George Clooney

Since Matt Damon unfortunately came out and spoke about lefty disillusionment with Obama (a sentiment that drives me nuts – don’t build him up so high next time, folks) it’s now George Clooney’s turn to take the opposite stance.  Sorry for a post about politics but since both actors are in the race why not. Anyway, this quote is like a Christmas present so in that way it’s relevant. I’m sure others will disagree with me but trust me, hating on Obama can lead to one conclusion and its name sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings. Swiped from HE.



One of the threads running through this year’s Oscar race is the single father who must pull things together for the sake of his kids.  This is especially poignant in three films – Moneyball, The Descendants and We Bought a Zoo.  It’s even funnier that it happens to be George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, the Oceans gang, but also the Sexiest Men Alive troika.  Remember how Clooney and Pitt were campaigning for Damon?

Another thing they have in common, other than caring for their children – all three have daughters, only Damon has a son — is that they cry.  Both The Descendants and We Bought a Zoo, those tears are brought on by their personal relationship. In Moneyball, the tears are more about happiness, disbelieving happiness that things worked out, for once, in Billy Beane’s life.  Of all three of these characters, only Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is digging himself out of failure.  Clooney and Damon have suffered blows — leaving them to raise their children alone.  But Pitt isn’t raising a child so much as he’s trying to, finally, making something of himself.

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[normally this column appears on Tuesdays, except for this week]

When this year began with The Artist, and after I saw it at Cannes, my immediate thoughts about 2011 Oscar year to come was that we were done with the films that dwelled on the darker aspects of humanity, and that now we were ready for some light to flood back in.  This was pronounced last year when The King’s Speech, a feelgood movie about overcoming a disability, triumphed over The Social Network, a film about success and its cost.

The notion of hero will take many forms this year.  A general manager of a baseball team, a silent movie star threatened with extinction, a father whose wife is in a coma.  The strange thing about these heroes is that, in the same year, the actors who play them dip into the dark side too.  When we have to choose between those two opposing representations of an actor, what do we choose?  This occurred to me last night while watching George Clooney play one of the darkest characters of his career in the film he also directed, The Ides of March.

With the light in half shadow over his by now familiar face, a face we all know so well we could trace his features with our eyes closed.  But here, his charm has utterly vanished. This is the hard, cold game of cutthroat politics and his ass is on the line.  You can smell the fear.  Clooney  has delivered a performance that leaves no trace of doubt as to his moral center: it doesn’t exist.  He has been changed by the very game he is trying to win.  This performance is contrasted dramatically by his work in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, Clooney’s character who must endure the loss of his wife while trying to make a life with his emotionally scattered daughters.

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Why does it seem like the beginning of October is already too late to push through an Oscar contender?  If you’re a big star in a big movie you’re already on the radar of those who write about Oscar buzz, a thing that increasingly has no there to it.  But if you’ve just given the performance of your life in a movie nobody has seen how does your publicist get enough people to see your performance to find a spot for you in the already crowded acting or Best Picture categories?

This moment in the Oscar race is what I always think of as the Million Dollar Baby zone.  Clint Eastwood brought that film in at a time when there were less media outlets focused on the race, as many of them are now, and when those of us who were focused on the race – it was like me, David Poland, Tom O’Neil and Kris Tapley and a few others – had our radars tuned to The Aviator, which seemed, at the time, like it might finally be Martin Scorsese’s big Oscar win (he would later go on to win big with The Departed, nothing less than one of the best films ever to win the award).  But then people saw Million Dollar Baby. I’ll never forget reading Poland’s site the day after that screening — there was simply no question what movie was going to win and win big.

What I now wonder looking back at those seemingly innocent times, with all of the chatter we have now, so many hunters stalking Oscar prey, where the demand far exceeds the supply, would we have already been well aware that Million Dollar Baby would have been the big Oscar winner? Would it be showing up on Oscar charts as the de facto frontrunner? So much has changed since then.

Either way, and for whatever reason, after Toronto it always feels like the window of opportunity to break through gets smaller and smaller as the days go by.  If you’re not considered a major contender already, by October, your chances are slim.  But they’re not zero.  Late entries can sometimes shake up the race, like The Reader did when it bumped The Dark Knight, altering Oscar history while doing so.

On today’s Off the Carpet column, Kris Tapley looks at the Best Actor race, but specifically at those performances that could be overlooked.  I had no idea he was writing this, and I was writing a similar piece at the same time (great minds…) only mine covers Best Picture and Actress too (albeit not as thoroughly as Kris…).  So you want to head over there to In Contention to read that piece.  

Oscar buzz is now and has always been something undefinable – it’s like sexual attraction: you know it when you feel it.

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Best Actor this year feels to be more of the hopeful variety, less dark, more optimistic and heroic.  This is certainly true of the category’s frontrunner of the moment, George Clooney, who takes things to a different level with his portrayal of a newly single dad trying to keep his family together in the wake of a tragedy in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.  It is most certainly true of The Artist’s Jean Dujardin, who may finish out as the year’s most endearing.  Ryan Gosling in Drive, Tom Hardy in Warrior are also heroic but they are more complex.

