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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Descendants Ascends to Oscar-Worthy Status Thanks to Big Performances in Small Roles

The Descendants works so well probably because of its small moments. They ring true. Like when George Clooney wakes up in the middle of the night and has a short talk with Sid the good-hearted but slightly dim friend of his daughter. We don’t get sudden wisdom from Nick, but we do learn a little more about him - and Clooney's character. When Clooney bids goodbye to Judy Greer—who after a check on IMDB seems to have appeared on every tv show in existence in the last five years—in a key late-movie scene, he has a special way of parting that makes you smile (sweet revenge). And when you think early on that this might be another troubled teen story who hates her father, it’s quite the opposite. She’s the most normal one in the story and wants to love her father. Alexander Payne has produced by far his best film here, worthy of a best picture nomination—in addition to nominations for Clooney and Shailene Woodley (who my colleague tells me is on a teenage soap opera). The casting agent deserve kudos here for a range of excellent characters from the grandfather (the estimable Robert Forster) to Nick (Nick Krause) to cousins who include where-have-they-been actors Beau Bridges (with long hair like his brother Jeff now) and Michael Ontkean. I think I met him once 25 years ago - more on that in another post - after the debut of a movie he did with Harry Hamlin. The final scene works incredibly well to take us past the death of the wife who has been in a coma the whole movie. As opposed to the ending in Martha May Marcy Marlene where we have no idea what's happening, we're comfortably settled in with the King family at the end of The Descendants.

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