Dear Alexander Payne: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
1. You made Election and About Schmidt, two hilarious, probing comedies about suburban anomie and human angst.
2. You followed these with Sideways, transporting the same deep humor into a totally different milieu and combining a loser-buddy pic with an homage to the central California coast.
3. You cast Paul Giamatti.
4. You cast Virginia Madsen.
5. You turned down George Clooney -- who wanted the part of has-been actor Jack -- because nobody would believe he was a has-been.
6. Instead of Clooney, you went with Thomas Haden Church, an actual has-been, who aced the role.
7. You refused, in short, to sell out.
8. Even though your money was coming from a studio.
9. You knew how to maintain control, including in the casting.
10. And you trusted that your vision was superior.
11. Finally, you stayed intimate, resisting the temptation to make a grand, Hollywood-style epic with Big Themes.
12. Unlike some directors I could mention, but won't.
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13. Okay, it's Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose films are getting successively worse.
14. What is A Very Long Engagement? It is an overhyped, overly sentimental rehearsal of a thousand films we've seen before.
15. But enough about him.
16. Thanks, Mr. Payne. I love you.