Yesterday’s piece on George Clooney got a ton of traffic (by FreeTime’s incredibly humble standards), thanks to Jason Kottke mentioning it on his hugely influential blog (thanks, Jason). Many of the comments people made, though, disagreed with my thesis, or at least, tried to explain to me why Clooney is so popular. (It’s my own fault for focusing too much on his box office weakness.)
I understand why he’s popular. I get that he’s handsome and debonair and charming, that you can drop him in his tuxedo right into the 1952 Oscar ceremony, and he’d fit right in. I get that he has an interesting mix of movie-star glamour and eclectic choices. But my point still stands: where are his great movies? Not his really really good movies, but his great, classic, remembered-for-all time movies?
If he is going to inherit – if he is going to deserve - Jack Nicholson’s throne in the front-row middle seat of the Oscars, he needs a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Plus a Chinatown and a Terms of Endearment. The Departed and The Shining. He needs hugely memorable performances like the Joker and Colonel Nathan Jessup. Jack’s filmography is such that I haven’t even mentioned seven other films for which he was nominated for an Oscar, including one in which he won Best Actor (fun game: try to think of them).
I realize I’m setting the bar high here, but that’s what great movie stars do. They make multiple movies that are praised by critics, loved by audiences, and remembered for decades. Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Tom Hanks made those kinds of movies. George doesn’t have a single Maltese Falcon or African Queen, much less a Casablanca, on his resume, but is treated as if he does.
His continued struggles at the box office may mean the window could close soon. Unless he starts making some classics, he may get bumped back to the 16th row at the 2012 Oscar ceremony.