‘The Descendants’ finally makes its Academy debut as the raves come in

Three months after dazzling audiences at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is finally hitting theaters in New York and Los Angeles today. And that opening timed perfectly to the film’s Los Angeles premiere Tuesday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The premiere wasn’t filled with Clooney-like starpower, but instead, Hollywood creative types such as Kimberly Peirce (“Boy’s Don’t Cry”), Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”), Josh Radnor, Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”), Zak Penn, Will Reiser (“50/50”) and even Jerry Bruckheimer, among others.  It was just the nice mix of young industry, Academy members and influential guild players that “The Descendants” needed to charm as it continues its long road to this year’s Academy Awards.  Assisting in that effort was none other than Clooney who convinced the packed theater to sing happy birthday to a mortified Shailene Woodley on stage before the film.  It was a sweet moment that reflects the love the cast and crew of the picture still have for each other even though it’s been almost a year and a half since production wrapped.

Fox Searchlight execs must not only be thrilled about the film’s Academy reception, but about the raves that were timed with the picture’s New York and Los Angeles opening today.  “The Descendants” currently earns an 84 on Metacritic and a 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  Those should both increase as the film expands to larger markets.  Notable raves came from A.O. Scott in the New York Times (“To call The Descendants perfect would be a kind of insult, a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection.”) USA Today, Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and New York Magazine.  Time’s Richard Corliss (who never met a Pixar movie he didn’t want to anoint the best picture of the decade) is one of the few not on the bandwagon, but even his review was mostly mixed to positive.  

Of course, competing studios are waiting in the wings ready to tear down Payne’s latest as it gains Oscar steam, but that’s just part of the game.  Their time will come too.

To check out my enthusiastic review of “The Descendants” from Telluride, click here.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter. 

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