HDD Study Hall: George Clooney

Posted Mon Nov 28, 2011 at 01:00 PM PST by

by Luke Hickman

Actors who begin in television don't always make it big in film, but George Clooney has proven that if one has real talent and star power, the transition isn't impossible. If Clooney is the best example of this scenario, then, at the other end of the spectrum, rest David Caruso.

Being the son of Nick Clooney and the nephew of Rosemary Clooney, George's involvement in the entertainment industry was almost guaranteed. He began with bit parts on television before landing a regular role on the sitcom 'E/R' which ran for one season between 1984 and 1985. Over the next ten years he would land reoccurring roles on 'The Facts of Life,' 'Roseanne,' and the series that would launch him into the big leagues, oddly enough, also titled 'ER.' Throughout his five full seasons as Dr. Doug Ross on 'ER,' he would simultaneously make the successful jump to the big screen.

One truly impressive aspect of George Clooney's career is that he's not only become an Oscar-winning actor, but also an Oscar-nominated writer and director. In 2006, Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 'Syriana', as well as nominations for co-writing and directing 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' He earned Best Lead Actor nominations in 2008 for 'Michael Clayton' and in 2010 for 'Up in the Air.' Having given two solid performances this year in 'The Ides of March,' which he also co-wrote and directed, and in Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants,' it's almost guaranteed that he will receive at least one more nomination this year.

In this edition of the HDD Study Hall, we're going to look back at five of George Clooney's very best performances. Instead of sticking solely to roles that earned him critical praise, we'll also take a peek at the fan favorites.

'Three Kings'

Prior to 'Three Kings,' I'd liked Clooney from his roles in 'ER,' 'From Dusk Til Dawn' and 'Out of Sight,' but I hadn't fallen in love with his acting abilities yet. 'Three Kings' was the film that made me a full-on George Clooney fan. Prior to leaving the U.S. for two years in late '99, knowing that I wouldn't get to see new movies for quite some time, I watched 'Three Kings' in theaters three times because I loved it so much.

Written and directed by David O. Russell, 'Three Kings' is a wild and unique film – both on camera and off. This is the film where Clooney allegedly punched Russell in the face between takes. It begins as a comedy showing the lazy shenanigans of U.S. troops during the cease-fire after Desert Storm, turns into an intense drama, and ends as an action movie with a major moral at its core.

In 'Three Kings, Clooney plays a disgruntled military leader who goes AWOL with three other military misfits (Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) in an attempt to steal a load of Iraqi gold before being shipped home. Along the way, Wahlberg is taken by Iraqi soldiers and the other three meet-up with and fight along side a group of Iraqi civilians trying to obtain their freedom while trying to rescue Wahlberg.

'Three Kings' is well balanced. Some of the content is extremely heavy, so it's balanced with action and humor. In the end, it even has the balls to get very emotional. It's not common for a Hollywood film to slug you in the gut with a bold moral, but 'Three Kings' does it – and it does with entertaining grace.

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'

There are two things that frequently come to mind when I think of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' - the first, Dapper Dan pomade. Honestly, is there any other brand? The reccurring joke of Clooney's character searching for Dapper Dan is a classic Coen Brothers joke. The second is a line repeatedly uttered by Clooney when he and his company are backed into a corner. “Damn! We're in a tight spot!” Over 11 years after its release, I still quote this line whenever I'm parking my compact car between two big trucks.

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is the Coen Brothers' "adaptation" of Homer's 'The Odyssey.' George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson play three escaped convicts on a trek to dig up a buried bank heist treasure on their way home. Of course, Homer's obstacles stand in their way – like a “cyclops,” tempting sirens, et cetera.

Like almost all Coen Brothers movies, you either get the humor and love them or you don't. Personally, I find them hilarious, intelligent, and witty. Homer's 'The Odyssey' isn't exactly the best-paced and most entertaining story, but the Coen's took a classic piece of literature and turned it into an enjoyable film.

The musical plot interwoven with the treasure-hunting journey is unexpected, the music itself being creative and original. 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' earned cinematography and adapted screenplay Oscar nominations, but proved to be a winner by taking home the Best Soundtrack award at the Grammys.

