Inside the Best Picture Nominees: A deep dive into 'The Descendants'

Descendants

Image Credit: Merie Wallace

There are a whopping nine films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. And between your work, family, and constant USA marathons of Law & Order: SVU (when will those ever stop being addictive?!), you simply do not have time to catch all nine in the theaters or on DVD. But never fear, dear PopWatchers — that’s why we’re here! Each day leading up to the Academy Awards Feb. 26, we’ll be providing you with a deep dive into one of the nine Best Picture nominees. Fear showing up to your Oscars party unprepared to discuss the year’s most notable films? We’ve got you covered. (Just beware: Spoilers ahead!) And if you’ve already seen all nine films, even better — our inside look at each nominee will serve as a handy guide to remind you of the best and worst moments from every Best Picture candidate this year. Today, George Clooney leis it all on the line in The Descendants. (Be sure click here for more deep dives into this year’s Best Picture nominees!)

Name: The Descendants

Release date: Limited: Nov. 16, 2011; wide: Dec. 9, 2011

DVD release date: March 13, 2012

Run time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Box Office: First weekend (wide): $4.4 million; total domestic (so far): $70.7 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90 percent

The Descendants‘ movie math: (Up in the AirDeath of a Salesman) + (Unfaithful x Sleeping Beauty) + Georgia Rule + (Just Go With It – Adam Sandler) + (Home for the Holidays x Glengarry Glen Ross)

Tweetable description of The Descendants: Matt King discovers his comatose wife’s infidelity, brings his daughters as he looks for her lover, and mulls an important family land sale

What EW’s Owen Gleiberman said:The Descendants is a beautifully chiseled piece of filmmaking — sharp, funny, generous, and moving. George Clooney gives a pitch-perfect performance as a man awakened, for the first time in years, by the immensity of his loss…. A

Number of Oscar nominations: Five. The Descendants will vie for Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Payne), Best Actor (Clooney), Best Adapted Screenplay (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash), Best Editing (Kevin Tent).

Cast/Director’s Oscar history: Payne has already picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay trophy for 2005’s Sideways. He was also nominated for directing and producing Sideways, as well as for his Election screenplay in 2000. Clooney won Best Supporting Actor in 2006 for Syriana. That same year, he was nominated for directing and adapting the screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck. In 2008, he received a Best Actor nod for Michael Clayton and another in 2010 for Up in the Air. This year, his screenplay for The Ides of March (co-written by Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon) will face off against Payne, Rash, and Faxon’s Descendants adaptation. Robert Forster, who plays The Descendants‘ ornery father-in-law Scott Thorson, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Jackie Brown.

What The Descendants has won thus far: Clooney has picked up the lion’s share of the awards for the film, including Best Actor at the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards and the Golden Globes, where The Descendants also picked up the Best Picture – Drama statuette. The film was selected as one of the top 10 of the year by the National Board of Review, who also honored Clooney and Woodley’s acting, and Payne, Faxon, and Rash’s adapted screenplay.

Why The Descendants should win: In addition to boasting the role that EW’s own Dave Karger described as “arguably the strongest performance of [Clooney's] career,” The Descendants is stacked from top to bottom with an amazing actors: Woodley breaks out from the ABC Family mold, Matthew Lillard is Shaggy-slash-That Guy from Scream no more, and Judy Greer finally gets the dramatic role she deserves. Unlike the almost unbroken slew of ultra-dramatic Best Picture-winning films (Crash, The Departed, The Hurt Locker) in the last 10 years, The Descendants possesses a lithe blend of comedy and serious emotion that should be rewarded, not overlooked. Think 1978 Best Picture winner Annie Hall. Plus, Alexander Payne deserves some remuneration after Sideways lost to 2004 tragi-porn Million Dollar Baby.

Why The Descendants should not win: Annie Hall, you say? Well, Woody Allen is also nominated this year for Midnight in Paris, which has many of the same advantages as The Descendants. Add to that, The Descendants doesn’t have the same intriguing intermingling of innovation and nostalgic charm as The Artist and Hugo. It lacks have the sweeping grandiosity of The Tree of Life or the historical weight of War Horse, The Help, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It also doesn’t have Brad Pitt, who is featured in two contenders for Best Picture (hey there, Moneyball). The film is just George Clooney being awesome in a Hawaiian shirt. To be sure, that’s a very good thing, but is it enough to snag the top prize?

