The Los Angeles Film Circle has announced its awards for 2011, and the group—thank heavens—got it right by naming “The Descendants” the best film of the year, which it is. Alexander Payne’s film is not a technical wonder, like many of the other year-end award contenders, but it is so rich in feeling and has so much to tell—or, rather, show—us about the relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and family, people and property, the present and the past and it is so subtly acted by a superb cast, anchored by George Clooney, that the film deserves all the awards it probably will not receive.
“The Descendants” won no other awards from the L.A. critics (although it was runner-up for best screenplay). Assuming that the best picture category was the culmination of the critic group’s voting, it must have seemed, coming into the final vote, that “The Tree of Life” was going to be a sure-fire winner. The L.A. critics named “The Tree of Life’s” Terrence Malick best director. Jessica Chastain was named best supporting actress for “The Tree of Life” (and five other films), and Emmanuel Luzbeki was honored, deservedly, for the film’s cinematography. In the end, however, much to the reported consternation of some of the L.A. critics (Variety’s Justin Chang tweeted: “The Descendants has won best picture…. Until then, I thought our choices were fairly respectable.”), “The Tree of Life” came in second.
Far from being embarrassed by this, the critics’ circle should be relieved. It’s the award to Malick as best director—over Martin Scorsese, whose “Hugo” was both dazzling and charming—that should have the critics hanging their heads in shame. “The Tree of Life” is stunning to look at, but it is also overblown, boring, pretentious and empty. Its non-linear editing is not a dramatic structure but a fancy way of disguising the fact that the film has no story, only events, no insights, only visuals, no characters, only archetypes—and even these would have little interest for us except for the excellence and star quality of the actors (Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, in addition to Chastain) playing them. Father. Son. Mother. Please.
“The Tree of Life” is little more than an art school student film made with a studio-sized budget. It belongs in a museum, where it can be appreciated as a visual object, not in a theater. The critics who voted for it as best picture and Malick as best director must have been more intimidated by it, than impressed.
See “The Descendants.”