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Best Alexander Payne Movies, Ranked

Over the course of Alexander Payne‘s successful career, he has earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Screenplay for his films Sideways and The Descendants. Payne handles each film he takes on with precision, delivering memorable and original stories. His movies usually have a great blend of comedy and drama that can be rewatched quite easily. At the same time, Payne has worked with some of the best actors in Hollywood, including Matt Damon, Laura Dern, George Clooney, and more. He tells honest stories about navigating love, life, and friendship. Payne has a sheer talent when it comes to screenwriting and his directing style is authentic and unique to him.

Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and majored in Spanish and History at Stanford University. After that, he attended UCLA Film School, where, per EW, his thesis film, The Passion of Martin, earned him a deal with Universal Pictures. His first feature film was a back comedy entitled Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern. He received wide recognition for his follow-up film, Elections, a satire on American politics. Payne has continued to make fantastic films, and, according to The Wrap, he will be reuniting with Paul Giamatti on his upcoming project, The Holdovers. Before that comes out, let’s look at Payne’s entire filmography, ranked.

Related: Top Breakout Movies From Modern Filmmakers

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7 Downsizing

Although Downsizing was made on a big budget, with an A-list cast, it is considered one of the weaker films of Payne’s career. With that said, it is still a highly original tale about a new technology that can shrink people so that they can live in a miniature community at a reasonable price. The movie taps on several thought-provoking themes including class structure and environmentalism. Downsizing has a lot of comedy, as well as drama, and Matt Damon and the rest of the cast deliver fine performances.


6 Citizen Ruth

Citizen Ruth was Payne’s breakout film that featured a spectacular performance from Laura Dern. The film follows Ruth Stoops (Dern), who becomes roped into an abortion debate after becoming impregnated. At the same time, Dern gives an honest portrayal of addiction. It is a fascinating look into politics and abortion rights that features a great cast, lead by the very talented Dern. Payne proved with Citizen Ruth that he had a sheer talent at telling dark, thought-provoking stories.

5 Election

Election brings the world of politics to a Nebraska high school. The movie focuses on a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) who becomes overly involved in a high school election between two very different students. Reese Witherspoon gives a fantastic performance as the overachieving Tracy Flick, proving her talents at a young age. The movie is filled with humor, political themes, and original editing. It is a very entertaining movie that can be rewatched several times.


4 Nebraska

Payne goes back to his roots in Nebraska, once again, with his acclaimed film Nebraska, featuring one of Bruce Dern’s best performances of his career. The film focuses on a troubled, older man who goes on a road trip with his son (Will Forte) to receive a supposedly $1 million coming to him. It is a great story focusing on the relationship between a father and son, and it is filled with several great supporting characters. At the same time, the black and white cinematography works perfectly for the story.

Related: Best Modern Movies Shown in Black and White, Ranked

3 The Descendants

The Descendants is an endearing story following a successful man, Matt King (George Clooney), who struggles to connect with his two daughters while his wife is in a coma. At the same time, he uncovers that his wife was having an affair before her terrible accident. Clooney gives one of the greatest performances of his career as a confused, yet caring, father. At the same time, the film dives deep into the history of Hawaii. It is a great blend of comedy and drama featuring a top-notch performance from Shailene Woodley as well.


2 About Schmidt

In Payne’s acclaimed film, About Schmidt, we saw Jack Nicholson take on a character that he never has before. Nicholson plays a subtle and unhappy man who has just recently retired. He embarks on a journey to see his estranged daughter after his wife unexpectedly passes away. Nicholson is brilliant from beginning to end, and the film also features one of Kathy Bates’ best performances of her career. It is a fabulous film about broken dreams and yearning for more out of life.

1 Sideways

Sideways is the type of film that gets better every time you watch it. The movie is a buddy comedy about two middle-aged men on a trip through the California wine country. Along the way, we learn much about wine-tasting through the memorable character Miles (Paul Giamatti). At the same time, Thomas Haden Church gives a hilarious performance as an aging actor who can’t seem to grow up. It is an honest and highly entertaining film about friendship, love, and life. The cast also includes top-notch performances from Virgina Madsen and Sandra Oh.




Wendy Williams

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