Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recognized some of the year’s best films on Sunday. "Gladiator" was chosen best film, and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" took away best foreign-language film honors. Each of these Oscar contenders received four BAFTA awards in total.
Producers Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig accepted the best film award for "Gladiator," praising director Ridley Scott during their acceptance speech, who lost out on the best director prize to Ang Lee for "Tiger."
Besides best foreign film and best director, "Crouching Tiger" also won for music (Tan Dun) and costume design (Tim Yip). Of BAFTA and the United Kingdom, Lee said: "You've always been great to me. This is like a second home to me now."
“Gladiator” also won the Orange Audience Award for most popular film of 2000. Scott thanked DreamWorks and Universal for their courage in backing a $100 million film in a genre that hadn't been touched for 30 years. "It is especially good to win this on my home turf as I spend so much time in the United States," Scott said during his acceptance speech. "I am absolutely thrilled."
Besides the BAFTA honor for best film, "Gladiator" also picked up awards for cinematography (John Mathieson), production design (Arthur Max) and editing (Pietro Scalia).
British effort "Billy Elliot" won three awards, including best British film, best actor (Jamie Bell) and best supporting actress for Julie Walters.
Julia Roberts was named best actress for her performance in the title role of "Erin Brockovich." Presenter Hugh Grant, and co-star in "Notting Hill," picked up the award for the absentee actress.
Best original screenplay and best sound awards went to Cameron Crowe’s "Almost Famous." Crowe's wife, Nancy Wilson, accepted his award, saying that Crowe was unable to attend the event as a double ear infection prevented him from flying. "He meant this movie as a love letter from his heart to music," Wilson said.
Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" also won two awards, for adapted screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro).
Veteran casting director Mary Selway was given the Michael Balcon Award for her outstanding contribution to cinema. Actor Albert Finney was presented with a British Film Academy Fellowship for lifetime achievement, receiving a standing ovation.
The complete list of winners:
THE ACADEMY FELLOWSHIP: Albert Finney
THE MICHAEL BALCON AWARD for outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Mary Selway
THE ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD for outstanding British Film of the Year: "Billy Elliot"
BEST FILM: "Gladiator"
THE DAVID LEAN AWARD for Achievement in Direction: Ang Lee, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
SCREENPLAY (Original): Cameron Crowe, "Almost Famous"
SCREENPLAY (Adapted): Stephen Gaghan, "Traffic"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a leading role: Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a leading role: Jamie Bell, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a supporting role: Julie Walters, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a supporting role: Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic"
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Bill Hong/Hsu Li Kong/Ang Lee )
THE ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD for achievement in Film Music: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
THE CARL FOREMAN AWARD for Most Promising Newcomer to British Film: Pawel Pawlikowski
CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Mathieson, "Gladiator"
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arthur Max, "Gladiator"
COSTUME DESIGN: Tim Yip, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
EDITING: Pietro Scalia, "Gladiator"
SOUND: Jeff Wexler/D.M. Hemphill/Rick Kline/Paul Massey/Mike Wilhoit, "Almost Famous"
ACHIEVEMENT IN SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS: Stefen Fangmeier/John Frazier/Walt Conti/Habib Zargarpour/Tim Alexander, "The Perfect Storm"
MAKE UP/HAIR: Rick Baker/Kazuhirop Tsuji/Tony G./Gal Ryan/Sylvia Nava, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
SHORT FILM Gary Holding/Justine Leahy/Tinge Krishnan, "Shadowscan"
SHORT ANIMATION: Claire Jennings/Willem Thijssen/Michael Dudok de Wit, "Father and Daughter"
ORANGE AUDIENCE AWARD: "Gladiator"