Love Letter to Alexander Payne

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.

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.

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Melissa Levine