OSCAR BUZZ!

The Descendants

George Clooney, Shailene Woodley | R |

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DRAMA

Matt King's (Clooney) wife is in a coma, but he's the one who needs to wake up. He can't decide on a buyer for his family's pristine Hawaiian land, underestimates teen daughter Alex (Woodley) and doesn't even know his wife was cheating on him. Heavy, man. But The Descendants, director Alexander Payne's first film since Sideways, takes as light a tack as it can through Matt's pain, as he and Alex try to track down Mom's boyfriend. Funny, emotional and unfailingly human, The Descendants shows Clooney in full command of his skills as a man who realizes he's been in control of nothing. The revelation, though, is Woodley. She never sets a foot wrong as Alex grieves, spits sarcasm and shows incredible empathy, often at the same time. Like the film, she's one to watch.

Happy Feet Two

Voices by Elijah Wood, Pink, Robin Williams | PG |

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REVIEWED BY MICHELLE TAN

ANIMATION

With an opening scene that showcases adorable penguins shaking their tail feathers to infectious songs like "SexyBack," you can't help but get psyched to see what's next for Mumble (Wood), the tap-dancing star of the first film. But sadly the sequel never finds its footing with a meandering plot that revolves around Mumble trying to bond with his son Erik, who didn't inherit Dad's dance skills. By trying to tackle themes like global warming and introducing too many new characters, including a flying penguin who vibes like a new-age motivational speaker, this Happy Feet struggles to get into the groove. One bright spot: The young penguins are so cute they'll melt your heart.

CRITIC'S CHOICE

The Artist

Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell | PG-13 |

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DRAMEDY

It's time to remember how enchanting sitting in a darkened theater in front of a glowing screen can feel. Nearly silent, entirely black-and-white, The Artist centers around a watershed moment in cinema, when the talkies eclipsed silent films and their stars. French actors Dujardin and Bejo embody the old and new respectively, as waning idol George Valentin and sparkplug ingenue Peppy Miller. Their romance is a delight, with performances that should put them on any serious list of awards contenders, just as the film's whimsy and wit make it an Oscar front-runner. It's just so easy to love a movie that loves movies.

JACK AND JILL

Call the fire department: a career is in flames. No, not Adam Sandler's-he'll survive starring as ad exec Jack and his icky twin sister Jill. It's Al Pacino we need to save. Playing himself, Pacino falls for Jill while being pursued by Jack to hawk a certain doughnut chain's drink, the Dunkaccino. It's sad and unfunny, and there's a rap involved. Hey Al, the next time Sandler makes you an offer, refuse.

KIRSTEN DUNST

Earning raves for Melancholia, the actress, 29, looks back on growing up in the spotlight

WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS PART?

Whether you like Lars [von Trier] films or not, he is one of the great auteurs of our time. I knew I could let it all out, not have to look cute and just go for it. That's so refreshing.

HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR NUDE SCENE? EXTRA TRIPS TO THE GYM?

I hate working out. I will go for a swim or a hike, but I'm not a gym person. For the scene, I was just like, "Do my boobs look okay?" The actresses I look up to have all done really brave things.

YOU'VE BEEN A STAR SINCE YOU WERE 12. WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST PART ABOUT GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD?

The criticism! You get judged on clothes, makeup, hair, and there is a blog for everything.

WHAT'S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR YOUNG ACTRESSES?

Go to normal schools and don't get homeschooled. Have that growing-up life. And play roles that are age-appropriate. After Interview with the Vampire, I always played my age and made films that people my age could see. It helps you not grow up so fast.

READY TO BE A REAL-LIFE BRIDE?

I would love to get married one day! I like a gentleman. My friend just got engaged to someone from the South, and he won't let us open a door, and I love it. These East and West Coast boys need to learn!