Top 10 George Clooney Movies (movies he starred in or directed)
This weekend A-lister extraordinaire George Clooney continues his 12-year streak of picking movies that are a little left of center with “The American,” a slow-moving drama that’s kind of a throwback to 70s art-house fare. It wasn’t always that way for the man who personifies modern Hollywood, as early roles in “Batman and Robin” and “One Fine Day” prove, but Clooney remains one of the most eminently watchable leading men around. Here’s a look the Top 10 George Clooney Movies. If you have a list you’d like to contribute, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLAIMER: I am not including Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” on this Top 10 list because Clooney was merely one of a number of Hollywood leading men reduced to little more than a cameo in that Pacific WWII tone poem. So we’ll start the list with “Up in the Air,” a film that was last year’s early Oscar frontrunner for everything and eventually suffered from too much of that hype. Clooney is the best thing about the film, a dramedy about a professional corporate downsizer who realizes his priorities are all out of whack. He makes it look easy, oozing an aloof charm like only the top movie star in the world can, which eases the pain of a few too overly convenient plot devices.
The first of Clooney’s three collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is probably best remembered for its unexpected multiple-Grammy-winning soundtrack. Hell, if you look at it that way, the accompanying film could be the most elaborate music video ever. The plot is a mess, loosely adapted from Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” into a Southern Gothic folk tale, but Clooney’s kinetic and vanity-free performance is sheer comic delight and the dusty widescreen cinematography from Roger Deakins is lovely, even if it was famously color-corrected in postproduction. After three consecutive years of Golden Globe nominations for “ER,” Clooney won his first Golden Globe in 2001 as Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical for this film.
The Clooney-directed “Good Night, and Good Luck” recounts the real-life struggle between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy that took place over the airwaves in the early 1950s. Part nostalgia trip, part cautionary history lesson, all entertainment, it is a briskly-paced, insular movie, shot entirely in gorgeous black-and-white. There is a privileged, fly-on-the-wall quality during the broadcasts themselves. What we don’t see is America actually experiencing the program. The impact of the drama might have been made more implicit by showing the country as it was in 1954, but that may have sacrificed the feeling that you are right there with the characters throughout the crisis. Like the climate of the times it portrays, the film sometimes comes off a little cold and austere, but remains an absorbing movie about integrity and the dangers of living in fear.
7. Burn After Reading (2008)
Clooney’s third movie for the Coens is egregiously bleak—almost a companion piece to their Best Picture winner the year before. If “No Country for Old Men” left us to ponder the notion of the random and cruel ways that our freedom of choice fits in to the grand scheme, then “Burn After Reading” puts an exclamation point on the pointlessness of it all. Whether you are able to laugh at the gratuitous inelegance that the Coens’ universe depicts will depend on you. The plot is a slow build towards a manic conclusion, full of shocking violence and bizarre revelations. Clooney uses his charm to lure the audience into liking a self-absorbed philanderer—and just when we decide we do, he unveils a perverted sex chair that would make Bruno blush. His third-act hysterics are just that—hysterical—and further proof that Clooney doesn’t only pick roles that bolster his suave factor.
What did I just say about Clooney not picking “cool” roles? Well this movie established the unflappable suaveness that is Danny Ocean and proved that director Steven Soderbergh could make breezy mainstream entertainment as well as he could make brainier fare. The first of the “Ocean’s” trilogy has everything: an inventive heist, a great underdog romantic subplot, an easy-to-hate villain, and a ton of self-effacing humor from Mr. Clooney and company, who look as if they are enjoying the hell out of themselves on one big vacation. Clooney has a lot to do with why this film is so effortlessly cool, and I rank it high on this list (over his only Oscar-winning performance—for 2005’s muddled “Syriana”) because its efficient fun without any apologies, which is more than I can say for its increasingly labored sequels.
