George Clooney has four feature film directing credits to his name — too few to accurately assess his sensibilities and broader obsessions. But with the announcement of his next project, which THR reveals is a film based on a May 28 New Yorker article detailing the life of William Alexander Morgan, an American who aided Fidel Castro in overthrowing the Cuban government, a sense of what drives Clooney's filmmaking side becomes a bit clearer. Clooney is solidifying himself as the premiere political filmmaker of the modern age.
Political dramas have been a common staple in Hollywood since cameras first started burning images into celluloid, but the genre swelled in the 1970s and '80s with domestic and international tension at a high, war bubbling across the globe. Filmmakers like Sydney Pollock, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski were examining politics and the general state of the world through human drama and broader backdrops. Perhaps the most influential of them all was Alan J. Pakula, who delved into political conspiracy with films like All the President's Men, The Parallax View and, arguably, Klute. Oliver Stone carried the political torch into the '80s, aggressively depicting the faults of government while praising the faint glimmers of hope that were left in the country. Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK — movies that tackle relevant subjects with little constraint.
Jump to today. Sensibilities (and business models) of Hollywood evolved, and now political films are few and far between, low-budget documentaries being the suitable form of dissection, rather than multi-million dollar studio gambles. The sea change helped Michael Moore become a household name, but those looking for the qualities of a written, dramatic experience are out of luck. Popcorn entertainment trumps real world reflection. Even our Oscar-friendly movies fit that bill — not to slight it, but what did The Artist say about the life and times of today?
But Clooney is using his power to revive the old school method. Really, he's the only one with the clout to do it. The A-list actor made his political drive well-known: Clooney routinely trots the globe promoting social issues and reform for less-than-ideal governments. He's taken part in protests in Washington D.C. — and even found himself in handcuffs a few times. He's an advocate, and now he's using his position in Hollywood, his newfound position as a top-notch director, to reach a broader audience. Leatherheads aside, his films have all been prisms for reflecting politics: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was steeped in that Paluka-esque paranoia; Goodnight and Good Luck depicted the hardships of journalism during the McCarthy era that feel all too familiar today; and Ides of March was is most on the nose effort to date, diving directly into the terrifying underbelly of election season. Unlike Oliver Stone, Clooney has the tenderness of being an actor too, helping to bring dimensionality to his characters. A great political film needs real people, not pawns, and Clooney avoids didacticism through performance. He may have his own political slant, but he's not one to drive home a singular message. Politics is a grey zone, and Clooney paints it as such.
If Clooney continues to tackle political films, the genre will be seen as his wheelhouse, which often translates to a comfort zone. That's narrow thinking — really, who else could be bringing these stories to life other than Clooney? With the actor-turned-director at the helm of heady political tales, audiences will have a few sizzling, undefinable pictures sprinkled among the usual biopic dramas of deceased celebrity or sweeping historical epics that often flood award season. If the guy can get a political drama made in the current Hollywood climate, he should. As Edward R. Murrow puts it in Goodnight and Good Luck: "This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and, yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends."
Go forth, Clooney. Make movies that teach us something.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: WENN.com]
Moviegoers elected "Hannibal" to another term in first place over the four-day Presidents weekend.
The R-rated thriller from MGM and Universal in association with Dino De Laurentiis held on to the top spot with a sizzling estimated $36.5 million (-40%) at 3,238 theaters (+8 theaters; $11,272 per theater). Its cume is approximately $110.4 million.
(All of today's weekend estimates are for four days. For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, MGM estimated "Hannibal" at $30.0 million.)
"Hannibal" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing last weekend.
"It's down 40% for the four days and we were looking for 35-40%, so it's pretty damn good," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning.
"I think $200 million's in the bag now."
In its international release through Universal, "Hannibal" opened Friday in the U.K. (via UIP) to very strong first place business. Universal said Sunday morning that it estimated the film's weekend gross at $9-9.5 million, making it the biggest opening ever in the U.K. for UIP, the international distribution company in which Universal and Paramount are partners.
"Hannibal" also opened in first place in Australia last Thursday with an estimated $2.5 million.
