The holidays are here, and with them, the arrival of the year's designated Oscar Movies. You know the type -- serious drama with just a touch of humor, big movie star, important subject, everything perfectly respectable and slightly on the stodgy side.
As a perfect exemplar of the form, I give you The Descendants, with George Clooney as a man whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident, and doesn't have long to live. He's already stressed out about how he's going to raise his two daughters on his own ("I'm the backup parent," he says in the overly long voice-over narration that begins the movie) when he learns that before the accident, his wife had been cheating on him.
The performances are generally good, with the standouts being Shailene Woodley as the older daughter; Robert Forster as Clooney's father-in-law; and Judy Greer (why is she not a huge star already?), who has a small role, but gets every second of it just right.
But there's something polite and tepid about the movie, especially coming from director Alexander Payne, who seems to have sanded off all of the rough edginess we've come to expect from him. The Descendants is skillfully crafted, and you'll probably enjoy it, but you'll never be surprised by it, and you know exactly what you're going to get from it before it even starts. It is this year's The King's Speech, which means it's probably going to win the Oscar.