“Michael Clayton” is about corrupting power and moral choices. It’s a smart thriller that revolves around a corporate cover-up but doesn’t burrow into hair-splitting details and stays away from cliche. Clooney is terrific in a role that asks him to disguise much of the charm and confidence that make him a reliable leading man as a divorcee paying off assorted debts. Reduced to a backroom role in the firm while his peers are all made partners, he refers to his job as “janitor.” What Michael does for a living isn’t pretty, but Clooney makes him a sympathetic and clearly damaged character. Director Tony Gilroy employs a subtle, hands-off approach and lets his actors (Tilda Swinton won a supporting Actress statue) carry the weight of the film.
Working from a script by absurdist scribe Charlie Kaufman that itself adapted the strange autobiography of “The Gong Show” host Chuck Barris, Clooney’s directorial debut blended wildly divergent tones to create a surprisingly tragic and high-energy film. Using the much-contested premise touted in his book—that Barris (Sam Rockwell) was a hitman for the CIA during his reign as producer of top-rated, lowbrow TV in the 1970s—Clooney forges ahead to tell the story of a man who lost his soul. There’s plenty of room for deadpan comedy, and Clooney in gets in on some of the action as Barris’ CIA boss Jim Byrd, but what’s surprising about “Confessions” is how Clooney portrays his Barris’ swing into depression without missing a beat. In a story that’s just too wild to be true, Clooney makes us believe not only that it could have happened, but that secretly killing overseas agents for the U.S. government was just one part of the puzzle that led to Barris’ downfall. Filming Barris himself before the camera was a bold move that may seem weird on paper, but works beautifully in the context of the movie.
Clooney riffs off of his Danny Ocean character as the voice of a cocky fox who has promised his wife and son that he’ll stop the risky behavior of raiding poultry farms and settle down in their new tree home. His conflict is one of inner strife. You see, it’s against his predatory nature, so he puts all the other animals at risk as he puts together another heist. Clooney’s wit is as dry as ever here and it’s a perfect match for Wes Anderson’s meticulous set design and stop-motion animation. Adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” just gets better and better with repeated viewings, in no small part because of the self-possessed confidence Clooney brings to Mr. Fox.
This film was the first of six Soderbergh/Clooney collaborations (not counting the short-lived HBO series “K Street,” which they co-produced) and the duo hasn’t topped it yet. “Out of Sight,” based on the Elmore Leonard book, pits bank robber Clooney against tough-but-sexy US Marshal Jennifer Lopez in more ways than one. She’s hot on his tail, but the sexual attraction between the outlaw and lawwoman is undeniable. Every moment of “Out of Sight” is an absolute pleasure, from the scene where Clooney and Lopez flirt with each other as captor/victim in the trunk of a car to the absurdly explosive robbery at the end of the movie. Soderbergh corrals a giant cast (Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, and Michael Keaton in a hilarious cameo playing his “Jackie Brown” character) and flashes confidently forward and backward, revealing key details just as they matter the most. It was this movie that convinced Hollywood that they had a leading man with old school charm on their hands. If you haven’t seen it, rent it now and notice how timeless it feels.
When asked if he would work with director David O. Russell again after reports of a fistfight between the two broke out on the set of this movie, Clooney responded: “Life’s too short.” Too bad, because this movie works on so many levels and it’s the best film either has made. “Three Kings,” set in the bleached sand of post-Persian Gulf War Iraq circa 1991, is successful as a character drama, a comedy, a war picture, a western, a satire, a visceral action film, a heist movie, and a slice of angry political discourse. It co-stars Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Spike Jonze as a troop of U.S. soldiers who follow an enigmatic Major (Clooney, who else?) on a mission to steal Kuwaiti gold bullion from Saddam Hussein. As with any good anti-war pic, the enemy, it turns out, aren’t so different from us. In one of a ton of bizarre scenes, after the cease-fire is called, Iraqi soldiers run from smoke-filled bunkers carrying huge piles of American jeans. This irony is just one of many that populate a biting film that carries as much weight now as it did then. In “Three Kings,” Clooney starts out all swagger, but the burden of his choices eventually becomes too heavy to ignore. It’s one of his best all-around performances and “Three Kings” is the best movie he’s ever been involved in.