George Clooney in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” – TIFF 2011

By Sean O’Connell As the 36th Toronto International Film Festival rolls closer (festivities kick off on Thursday, Sept. 8), we continue to preview the films we plan to cover while attending TIFF.

George Clooney will be a very busy man in Toronto this year. While the bulk of his attention likely will be focused on his own film, the politically charged ensemble piece “The Ides of March,” (previewed HERE) Clooney also will be in town to promote Alexander Payne’s latest dramedy “The Descendants,” which will hold its world premiere at TIFF (unless it bows in Telluride, which is possible).

Let’s dig into “The Descendants” ahead of its Toronto premiere.

The Descendants

The Plot: Matt King (Clooney) reevaluates his standing after a boating accident severely injures his wife. A land baron, King tries to reconnect with his daughters while also dealing with some harsh truths surfacing in the wake of his spouse’s accident. He also contemplates selling his family’s land, which has been handed down through the generations from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.

The Cast: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster

The Director: Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”)

The Scoop: Payne regularly turns his microscope on conflicted characters standing at complicated, life-altering crossroads, be it Matthew Broderick’s high school teacher (“Election”), Paul Giamatti’s struggling writer (“Sideways”) or Jack Nicholson’s grieving, wayward widow (“About Schmidt”). Clooney appears to be heading down similar paths in “Descendants,” playing the self-described “back-up parent” to his daughters during time of crisis. And if he’s ready to give the type of soul-searching performances Payne has caught in his previous films, “Descendants” will be one of TIFF’s can’t-miss features.

Awards Potential: Payne’s last full-length film, “Sideways,” checked off nominations in a few of the top categories (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Actress) while taking home the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. “The Descendants” has a very good chance of nabbing nominations in several key categories this year, as well, from Actor for Clooney to Screenplay, Director and Picture. I’m also eager to see if cinematographer Phedon Papamichael turns Hawaii’s lush landscapes into a separate character, as he did with Napa Valley in “Sideways.”

“The Descendants” opens everywhere on Nov. 23. We’ll be covering it extensively from the Toronto International Film Festival.

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