In Germany, where it also opened Thursday (via Tobis Studiocanal), it was number one with an estimated $6.3 million, making it the biggest opening in that territory for an R-rated film.
"Hannibal" also opened the previous weekend in Italy (via Filmauro) and has taken in an impressive estimated $9.5 million to date.
Driven by "Hannibal," the domestic marketplace expanded significantly for the four days, setting a new record for Presidents weekend of about $147 million.
Gleason noted that business was very strong and up sharply from last year (up about 16% from $126.3 million a year ago). While "Hannibal" was clearly the weekend's blockbuster success story, he pointed out that, "The three Academy (best picture nominees) -- 'Traffic,' 'Crouching Tiger' and 'Chocolat' -- all picked up nicely."
"Hannibal's" 1991 predecessor film "The Silence of the Lambs" grossed $130.7 million in its domestic release via Orion Pictures and did about $142 million in international theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore. Its screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian is based on the novel by Thomas Harris.
Where is "Traffic" heading in domestic theaters? "I think that $90 million is in the bag," Foley replied. "We're hoping for $100 million. If the picture holds up significantly, meaning that we take 30% drops over the next couple of weeks, and then it goes back up as you get into that momentum prior to the Academy Awards, which all these pictures do, we could get $100 million the week of the awards. So it's got a shot at $100 million.
"The thing that's really significant about this weekend's business is that it indicated that people's interest is firmly fixed on the film, which could really deliver the picture to that ($100 million) mark. It's real exciting."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Columbia and Intermedia Films' PG-13-rated romantic comedy "Wedding Planner" slid five slots to seventh place in its fourth week with a still-sexy estimated $7.0 million (-14%) at 2,354 theaters (-372 theaters; $2,974 per theater). Its cume is approximately $47.3 million.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Columbia estimated "Wedding" at $5.7 million.)
Directed by Adam Shankman, "Planner" stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.
Miramax's PG-13-rated, Oscar-contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," which was 10th last week, went wider and tied for eighth place in its 10th week with a still-encouraging estimated $6.0 million at 1,481 theaters (+333 theaters; $4,051 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34.4 million.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Miramax estimated "Chocolat" at $4.8 million.)
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.
"It's a nice combination to have a movie with great word of mouth get bolstered by getting an Academy Award nomination for best picture," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "It's a nice combination, and it shows in the increase in gross."
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away," which was fifth last weekend, tied for eighth place in its ninth week with an okay estimated $6.0 million (+10%) at 2,249 theaters (-98 theaters; $2,668 per theater). Its cume is approximately $217.5 million.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Fox estimated "Cast" at $5.0 million.)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Columbia's PG-13-rated comedy "Saving Silverman" from Village Roadshow Pictures in association with NPV Entertainment, down seven pegs in its second week with a dull estimated $5.1 million (-35%) at 2,467 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,067 per theater). Its cume is approximately $14.5 million.
Directed by Dennis Dugan, "Silverman" stars Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and Amanda Peet.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Columbia estimated "Silverman" at $4.3 million.)
OTHER OPENINGS Sony Pictures Classics R-rated drama "Pollock" went into wider release this weekend, but no details were available Sunday morning for four-day estimates. Three-day estimates put it at $0.24 million at 14 theaters ($17,143 per theater). Its cume through Sunday is approximately $0.33 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for best actor (Ed Harris) and best supporting actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" add theaters in its ninth week with an okay estimated $3.4 million (+2%) at 847 theaters (+12 theaters; $4,014 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million heading for $30 million-plus in domestic theaters.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Buena Vista estimated "Brother" at $2.8 million.)
A Buena Vista spokeswoman pointed out that this weekend saw "O Brother" overtake the gross for the Coen Brothers' "Fargo," which did $24.6 million in domestic theaters in 1996.
"Brother" received Oscar nominations for best screenplay and cinematography.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and John Goodman.
Fox Searchlight Pictures went wider with its R-rated drama "Quills" in its 13th week with a calm estimated $0.33 million at 201 theaters (+165 theaters; $1,617 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.2 million.
