With “The Artist” breathing down its neck and buzz growing for “Hugo,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “War Horse,” the beginning of December wasn’t the best of times for Team “Descendants.” The critically acclaimed film had lost both the best picture honors of the NYFCC and the National Board of Review and while box office was fantastic, best picture hopes were fading fast. What a difference the last week has been.
“The Descendants” took the LA Film Critics honor on Sunday, scored a SAG Ensemble nomination on Wednesday (while “Hugo” and “War Horse” were shut out) and found itself with five Golden Globe Awards nominations on Thursday including best picture, best actor, best director, best supporting actress and best screenplay. At this point, “The Artist” is out front, but “The Descendants” stopped its free fall and still has a shot at Oscar’s top prize.
In the middle of a busy nomination morning, two members of “The Descendants” family took a break from celebrating to discuss the film’s stellar week. Producer Jim Burke is very happy about the film’s kudos, but notes, “It’s all exciting, but for me the most exciting thing is to go into a movie theater and watch it with an audience and watch them laugh and become emotional and get mad at a character for two. That feeling is hard to duplicate. Certainly the kind of critical attention we have received, it really is gratifying.”
I jokingly asked Burke how star George Clooney was going to deal with going up against Ryan Gosling, who he directed in “The Ides of March,” for the best actor-drama award and “The Descendants'” Alexander Payne in the directing field.
“I think he has a high class problem,” Burke deadpans. “If it were me? I don’t know. I’m sure his obviously, his odds of having some sort of satisfaction are pretty high.”
Burke also admitted the continued kudos will be a big boost to the dramedy as it expands in new markets across the country. With $24.9 million so far, Fox Searchlight is hoping to no doubt equal or surpass Clooney’s last awards season player, “Up in the Air,” which grossed $83 million two years ago.
“It’s a big wind in our sails. There is no denying that,” Burke says. “‘The Descendants’ is not an obvious movie to make in 2011. It’s not based on toy or any branded thing. So from the studio side at least there was some risk involved. So, it’s being looked at as a movie that’s been executed well is a great reward. But to fox Searchlight who bet on it and we are grateful.”
In the meantime, Burke is working on prepping two possible films to shoot in 2012: Payne’s long in the works feature “Nebraska” and “Keep Coming Back.” The latter is inspired on a real life bounty hunter interventionist and they’re hoping to lock down a director after the New Year.
Another very happy member of the “Descendants” team was Shailene Woodley. The star of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” has had a cinematic breakthrough in “The Descendants” and has already been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and won the best supporting actress of the year honor from the National Board of Review. While she surprisingly didn’t make the SAG Awards cut, she was incredibly enthusiastic over her Golden Globe nomination.
“I was shocked and surprised and filled with gratitude and excitement. It was like every emotion rolled up into one. Not only to hear about myself, but Alexander and George and the movie,” Woodley says. “I’m so excited for them and George even with ‘The Ides of March.’ He’s such an amazing human being and artist. It’s exciting to recognized for that. And to be in the company, at least for me, with some of the other women in that category? I’m so humbled and grateful to even be in the same room.”
Woodley has been promoting the picture since the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals in September, but says she never bought the hype that she’d get recognition for her work.
“I never really thought it was going to happen. I still don’t really think that for the future,” Woodley admits. “My approach to this entire whirlwind has been taking it day by day and being grateful for each day. All of my expectations were beyond met when we filmed the movie in Hawaii.”
Surprisingly, Woodley says she hasn’t booked another movie role yet. She’s taking her time and being as careful as she can about what to do next. And, in so doing, is taking some advice from one of her “Descendants” co-stars.
“Judy Greer says she’ll never take a straight offer. She’ll always audition for films,” Woodley says. “And I thought that was so amazing and I totally stole her thing, her mojo and I’m doing that as well. I’ll never take a straight offer. Unless a script gives me butterflies and I’m passionate about a screenplay? I’m not gonna take a film just because it’s a straight offer.”
Woodley and Burke will find out where “The Descendants” fortunes lie with the HFPA when the Golden Globes are announced on Sunday, Jan. 15 on NBC.
“The Descendants” is now playing in limited release.
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