In The Descendants, Matt King (George Clooney) is a Honolulu-based attorney and the sole trustee of a family trust of 25,000 pristine acres on Kauai. The land has great monetary value but is also a family legacy. The King clan is pressuring Matt to sell the land for hundreds of millions of dollars, while he struggles with unexpected developments in his monotonous life. Alexander Payne's film, also starring Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller (as Matt's daughters), won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama, and Clooney won for Best Actor, Drama. Clooney wanted to play this character because, as opposed to his usual straight-arrow roles, “Matt – he said – is not completely together.”
The 69th Golden Globe Awards were broadcast live by NBC from the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 15, 2012. The host of the show was Ricky Gervais for the third consecutive (and last) year.
The Descendants competed against The Help, Hugo, Moneyball and The Ides of March - directed by Clooney incidentally, who was nominated for director for it (Martin Scorsese won for Hugo). Clooney was instead crowned for Best Actor with The Descendants, prevailing over Leonardo Di Caprio for J. Edgar, Ryan Gosling for The Ides of March, Brad Pitt for Moneyball and Michael Fassbender for Shame. Jean Dujardin won the Globe for Best Actor- Musical or Comedy for The Artist, the film which later won the Oscar that year (Dujardin also won the Academy Award). Meryl Streep won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Actress for The Iron Lady. Woodley was nominated at the Globes for Best Supporting Actress, but Octavia Spencer won for The Help.
At the Globe ceremony Natalie Portman presented the Best Actor award to Clooney, who said: “Evenings like these are a nice chance to catch up with old friends... like Brad Pitt who's not only doing great work as an actor but also around the world to help people... And it's a chance to say thank you HFPA...” The love story between Clooney and the Hollywood Foreign Press continued: since ER (1996) he was nominated 13 times at the Globes, winning 3 times and receiving the Cecil B. deMille Award in 2015.
For Payne, this was his first Globe in seven years since winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sideways (2004). Clooney wanted to play the role of Jack in Sideways (then played by Thomas Haden Church), but Payne turned him down, saying that he wanted someone lesser known for that role. However, he liked the idea of Clooney very much for the role of wealthy “patriarch” Matt in The Descendants. The issue of money and inherited wealth is central to film's narrative. There's a line in which Matt says: “I don't want my daughters growing up entitled and spoiled. And I agree with my father; you give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing." Payne, also co-author of the film's script, said that it was based on a well-known quote from billionaire Warren Buffett, who had said that line in a 1986 interview.