A Defense of “The Descendants” and a Eulogy for Best Original Song (and Gwyneth Paltrow)

Dondon and Jayjay,

The two of you have pretty much dissected the recent history of the Best Actress category, and what I got from your analysis was that Oscar likes its women hideous and dark, especially when pretty actresses take upon those roles. It escapes me then why the most blatantly deprettified performance of the year didn’t get a nomination. Don and Jay, I present to you the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow from Contagion:


But kidding aside, I would put my money on Viola Davis taking home the Oscar this year. Her acceptance speech at the SAG awards was so brilliantly put together, as if it was intentionally designed to make everyone feel good about making a black actress win again. Anyone that can make Cicely Tyson cry or Betty Davis and Dick van Dyke get up on their feet is bound to win an Oscar. (P.S. Don’t miss Octavia Spencer’s face at 01:56 in the video below. That alone is worthy of another statue.)

Let me bring back the discussion to the actual films. As I pointed out a few posts back, the movie I’m rooting for in the Best Picture category is Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. It will take a miracle for it to win (at this point, even The Help has better odds thanks to VIola Davis’ second acceptance speech at the SAGs), but I still am of the opinion that it is the most emotionally complex film of the bunch. Payne has shown that he has the uncanny skill of turning relatively small stories about simple people into broad, moving humanist tales that reveal a lot of insight about the personal crises that people (well, mostly middle-aged men) go through. The Descendants is another movie of his that has made me feel the entire gamut of emotions, with the film sometimes switching from brooding melodrama to lighthearted comedy in just one scene.

Much like Sideways, this film takes a motley cast of characters and sends them on a transformative road trip. This time, the crew is headed by George Clooney who plays Matt King, a father facing the dual responsibility of dealing with his brain-dead wife’s philandering ways and the need to divest the pristine, untouched Hawaiian land handed down to him as the scion of a wealthy clan. Payne is able to fuse both plots into one coherent whole without compromising the quality of each. I am particularly impressed at how he was able to develop and infuse character even to the smallest of roles, including his daughter’s surfer boy(space)friend Sid (Nick Krause), his father-in-law (Robert Forster) and the scene-stealing wife of the man his wife’s having an affair with (Judy Greer).

Using Hawaii as his canvas, he establishes the power and superiority of the family above anything else. Something about the bucolic scenery of Hawaii must be engendering that feeling. As Lilo famously said, “‘Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.” And even though Matt King’s wife wanted to leave, he wouldn’t let her ever be forgotten.


I’d like to end this post with the two songs nominated for Best Original Song – “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets and “Real in Rio” from Rio – to show how ridiculous this category is now. A quick look at the 80s winners shows a lot of pop classics – Fame, Arthur’s Theme, Up Where We Belong, Flashdance…What a Feeling, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Say You Say Me, Take My Breath Away and The Time of My Life. And those are just the winners. I doubt we’ll look back at either of these songs 20 years from now with fondness. Should the Oscars just remove this category all together? I say yes.


P.S. If Click The City is to be believed, then the Descendants will be showing here in Manila on February  15. 

1 comment
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