Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, The Phantom of the Opera, and Ray were strong competition, but Alexander Payne’s affectionate Sideways prevailed. 2004 had been as disparate a year as ever there was. You had an avant-garde love story, a Pixar original, an underwhelming Broadway musical, and a definitive film biography. But Sideways blindsided everyone.
There were no stars in the movie, but it made stars of Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, and Thomas Haden Church, all three of whom were nominated for Golden Globes (and Oscars as well). Sandra Oh’s career also received a big boost. Sideways sent Giamatti’s career into the stratosphere. The film ended up earning over $100 million and established Alexander Payne as one of Hollywood’s true auteurs. His first film Citizen Ruth had its adherents, but it was his second, Election, which made Hollywood take notice. He followed that with About Schmidt, which the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the London Film Critics voted their Best Film of the Year. But Sideways would top them all at the Globes.
Giamatti plays a depressed school teacher and unsuccessful writer about to be married, and Hayden Church plays his best friend, a past-his-prime actor. When the two of them take a week-long last fling road trip to Santa Barbara County wine country, they meet up with Sandra Oh (Payne’s wife at the time) and Virginia Madsen, and complications set in. The film was loved by audiences and critics alike, and its Golden Globe win helped make it a box office hit.
2004, however, was also the year of Ray. Jamie Foxx won every award that year, including the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, so Giamatti didn’t have a chance. Neither did Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kevin Kline for De-Lovely and Kevin Spacey for Beyond the Sea, the other nominees.
Best Actress in Musical or Comedy Golden Globe went to Annette Bening for Being Julia. Her competition. Ashley Judd in De-Lovely, Emmy Rossum in The Phantom of the Opera, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Madsen and Church were the only comedy actors nominated in the supporting category, a field top heavy with strong dramatic performances. Neither won.
Sideways was the movie that established Fox Searchlight as an award-winning heavyweight. Its subsequent winners include Little Miss Sunshine, Once, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, Black Swan, The Descendants, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, and Brooklyn.