The more I reflect on 2013, I feel sure that "Nebraska" was the best film of the year. It may have been the most unexpected triumph of any year, for that matter.
What else can you make of a black and white movie? Or one starring a thoroughly restrained Bruce Dern? Or one featuring a plot as seemingly implausible as anything cooked up by George Lucas?
But it all works, and re-re-re-affirms the fact that Cornhusker director Alexander Payne is one of our best storytellers.
In Nebraska, Dern shines -- just polish up the man's Oscar statue right now, please -- as a broken-down man who is obsessed by the lure of collecting the million bucks he thinks is his due because some schlock house promised it to him in the mail. We take the journey from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, with Dern and Will Forte, who plays his loyal, pragmatic son with restraint and wit. June Squibb and Stacy Kech and, yes, Bob Odenkirk (who was so funny on The Larry Sanders Show but effectively dials it down here) are also terrific in supporting roles. Squibb should also merit serious Oscar consideration as Best Supporting Actress.
Payne's masterpiece is also screen writer Bob Nelson's triumph. Even though the plot seems flimsy and silly, it holds up because the dialogue is so believable. Dern's mission and Forte's family crisis are also the audience's.
People might not appreciate this film for a few years. It might have to show up on several Best Of …lists for us to remember how good it is.