The Descendants gets a Dec 16th release, positioning director Alexander Payne and George Clooney in a prime holiday showcase slot for maximum awards impact. As late as last November, Fox Searchlight had this family drama tentatively slated for late-entry year-end premiere — but Payne wanted a few more months to fine-tune in post-production. (besides, Fox already had its hands full with two BP nominees, 127 Hours and Black Swan). The Playlist notes The Descendents will now share the same opening day with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows — a strong declaration from Searchlight of confident counter-programming clout.
The last time George Clooney went head-to-head with Sherlock Holmes was Dec 23, 2009. Up in the Air went on to earn 6 Oscar nominations, and Clooney won the NYFCC award for Best Actor. As a soon-to-be-single dad coping with restless teenager kids and a comatose wife on her death bed, his role in The Descendents promises to push a far more likeable range of emotional buttons. (*the comatose wife part is not a spoiler. It’s the heart-grabbing hook of the story’s premise that we learn from Page One of the novel.)
Alexander Payne was nominated for writing Election in 1999, and twice more for writing and directing Sideways in 2004. He won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for Sideways. The last two films Payne has directed earned Best Actor nominations for Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and
Paul Giamatti (Sideways) [sorry, snubbed; my memory keeps trying to make excuses for the Academy.]