24. The Descendants

Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause

For anyone who might hate on George Clooney, thinking that he’s more of a social commentator than a proficient actor, have a go at The Descendants, the latest film from champion of subtle dramedies Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways). Your mother’s biggest crush, a.k.a. Clooney, stars as a father living in Hawaii who’s detached from his two young daughters (the excellent duo of teenaged Shailene Woodley and pre-teen Amara Miller) but forced to bond with them when his wife enters a coma after a boating accident. And, as the eldest kid informs him, his now-vegetable wife was cheating on him…with Matthew Lillard, of all people.

Payne, true to form, finds unexpected moments to evoke laughs, though the film’s intelligent comedy never distracts from The Descendants’ palpable meditations on family, internal suffering, and second chances. All of which are embodied with a movie star’s finesse by Mr. Clooney, who manages to execute a tightrope walk of a performance: When you’re ready to buy dude a beer and yuck it up, you’re ready to give the man an “Everything’s gonna be all right” pat on the back.