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George Clooney is the perfect definition of a movie star. He’s a bit of a throwback to Old Hollywood, with his dashing good lucks and his undeniable charm. Before starring in huge hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Gravity and Michael Clayton, he found work as a humble struggling actor.
He started his career in the eighties, appearing in bit parts on sitcoms like The Facts Of Life and Golden Girls before his breakout role, as Dr. Doug Ross on NBC’s ER in the mid-nineties. Since then his star has only grown brighter.
George Clooney has won multiple Oscars, both as an actor (Syriana) and a producer (Argo) and starred in both big budget blockbusters and smaller indie films. He’s also had his fair share of misses in his career, most infamously, his turn as the Caped Crusader in Batman & Robin, a movie so bad, it killed the franchise for a while.
Yet his successes far outnumber his bombs, so we’ve put together a ranking of George Clooney’s 10 best movies, a couple of which you might have missed along the way. Take a look.
10. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)
George Clooney directs this fantastic film about '70s game show host Chuck Barris (played by Sam Rockwell). Barris got famous by producing and hosting The Gong Show, a show so ridiculous, it’s amazing it was as popular as it was (its influence over TV is still evident today). Barris figured out that a lot of people in the world were desperate for their 15 minutes of fame, even the wildly untalented, and millions of people tuned in to watch those people fail on the small screen.
However, there was a whole lot more to Chuck Barris than being a simple game show host, at least Barris would have you believe anyway. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is based on Barris’ “unauthorized biography” of the same name written by the man himself. Sam Rockwell stars as Chuck Barris, who is portrayed as an alcohol-soaked jerk with delusions of grandeur. Clooney played CIA agent Jim Byrd, who recruits Barris to be an undercover agent.
Among the many outrageous claims Barris made about himself in the book was that he was a CIA hitman who used his cover as a game show host to travel the world and assassinate America’s enemies. Rockwell’s performance captures Chuck Barris’ erratic and sometimes insane behavior perfectly. If you’ve never seen it, you should. The film also stands out as Clooney’s debut as a director, something else he does very well here, and he'd continue with another movie that ends up on this list.
9. Michael Clayton (2007)
Michael Clayton came at a peak in George Clooney’s career. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, and it came in the midst of other award-winning films in the same time period, like Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck.
In this gripping story about a high-powered New York attorney who gets caught up in life-threatening controversy, we get a corporate cover-up over a cancer-causing weed killer and a fellow partner losing his mind ( and eventually being murdered) to keep the story out of the press.
George Clooney is left as the only person who can break the story open in a harrowing, classic tale of one man taking on big business and winning.
8. Three Kings (1999)
It’s easy to dismiss Three Kings today. Its style and its plot are both a little dated. For one, the film is a heist film set during the first Persian Gulf War and it was released three years before the second invasion of Iraq. So in terms of history, the perspective is very different today than it was 20 years ago.
The film’s style, driven artistically by director David O. Russell, was groundbreaking at the time, but it’s been so influential, it almost seems contrived today. With a heavy use of handheld steady cams and oversaturated colorizing, the movie’s look is like many other films today, but at the time, nothing else looked or felt like it.
As for George Clooney’s performance in Three Kings, it is masterful. In it, viewers can see the actor blossom into the movie star he was destined to become. Despite legendary arguments with Russell, George Clooney’s performance, alongside his co-stars Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze, radiates with his trademark charisma.
7. Up In The Air (2009)
Up In The Air won’t change your life. It won’t make you question all your beliefs or inspire you change the world. What it will do is delight you and allow you a wonderful break from the heaviness of the real world.
Up In The Air, and George Clooney’s performance in it, is light and, pardon the pun, airy. That’s not a bad thing, it is a very good thing. The film, like Clooney himself, is undeniably charming.
It follows the story of George Clooney’s character as a downsizer who travels the country as a corporate consultant who specializes in laying people off. He travels all week, never spending more than a night or two in anyone place, living the high life on the road taking full advantage of his frequent flier status on American Airlines. He’s a man who never settles into a place called home, for him, home is on the road.
Up In The Air was nominated for a slew of awards, including George Clooney himself for his performance, as well as Anna Kendrick in a star-making role for her as a young apprentice to Clooney’s character.
