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Studio: Fox Searchlight (released Oct. 22)

Category: Adapted (from Rex Pickett’s novel of the same title)

Storyline: Miles (Paul Giamatti), a depressed, divorced teacher and unpublished novelist, and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a former soap-opera star who’s about to get married, take a weeklong road trip through Santa Barbara wine country. Along the way, the two men are forced to deal with the consequences of romantic and professional failure, the fear of falling in love, and the dangers of compulsive womanizing.

About the script: Working from a classic odd-couple conceit, longtime co-writers Payne (who directed) and Taylor achieve a pitch-perfect balance of humor and pathos. “People have said this is a departure for us, because we’ve been pegged as social satirists,” says Taylor. “I do see what they’re saying — there is more of an emotional resonance to ‘Sideways.’ Ultimately, it’s a love story.” Unlike their first two adaptations, “Election” and “About Schmidt,” Payne and Taylor’s script for “Sideways” remains almost entirely faithful to the structure and plot of Pickett’s novel. “Rex lays the story out so well; he thinks like a filmmaker in so many ways,” says Payne. “The novel is very dialogue oriented and very visual. Plus, I liked how human the novel was, how sad and funny it was. That’s the main reason we responded to it, and because of that we didn’t feel the need to change much of what he wrote.”

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Biggest challenge: “Because we liked the novel so much, it was a struggle to keep the screenplay as short as possible,” says Payne. “Still, it ended up at 140 pages. I knew I’d have to get the actors to talk fast. There were scenes we could have cut, but we left them in, and I’m proud that we did that.”

Breakthrough moment: “We did decide to change Rex’s ending, which had Miles and Maya (Virginia Madsen) coming together after Jack’s wedding reception,” says Taylor. “There were more cynical endings we considered, but we thought Miles deserved more in the end. We wanted to convey a slight chance for hope but not go too far. What we decided on was the most emotionally honest ending we could come up with.”

Standout scene: At Jack’s wedding, when Miles learns that his recently married ex-wife is pregnant. “Every time I see how brilliantly Paul pulls off that moment, I’m moved,” says Taylor. “It’s just so subtle, and exact and painful.”

Choice lines: Maya to Miles: “A bottle of wine is actually alive — it’s constantly gaining in complexity. That is, until it peaks — like your ’61 –and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.”

Writers’ bios: “Sideways” is Payne and Taylor’s fourth collaboration. Previous films include “Citizen Ruth” and two that drew Oscar notice: “Election” and “About Schmidt.”