One cannot help notice how, erm, hot and beefcakey this year’s potential lineup is either.  Not to be crass but seriously, dude.  Cold shower time.  I’m thinking that this alone could boost ratings.

There are some outside possibilities right now, and with Toronto a heartbeat away who knows what other names might pop up. Let’s run them down so far:

1. George Clooney, The Descendants
Despite the raves Clooney got for Up in the Air, The Descendants shows that Clooney can do more than just be the charming, somewhat and occasionally confused ladies man, and/or lovable goofball, and/or quirky sidekick. He’s actually finally been a role where he has to play a genuine human being – a father and a husband whose own emotions are on full display. There is no hiding from pain. All at once, Clooney’s character deals with parental responsibility, the loss of a spouse and betrayal. There is a scene towards the end of the film that will go down in film history as one of the most moving. In truth, I did not ever expect Clooney would ever be able to expose himself this way. After all, he’s the cool cat who dumps women as soon as they want something more than just being his girlfriend. He’s the guy who always makes jokes at press conferences. He’s not the guy who bares his heart and soul. But in this film, he does it. It’s hard to talk about without A) overhyping, or B) spoiling the movie. To my mind, right now, Clooney is in the frontrunner’s spot for the win.

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Sideways is a perfect film.  The more you watch it the more of itself it reveals.  It is a story of a greatly flawed man who clatters selfishly forward — his book, his breakup, his misery.  If he is given any redemption by the film’s end it’s because he comes to terms with being an asshole.  But The Descendants is about more than one’s own personal journey of self-discovery; it is about selflessness, and how most of us are really here not to polish our own knobs 24/7 but to look out for others, especially those we’re responsible for, those we’re leaving behind.

I loved this film.

One must be cautious this time of year not to spill over with enthusiasm only to see a truly wonderful film such as this deflate during awards season for every reason except the only right one — that it isn’t good enough. It’s plenty good enough. But that might not stop people from wanting to hate it (in the end, we’re fairly petty creatures, truth be told).  Although it’s positioned as a major Oscar contender, and from the looks of it, it should meet those expectations, it is a movie that can thankfully transcend the need for validation from those 6,000 voting members.

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Leave it to George Clooney to tell it like it is — they all know it’s dirty business, Oscar campaigning.  They all probably hate doing it.  But they know they have to do it.  It’s all about the business of Hollywood.  You can maybe be Katharine Hepburn, Terrence Malick or Woody Allen and not show up to promote your film but most every decent actor who wants to keep working knows that you have to play the game — they are worked hard and put away wet.  There’s no business like show business.  I don’t think anyone believes that awards-givers, be they the AMPAS or the BFCA, or especially the Golden Globes — even the NYFCC and the LAFCA have their moments — give out their awards based solely on merit.  Of all of them, the LAFCA seems most invested in rewarding the actual performances.  The rest of them get swept up in the moment, the popularity of the stars or filmmakers, the likability — the fuckability.  And so it goes.  Here is an excerpt from the Clooney story:

“I had just come out of Oscar season and you really do campaign, like kissing babies,” he said.

“By the time it’s over, you sort of feel unclean.

“You want to do something that makes you feel better.”

Following his first trip to the war-torn country with his father, George donated money to build a well and huts, but soon learned to use other ways than his wealth to help the African territory because of what happened to his gifts.

“A year later, the next-door villagers — who wanted water and needed shelter — killed some people to get to that well and shelter,” he said.

“It’s devastating. We have to be very careful –- sometimes helping is not throwing money at a problem.”

George believes other celebrities should follow his lead and use their positions to help the world.

“There is ever more attention on celebrity than ever – and there is a use for that besides selling products,” he added.

“We can’t make policy but we can ‘encourage’ politicians more than ever before.”

Those with a conscience pay it forward.  Those without?  Well, there’s always Oscar season to put things back into perspective.  Mr. Clooney will be greasing up the wheels for this year with The Descendants and The Ides of March.

The Descendants gets a Dec 16th release, positioning director Alexander Payne and George Clooney in a prime holiday showcase slot for maximum awards impact. As late as last November, Fox Searchlight had this family drama tentatively slated for late-entry year-end premiere — but Payne wanted a few more months to fine-tune in post-production. (besides, Fox already had its hands full with two BP nominees, 127 Hours and Black Swan). The Playlist notes The Descendents will now share the same opening day with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows — a strong declaration from Searchlight of confident counter-programming clout.

The last time George Clooney went head-to-head with Sherlock Holmes was Dec 23, 2009. Up in the Air went on to earn 6 Oscar nominations, and Clooney won the NYFCC award for Best Actor. As a soon-to-be-single dad coping with restless teenager kids and a comatose wife on her death bed, his role in The Descendents promises to push a far more likeable range of emotional buttons. (*the comatose wife part is not a spoiler. It’s the heart-grabbing hook of the story’s premise that we learn from Page One of the novel.)

Alexander Payne was nominated for writing Election in 1999, and twice more for writing and directing Sideways in 2004. He won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for Sideways. The last two films Payne has directed earned Best Actor nominations for Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) [sorry, snubbed; my memory keeps trying to make excuses for the Academy.]

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