair’s final trip before Church’s wedding. The two embark on a weeklong journey in Santa Barbara full of drinking, existential crises and various sexual indiscretions.

“Sideways” is Payne’s most tightly made film to date, mixing the wry, dark humor of 1999’s “Election” with the well-developed character studies featured in 2002’s “About Schmidt.” Giamatti successfully captures the neurosis that made Matthew Broderick in “Election” and Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt” so captivating, while Church’s character is a perfect foil to Giamatti. During a wine-tasting, the na

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