In the comment thread for “Mid Clinton-Era Romcom,” “filmklassik” suggested that George Clooney‘s finest films were relatively few and far between. Let me gently explain something. The legacies of the greatest stars are always about a relative handful of films. That’s just the way it shakes out. Clooney, whose peak period lasted longer than most (almost 20 years), more than measures up alongside anyone you might want to name (James Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, James Cagney, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford).
MICHAEL CLAYTON is Clooney’s mythical summit. Followed by THE DESCENDANTS, UP IN THE AIR, OUT OF SIGHT, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and BURN AFTER READING. Six bona fide classics. Not to mention GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK (Clooney’s best-directed film), SYRIANA and HAIL, CAESAR. Plus THREE KINGS. I would go further and include THE PERFECT STORM. I would even include the first two OCEAN’S films. Six goldies and five silvers and two bronze.
It’s a basic creative and biological law that only about 10% to 15% of your films are going to be regarded as serious creme de la creme…if that. Most big stars (the smart ones) are given a window of a solid dozen years or so** in which they have the power, agency and wherewithal to bring their game and show what they’re worth creatively. We all want to be rich, but the real stars care about making their mark.
In ‘02 or thereabouts I gave Tony Curtis (whose peak period started with Sweet Smell of Success and ended with The Boston Strangler) a list of all his films & asked him to check off those he truly admired and respected. He checked off about 10%, if that.
Same with Kirk Douglas when I offered the same during a set visit with him in ‘82 — just a handful (basically confined to his 15-year peak period between ‘49 and ‘64) but he felt VERY good about those few.
** Some enjoy 15- or even 20-year rides. Grant peaked from the late ‘30s to late ‘50s. Cagney between Public Enemy and White Heat, Stewart between Destry Rides Again and Anatomy of a Murder. Clark Gable’s hottest years were between It Happened One Night (‘34) and The Hucksters (‘47), Bogart’s between High Sierra / The Maltese Falcon (‘41) and The Harder They Fall (‘56) — a 15-year run. Wayne was fairly aflame between Stagecoach and North to Alaska. Redford peaked between Butch Cassidy (‘69) and Brubaker and Ordinary People (‘80). I’m talking about the years when they had serious heat.