'Ocean's Eleven'

Where most filmmakers wouldn't consider remaking a classic film, let alone one by the Rat Pack, Steven Soderbergh did - and it turned out to be even better than the original. It's a shame the two sequels were almost pure garbage. Even though 'Ocean's Twelve' and 'Thirteen' tarnished the franchise's name, they didn't damage it enough to the point of making 'Eleven' a miserable experience (unlike the 'Pirates' series).

Much like his character in 'Three Kings,' in 'Ocean's Eleven' Clooney plays a ringleader who assembles a team for a heist. Their target – three major casinos on the Vegas strip. Although he says it has nothing do with revenge, his crew believes that he's targeting the owner (Andy Garcia) of these three casinos for stealing away his ex (Julia Roberts).

What makes 'Ocean's Eleven' better than the original is it's genius script and original characters. Brad Pitt makes for a great sidekick – especially when he's eating in almost every scene. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan play two obnoxious Mormon brother constantly trying to annoy one another. Don Cheadle is the pack's explosives expert and Bernie Mac is the cherry on top. Combined with all of the other solid actors in leading, supporting and cameo roles, 'Ocean's Eleven' is jam-packed with great performances.

What really works in 'Ocean's Eleven' is how the plan is never revealed to the audience prior to the heist. The first time you watch it, you're so entertained by the film that you never realize that the plan hasn't been detailed for you. As the heist comes about, you're just as clueless as to what's going on as is Garcia's character. 'Ocean's Eleven' is one of those rare films that you wish you could go back and watch again for the first time.

'Burn After Reading'

Coming off the success of four-time Oscar winner 'No Country for Old Men,' most audiences expected so much more from the Coen Brothers' follow-up. But in reality, 'Burn After Reading' is exactly what it was advertised as – a wacky, unpredictable Coen Brothers comedy.

'Burn After Reading' is the ensemble story of several different people whose lives become intertwined in the most odd of ways. It's a farce about a handful of bad people, all idiots, who get make assumptions, act upon them and get what they deserve in the end – nothing good.

John Malkovich plays the man who starts the ball rolling, an ex-CIA agent who decides to write his memoirs after being “let go.” A disc holding his memoirs mistakenly ends up in the hands of two gym workers (Francis McDormand and Brad Pitt) who believe the stories are government secrets and try selling it to the highest bidder. What Malkovich doesn't know is that his wife (Tilda Swinton) has been cheating on him with a dim-witted State Department Marshall (Clooney). When all the stories become connected, things get quirky and crazy.

While Pitt receives a lot of praise for his role as a physically fit dummy, Clooney also deserves the same amount of love for his role. He plays a creepy, dirty, sexual deviant unlike anyone else – something we've never really seen him do before. The picturesque last look on his face is priceless, reminiscent of the films of the '40s and '50s.

'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Most movie actors aren't capable of properly lending their voices to animation. See: 'Rio.' Better yet, don't see 'Rio.' It's awful. Just take my word on it. Not only is the movie itself flavorless, but the majority of the “stars” who lend the voices to the main characters are dreadful. No other actor could have phoned-in a more boring voice-over than Jesse Eisenberg as the lead blue macaw, Blu. If 'Rio' is a perfect example of how casting movie actors doesn't work, then 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is brilliant example of how it can.

George Clooney voices the titular character, Mr. Fox, in this Wes Anderson stop motion family flick. When Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) became pregnant, she made Mr. Fox promise to stop stealing hens from the local farmers' coups. Several fox-years later, he's back at it and the three ruthless farmers will stop at nothing to kill Mr. Fox and his family.

Based on the book by Roald Dahl, 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is not only entertaining for children, but for adults as well. It's full of the elements that keep kids entertained: mild peril, kid characters who need to learn lessons, silly action, et cetera. The elements that will entertain the adults are the Wes Anderson-isms: the playful directing, the witty dialog, the use of music and moving pictures, and so on.

Perhaps the most entertaining of the elements that compose 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is that fact the Anderson wrote a kids' screenplay full of swearing and profanity, but changed every foul word to “cuss” in order to not have an R-rated family flick. “Don't cussing point at me!” “If you're gonna cuss with somebody, you're not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!” And my personal favorite, “What a cluster cuss.

See what people are saying about this story in our forums area, or check out other recent discussions.

Tags: Fun Stuff, Luke Hickman, George Clooney, HDD Study Hall (all tags)