“Failures are infinitely more instructive than successes.” – George Clooney
With initial career low-points Return of the Killer Tomatoes! and Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, the above quote is certainly illustrative of George Clooney’s distinguished career. Later viewed as an icon of classic 1990s Hollywood, it would take years of television work and minor supporting roles for Clooney to reach this height. Finding great success on NBC’s 15-season-long ER, Clooney would earn a cameo role on the international phenomenon Friends, making his name publicly known.
His entry into the movies was a smooth transition, ascending role-by-role by association with increasingly high-profile filmmakers. Starring in the films of Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Malick, David O. Russell and the Coen Brothers, all in the space of two years from 1998 to 2000, Clooney was catapulted to stardom, bridging the gap between 20th and 21st-century fame.
Marked by several acclaimed successes, both in front of and behind the camera, across his career, let’s take a look into his most definitive films…
George Clooney’s six definitive films:
From Dusk Till Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)
Clooney’s first major film role following a decade of work in TV, From Dusk Till Dawn, would be a wild and bombastic entrance into the world of cinema.
A strange action/horror amalgamation, Robert Rodriguez’s delightfully gory vampire flick follows two criminals on the run after a bank heist, who upon rocking up to a truck stop with hostages in tow, find themselves locking horns with a coven of vampires. Written by Quentin Tarantino, the acclaimed cult director appears alongside Clooney as the two make up an unlikely brotherly duo. Clooney the muscle and the decision-maker. Tarantino, the eccentric nervous wreck.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 2000)
From Dusk Till Dawn and the blockbuster Batman & Robin that followed, would establish Clooney as an actor in the limelight, though they did little to elevate his credibility. That was until he began to collaborate with some of Hollywood’s biggest names…
Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight put Clooney in a leading comedic role, though he is perhaps better remembered for the Cohen brothers’ 1930s parable O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Tracking three escaped convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) on the search for hidden treasure in America’s deep south, the Coens’ predictably whacky film meshes music and adventure in its recount of Homer’s Odyssey. So good was the film and Clooney’s performance that he would win a Golden Globe for his efforts.
Ocean’s Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)
Causing a cultural splash by including a trio of Hollywood icons, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, among many others, Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the classic crime comedy.
Just like the original 1960 film starring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr, Soderbergh’s film follows the robbery of three Las Vegas casinos each performed simultaneously. Who better to lead the team than the titular ‘Danny Ocean’, played by Clooney himself, who manages to do the impossible and fill the boots of Frank Sinatra with a suave, bold leading voice. The 21st-century ‘Rat-Pack’ was established, and Clooney played a leading role.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney, 2005)
Staking your claim in Hollywood comes twofold when you’re both an actor and a director, suddenly you’re among the elite of the silver screen, from Orson Welles to Clint Eastwood, to Robert Redford.
Though Good Night, and Good Luck was not Clooney’s first time in the director’s chair, succeeding 2002’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, his second effort was better received both critically and commercially. Receiving six Oscar nominations in total, including for best picture and best director, Clooney’s film and original screenplay following the broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow and his takedown of Senator Joseph McCarthy was a marvel of biographical filmmaking. Winning an Oscar at the same ceremony for his supporting performance in the inferior Syriana, 2005 was certainly a successful year for the Hollywood titan.
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)
Clooney’s careful control over his career would continue immediately after his success with Good Night, and Good Luck, appearing in back-to-back Soderbergh pictures, The Good German as well as the bookend to the incredibly successful Ocean’s trilogy, Ocean’s 13.
Though in 2007 he would catch the attention of the Academy once more in the seven-time Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton, following a lawyer becoming increasingly frustrated with his job as “fixer” of doomed court cases. Earning his first best actor nomination, Clooney would lose out to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Day-Lewis, though the film would go down as an iconic piece of filmmaking for both himself and his Oscar-winning co-star Tilda Swinton.
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)
George Clooney’s performance in Jason Reitman’s 2009 romantic drama masterfully illustrates the actor at his very best, showing his unparalleled ability to charm in a leading role.
Clooney embodies the suave sophistication character of Ryan Bingham, a travelling businessman hired to fire different individuals across the country, whose life is changed upon the arrival of two women, one who questions his morals and the other who questions his lifestyle. Supported by the excellent Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, both of whom received Oscar nominations, Clooney manages to access the very best of his acting arsenal, quite visibly in personal conflict with his own morals and desires.
By no means drawing his career to a close, Clooney has since appeared in Wes Anderson’s delightful Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Wherever quality, progressive American cinema is being produced, you can bet Clooney will be there.