Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Descendants

The Descendants
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

There are a lot of good and bad aspects to the Oscar season. On the one hand, it kinda sucks that so many of the quality movies get squeezed into the final two months of the calendar year instead of being spread out over the other ten months. Then again, as a movie fan, it is kinda nice to have this time of year to look forward to, especially if you've read about certain films playing film festivals like Cannes and Toronto and getting great receptions.

For my part, I don't try to see every potential Oscar contender. I can't. Part of it is financial, but also because it gets tiring. In my experience, it becomes less about appreciating the movies as movies and more about a race. I remember in 1997 - which was a very good year for movies - I tried to watch a bunch of contenders in one week in late December, all in Manhattan. Never again. It had nothing to do with the quality of the films (I don't even remember which ones; I know one was Jackie Brown); I just caught up in the Oscar race and felt like I had to see everything as soon as possible and as a result I forgot to take time to really appreciate the movies. 

When I covered the Urbanworld Film Festival this year, it was different. I was seeing movies I had never even heard about before, for free thanks to my press badge, in a limited time period, in one location. Who knew when (or even if) I'd get to see some of those films again? I didn't have that excuse in 1997. If I had bothered to take my time with those movies, which would play for longer periods of time in theaters all over the city, maybe they'd stand out in my mind more.

Anyway, I also say this to explain why you may not see me write about certain films from this Oscar season. I've settled into writing about three movies a week for months now, and even that feels like much at times. I want to see the contenders, but I refuse to knock myself out trying to see them all, or even close to it. So I make choices. If I can wait for a movie to come to the Kew Gardens where I can see it cheaper, I do. If I see a potential contender looks like it's bombing, I know to avoid it. If I can wait until January to see a contender, I will. And if a certain movie simply doesn't appeal to me for whatever reason, even if it is a contender, I'll pass on it.

The Descendants is a good example of this process. It's a movie I had been reading about for weeks, one that had gotten rave reviews at film festivals, and was touted as a major Oscar contender. As a result, I was eager to see it, but I knew it would eventually play at the Kew Gardens after opening in Manhattan, so I was willing to wait a couple of extra weeks and save some money. (I should also say that I'm fully aware of this luxury I have - the ability to pick and choose where and when to see movies like this, and I'm grateful for it. When I lived in Columbus, it wasn't a choice - the art house theaters there would always get their movies later than those in New York or LA - but at least we got them.)

The Descendants is also the kind of film that I want to be able to think about for awhile. It's an outstanding achievement; deeply moving and thoughtful. The dying-wife-and-mother element made me think of my father's final months of life, although unlike the movie, I didn't have any kind of issues with him that complicated my feelings for him. I do remember the hurt, though, the great sense of loss, and it was hard not to think on that as I watched this.

I think we who write about film ought to take more time to reflect on the movies we write about. The need to consistently provide content for our blogs and websites has the potential to preclude our enjoyment of the films sometimes, especially if we, like certain film critic groups, are in a rush to proclaim our opinions of them before everyone else. Just a thought.


  1. Great review for a film I hope doesn't get lost in the Oscar mix.

  2. It definitely won't. If anything it's right in the thick of things.

  3. I don't try to see every Oscar contenders either, especially since I often don't agree w/ their picks. This one sounds intriguing though, I'll give it a shot.

  4. No one ever completely agrees with their picks!

    But yeah, see this one for sure; I know you'd like it.


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