(For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Fox Searchlight estimated "Quills" at $0.27 million.)
Directed by Philip Kaufman, "Quills" stars Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine.
"Quills" received three Oscar nominations, including best actor (Geoffrey Rush).
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" added theaters in its third week with a still-attractive estimated $0.24 million at 24 theaters (+18 theaters; $9,950 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0. million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
Universal went wider with its R-rated drama "Billy Elliot" from Universal Focus in its 19th week. "Billy," which received three Oscar nominations last week, grossed an estimated $0.18 million at 138 theaters (+30 theaters; $1,270 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.9 million.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, "Billy" stars Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Bell, Jamie Draven and Adam Cooper.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the four days -- took in approximately $146.93 million, up about 16.31% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $126.33 million.
This weekend's four-day key film gross should not be compared to the previous weekend this year, a normal three-day weekend.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of "The Whole Nine Yards" was first with $15.92 million at 2,910 theaters ($5,469 per theater); and Sony's opening week of "Hanging Up" was second with $15.71 million at 2,618 theaters ($6,001 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $31.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $57.0 million.
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"
Not bad for a little film that came out of nowhere -- and another ensemble film that has yet to have a wide release.
The critical favorite and hardly seen "You Can Count on Me" and director Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" were among the winners of the 2000 New York Film Critics Circle Awards announced today.
"You Can Count on Me" garnered a best actress nod for Laura Linney and took best screenplay for scribe Ken Longergan.
Soderbergh continued his winning streak with another best director nod for his films "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic," with the drug pic nabbing the best picture award and a best supporting actor nod for Benicio Del Toro from the New York critics.
Soderbergh was named the director of the year by the National Board of Review earlier this month.
Tom Hanks The best actor award went to seasoned award winner Tom Hanks for his portrayal of a man fighting for survival in the upcoming "Cast Away."
Taiwanese director Edward Yang's "Yi Yi," which won the best director award at Cannes this year, was named best foreign film.
Here's the complete list of NYFCC winners.
Best Picture "Traffic"
Best Actor Tom Hanks, "Cast Away"
Best Actress Laura Linney, "You Can Count On Me"
Best Supporting Actor Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic"
Best Supporting Actress Marcia Gay Harden, "Pollock"
Best Director Steven Soderbergh, "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic"
Best Screenplay Ken Longergan, "You Can Count On Me"
Best Cinematographer Peter Pau, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Best Foreign Film "Yi Yi" (A One and A Two)
Best Non-Fiction Film "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg"
Best Animated Film "Chicken Run"
Best First Film "George Washington"
Special Award Jules Dassin, director of "Rififi," and to Rialto Pictures for re-releasing the film.
Special Award The Shooting Gallery (a N.Y. production company), for its ingenious distribution pattern as well as its choice of films.
Julie Walters shines as Bernie McPhelimy a working-class mother of four who is sick to death of living on the front lines. In curlers and a housecoat she chews out a gunman shooting from her welcome mat as if he were a naughty child. But it isn't until her best friend is shot dead while looking after one of Bernie's kids that she turns from Valium to activism. Daring to criticize the IRA as well as the British army Bernie becomes the town pariah though her gumption turns her into an unlikely celebrity. Ostracized and bullied by their friends her kids -- especially adolescent Ann who just wants to keep her new boyfriend -- resent her and suspect all this fame is going to her head.
In her best film role since "Educating Rita " Julie Walters shows she still has a surplus of piss and vinegar. Her Bernie also displays a sardonic (if exhausted) wit and an all-too-human ego as her fame spreads. While Ciaran Hinds is effective as the ulcer-addled apprehensive husband and Nuala O'Neill gives an appropriately mopey angst-ridden performance as Ann vibrant supporting performances by the townspeople really bring soul and humor to this film.
Quite different from his last film the glossy fluffy "Notting Hill " Rodger Michell's "Titanic Town" is a small indie with many fine miniature moments such as Bernie's preoccupation with the dust bunnies under the bed as British soldiers forcibly search her home. With a spate of IRA films preceding it Michell's is the only one to really show "The Troubles" through a mother's eyes.