I confess I’m not the biggest fan of “The Descendants.” But clearly I’m in the minority.
For one, the film is a near lock to nab Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (George Clooney) and Best Director (Alexander Payne), and could walk away with wins for all three if Academy voters sour on “The Artist.” Two, I don’t think I’ve heard crying like that in a theater since “Schindler’s List,” or perhaps “Jack and Jill.” And three, “Descendants” landed in the #9 spot in MTV’s list of the best movies of 2011.
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My knock against the movie is squarely with Clooney’s Matt King, an egocentric, workaholic, absentee father who suddenly discovers he loves his after she suffers a catastrophic brain injury and is going to die. To me, that’s not genuine — it’s self-delusional and just loathsome. It’d be one thing if the movie made a point of exploring King’s egotism. Instead, he’s held up as a hero, a blameless good guy, even as continues to put his needs ahead — indeed, in place — of those of his loved ones. Imagine if this movie were told from the wife’s perspective, and it’s this tragedy where she’s in a loveless marriage with a guy who’s a total d–k, and suddenly she falls in love with another guy and starts dreaming of another life for herself but ends up falling into coma. Exact same story, and King’s the villain. In Payne’s telling, I never really buy King’s grief. It feels forced, inauthentic.
A much more sincere investigation of grief takes place in Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo,” the story of one family reeling from the death of the mother. Matt Damon delivers a heartbreaking performance as a dad trying to breathe new life into his deflated kids’ lives. It’s a tale that would be cheesy in almost anyone else’s hands other than Crowe’s. “Zoo,” though, isn’t really factoring into the awards conversation.
Yet that’s also what’s so much fun about these end-of-the-year debates: no one’s going to agree on everything, and when smart, informed people come together to discuss movies, you end up looking at films with fresh insight. That’s the hope, at least. And I think we nailed it in our roundtable. Check it out for yourself on Friday at 4:30 p.m., as we live stream our debate about the top five movies of 2011 at MTV Movies and NextMovie.