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“What makes you think I'm out of bed at this hour?”
Those were the first words out of filmmaker Alexander Payne's mouth, a little before 6 a.m. PST Thursday morning, as he answered the first of many congratulatory calls at his Topanga Canyon home in Los Angeles.
His movie, “Nebraska,” got six Academy Award nominations, including best picture and director for Payne. It's the highest total of any of Payne's six movies.
“Well, isn't that grand,” Payne said a little groggily when informed of the fact. “Did the screenplay get a nomination?”
Yes, it did. Payne did some rewrite on the script, but the sole credit on the film goes to first-time nominee Bob Nelson.
Other nods for “Nebraska”: best actor (Bruce Dern), supporting actress (June Squibb) and cinematography (Phedon Papamichael). The black-and-white movie is a road trip across Payne's home state, during which an estranged father and son reconnect.
“There are a lot of titans of film out there this year,” Payne said of the Oscar field. “ 'Gravity' is a miracle, and 'American Hustle' and 'Wolf of Wall Street' are these grand, complex, intricate films. 'Nebraska' is a bit more modest in scale. But it keeps being included in the conversation, and that's very nice.”
Payne, born and raised in Omaha, said he was thrilled for Dern and Squibb but happiest for his longtime cinematographer, Papamichael, who had never been nominated before. Payne pointed out that Mauro Fiore, an Oscar-winning cinematographer for “Avatar” who also calls Omaha home, “used to work for Phedon.”
Like “Nebraska,” Payne's “The Descendants” (2011) and “Sideways” (2004) were also nominated for best picture, director and screenplay, snagging five nominations each. “About Schmidt” (2002) got two nods, and “Election” (1999) one.
Payne has won two Oscars for best adapted screenplay (“The Descendants,” “Sideways”), sharing the honor with writing partners. He said longtime co-writer Jim Taylor was at his home early Thursday, awakened by the ringing phones.
Payne said he's had the flu for about a week and had just gotten up for some water with lemon and honey when the commotion began Thursday morning. He confessed he'd peeked briefly online before talking to The World-Herald.
“I heard last night they're having a gathering up in Norfolk right now,” Payne said, coughing. Norfolk, Neb., was Payne's operating hub for “Nebraska,” most of which was filmed in small towns near there. A breakfast at Norfolk Lodge drew a small crowd to see the nominations live Thursday morning. “I hope they're having a nice belt at 8 a.m.,” he said.
Asked whom he might take to the Oscar ceremony with him this time, he said he had no idea. “I'm barely out of bed,” he said.