6. Gravity (2013)
2013’s Gravity found George Clooney in full movie star mode. Maybe it was his portrayal of a cowboy-ish astronaut that did it, but it’s Clooney in full confidence of his abilities. Starring alongside another bonafide movie star in Sandra Bullock and directed by the brilliant Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity has all the components of a blockbuster.
Gravity was nominated for an astounding 10 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Actress for Sandra Bullock, Best Direct for Cuarón, and most of the technical awards for its gripping story of two astronauts stuck in the vast emptiness of space.
It’s a movie that is beautifully shot and remarkably tense. While it is not the most demanding acting job George Clooney has ever had, it is worthy of inclusion on this list for being the incredible movie that it is.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Can you take a devastatingly handsome leading man like George Clooney and put him in a movie where you never see his face and still have huge success? The animated masterpiece Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, proves that you can.
The thing is, George Clooney’s irrepressible charm comes through even when it is just his voice. Although he’s playing an animated fox, viewers are keenly aware that it is, in fact, George Clooney.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s first animated movie, but it reads just like live-action Anderson film, complete with the same perfectly balanced camera shots and an excellent soundtrack. It is as charming and as fun as any other of the best Wes Anderson movies and the same can be said about George Clooney’s performance. And yeah, it’s better than Up, the movie that stole all the awards that year in animation.
4. Good Night, And Good Luck (2005)
Good Night, And Good Luck marked a big change for George Clooney. It wasn’t the first feature film he directed, but it did establish him as a big time director as he was nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.
Set during the Red Scare and with the backdrop of the infamous anti-communist hearings by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the film, shown in back and white, explores the early days of television news, focusing on CBS’ legendary news achor Edward R. Murrow, played by David Strathairn in a brilliant performance.
George Clooney’s directorial masterpiece took a lot of risks, not the least of which was to release the film in black and white and his talents really shine through in this dramatic retelling of a pivotal time for the country and for journalism in America.
3. Syriana (2005)
Syriana is a complicated film that requires the audience to play close attention. Because of this, it can also be a little confusing. In fact, in many of the (mostly glowing) reviews, this potential confusion is a recurring theme. But if you follow it, it’s brilliant.
George Clooney’s performance is one of the finest of his career and earned him his first, and to date, only, Academy Award for acting, when he won for Best Supporting Actor.
The movie follows multiple narratives through multiple locations throughout the Middle East starring George Clooney as a CIA agent trying to stem the flow of illegal weapons into the Middle East and also features excellent performance for an excellent cast, including Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, and Jeffery Wright.
2. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? marks the first collaboration between George Clooney and the Coen brothers and it truly is a brilliant performance by the actor. Clooney plays a con man who has recently escaped from prison in order to get to a pile of money he buried before being arrested in an area about to be flooded with the building of the dam.
Based on Homer’s The Odyssey, George Clooney and his two accomplices, played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, find themselves on an adventure through a Depression-era Mississippi, in a tale that twists and turns and finds them encountering all manner of weird and wonderful characters.
The actor's role as the hilarious con man with a “gift for gab” is simply wonderful. The audience hangs on every single brilliant sentence that the Coen brothers constructed and George Clooney flawlessly delivers. O Brother is a movie finds a whole bunch of really talented filmmakers and actors at creative peaks.
1. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Eleven takes the top spot for one reason, in a movie filmed with the biggest movie stars of the day, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Andy Garcia, and Julie Roberts, George Clooney is the standout star. It’s not easy to stand out in that crowd and Clooney does it with ease.
It’s hard to image anyone stealing the show, and yet somehow George Clooney, as the Danny Ocean, the leader of a first rate crew of thieves pulling of the heist in the vault of three casinos, does exactly that. His confidence and swagger as the leading man among leading men oozes through the character and his performance fits the movie’s fun vibe perfectly.
It is easy to see that Clooney and the rest of the brilliant ensemble had a blast making the movie and its success, along with the success of its two sequels truly established George Clooney as one of the biggest stars of his day and, indeed, of all time.
As you’ll probably note, there are a couple of movies that didn’t find their way onto this list, movies where George Clooney had stellar performances, like his role as the doomed captain of a fishing trawler in The Perfect Storm and his Golden Globe-winning performance in The Descendants.
It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on any list of George Clooney’s best films, but it is a testament to how many great movies he’s made and how many great performances he’s shined in over the years. George Clooney is a movie star’s movie star and he continues to prove it over and over again. Even if he was the worst Batman ever.