Vegas odds: 9/1, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting

EW’s Dave Karger’s odds: Slightly better than average. Karger puts this film fourth in line for the Best Picture win.

Moment most worthy of an Oscar: Matt confronts his wife’s lover Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), telling him, “Elizabeth is dying. Wait… F— you! And she’s dying.” Brian is jittery because his wife and young children are practically within earshot. He tries to cut the conversation short, but Matt is on a mission (and Clooney owns the scene accordingly). Matt asks bluntly, “Have you ever been inside my bedroom?” Speer admits, yes, he was once. Matt says incredulously, “You could have had the decency to lie about that one.” Brian admits, “All right, twice.” When Matt is satisfied that he has put the fear of God into Brian, he goes outside, where his daughter is waiting with Brian’s wife (Judy Greer). Before leaving, Matt plants a spiteful kiss on Brian’s wife’s lips.

Best line from The Descendants: Thorson to teenage punk Sid, “I’m gonna hit you.” [Punches him in the face.]

Worst line from The Descendants: “Goodbye, Elizabeth. Goodbye, my love, my friend, my pain, my joy. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.” [Despite Clooney's heart-shattering delivery, this blatant Oscar bait line seemed over-the-top amid Payne's typically quirky, never-on-the-nose writing.]

MVP (Most Valuable Prop): Ice cream! They ate the stuff by the boatload: two varieties in the charming final scene.

Shailene-Woodley

Image Credit: Merie Wallace

Best fashion moment: Breakout star Woodley spent at least 50 percent of the film showing off her enviable body in string bikinis.

Worst fashion moment: After Matt found out about Elizabeth’s affair, he felt compelled to sprint to his friends’ house to confirm the awful news, so he slipped on… a pair of boat shoes? Footwear fail.

Best music moment: It was all about the sweet plucking of the Aloha State’s indigenous ukulele, and the instrument was best used when Matt and his daughters cast Elizabeth’s ashes into the ocean in a traditional Hawaiian burial rite. Makana’s “Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest” also stood out for its contemplative, almost mournful tranquility.

Like the movie? Learn about the book: The Oscar nominee began in the pages of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ short story “The Minor Wars” and hews closely to her full-length novel The Descendants. How did the screenwriters’ improve on the Hawaiian-based author’s dialogue-driven book, and which character curses like a sailor and wears a “Mrs. Clooney” shirt? Our book expert Stephan Lee has the answers

In which George Clooney admits taking this role made him sweat: Clooney and his castmates sit down with Karger and an industry audience. Clooney jokes about his own pick for worst fashion moment, Woodley explains how mall walking figured into the research for her character, and of course Clooney manages a gentle reminder of his two-time Sexiest Man Alive status. All in a day’s work!

Why Clooney is this generation’s King Cool: Jeff Labrecque discusses that moment when Clooney began to remind him of Paul Newman — a true movie star who isn’t afraid to embrace his age and take on persona-defying roles from coldhearted career killer to cuckold. Considering the depth and range of Paul Newman’s late career choices, where will Clooney go in the next 20 years?

Five Oscar Party talking points:
1.) Scottie and Alex’s acting out seemed swept under the rug, no? Can a bowl of ice cream really make things better? (Answer: Yes, but how do they all still look that good in their bathing suits?)

2.) There is no way the King family would allow Matt to scuttle a land sale on which they were all depending, just for some sudden surge of family nostalgia. Couldn’t Matt simply have told the developer to cut Brian Speer out of the deal?

3.) Was Matt’s confrontation with Troy Cook (Laird Hamilton) wildly uncomfortable? How could two grown men argue over who is responsible for putting a child’s mother in a coma when the very child (10-year-old Scottie) sits by, her world collapsing? Grow up, boys.

4.) Between Matt King, Jim McAllister, Miles, and Warren Schmidt, who is the saddest sack of all?

5.) Didn’t see that coming! Sid’s revelation about his father’s recent death and Julie Speer’s outburst at the hospital really changed the viewer’s perspective on those characters. Were the small moments (not the big, tearjerker denouements) the ones that made the film?

Read more:
EW Special Coverage: Oscars 2012

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