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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 14:40 GMT
Sideways director keeps it real
Sideways, a quirky comedy by US director Alexander Payne, is up for five Oscars, including best director for Alexander Payne.

Alexander Payne with Michael Moore at Critics' Choice Awards
Payne (left) has already won a string of awards for Sideways
Payne, whose films is one of 2005's most talked about so far, says he wants us to see life as it really is - not as Hollywood would like us to see it.

A thoughtful faith in life's untidy, human imperfections and an unwillingness to stick to Hollywood's happy endings have made Payne's four feature films so far stand out.

"When you watch a movie, you don't want to feel like a machine made it," he has said. "You want to feel a soul."

But his films are far from gritty thanks to the wry, gentle humour with which Payne and longtime writing partner Jim Taylor imbue their desperate characters.

Sideways is "more fun" than his previous movies, Payne, 43, says.

Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt
Jack Nicholson starred in Payne's last film, About Schmidt
About Schmidt earned its stars Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates Oscar nominations in 2003 while his other works - 1999's Election, which starred Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, and 1996's Citizen Ruth - were both critical hits.

They were also all set in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where his family ran a Greek restaurant - they changed the family name from Papadopoulos.

Payne studied Spanish and history at Stanford University before choosing a film course at UCLA over journalism studies.

His university thesis film was screened at the prestigious Sundance film festival and led to Citizen Ruth, which was backed by movie moguls Miramax.

He says Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein forced him to change the title and ending, agree to a cast member and approve a poster design he did not want - but thanks him for the chance to get the movie made at all.

Alexander Payne filming Sideways
In Sideways, Payne follows two men around California's vineyards
From scripts to casts, Payne has since prized more control of his movies away from the studios who give him their money as his reputation has grown.

Whereas studios want a big star to guarantee a box office hit, Payne wants the right actor for the part - and personally told George Clooney he could not appear in Sideways because the audience would not believe his character was really a loser.

Payne, who did give a role to his actress wife Sandra Oh, says his aim is to make "movies for the ages", with realistic characters and intelligent stories, inspired by 1970s US classics and Italian greats.

"There is an audience out there for literate films - slower, more observant, more human films, and they deserve to be made," he has said.


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