George Clooney scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination this year for his sterling work in Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants, in which he played a grieving husband who discovers his comatose wife was conducting an affair behind his back. The Academy Award went elsewhere – and to a Frenchman no less! – but Clooney’s reputation as one of the finest leading men working today, if not of all time, remains untarnished. Although we josh him today for being a swinging bachelor, on-set prankster, political campaigner, nipple-suit-wearing Batman, and ridiculously good looking human being, he’s slowly been building up a filmography of incredible stature. So impressive, we couldn’t even make room on our list of his top 10 performances for his work in Ocean’s Eleven, Solaris, The Ides of March, or even Leatherheads (what can we say – we’re fans!).
10. Fred Friendly in Good Night, and Good Luck
It’s only a supporting part, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave off Clooney’s directorial masterwork from the list (oh yeah, he’s not just a great actor but a supremely talented writer and director – let that sink in for a moment). As Fred Friendly, the unflinching and quick-witted producer of See It Now, Clooney acts as confidant, co-conspirator, and calm motivator to David Strathairn‘s Edward R. Murrow in their battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy.
9. Seth Gecko in From Dusk till Dawn
Going all the way back to 1994′s From Dusk till Dawn now. Clooney’s done a great job of establishing himself as one of the most chameleonic actors in Hollywood, but could you imagine him being cast as the unrepentant and murderous Seth Gecko today? Or even as the brother of Quentin Tarantino?
8. Mr. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Voice-overs count! George Clooney added a Danny Ocean air to Wes Anderson‘s comic heist film, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. If we had to choose between this and the Ocean’s series… we choose the fox.
7. Harry Pfarrer in Burn After Reading
In the third film of Clooney and the Coen Brothers‘ ‘Idiot’ trilogy, George plays a CIA agent who is surprisingly adept at pulling off impromptu executions, but not so much at handling the emotional repercussions. Some great silly faces in this one.
6. Bob Barnes in Syriana
He picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Stephen Gaghan‘s Syriana, a decent ensemble drama about the oil industry that really only comes alive when Clooney’s CIA operative Bob Barnes is on the screen. He suffers in a torture sequence like no other when captured by mercenaries. The film may be largely forgotten, but that scene will endure in your brain.
5. Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air
It was a little difficult to picture the eternal bachelor as a father of teenage girls in The Descendants, but it requires no hard work on the viewer’s part to see Clooney as the baggage-free (literally and figuratively) Ryan Bingham. Watching a caddish retrenchment officer flirt with humanity and temporarily have his spirit soar – thanks to two strong women, played by the equally great performers Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga – only to later see him come crashing down was truly heartbreaking.
4. Michael Clayton in Michael Clayton
Clooney is fantastic as the crumbling “fixer” Michael Clayton throughout the entirety of Tony Gilroy‘s impressive, 70s influenced thriller, but most will point you in the direction of his final, wordless sequence as evidence of his acting prowess. We’ll take you back a few minutes earlier, and recommend the unbelievably satisfying moment he tells Tilda Swinton, “You’re so f*****.”
3. Major Archie Gates in Three Kings
David O. Russell‘s Three Kings got lost in the mire of 1999′s exceptionally impressive cinematic output, and is mostly remembered today for the on-set punch up between Russell and Clooney. But it stands as one of the year’s – if not the decade’s – finest films, and Archie Gates is one of Clooney’s most complex protagonists, evolving from irredeemable jerk to noble hero in just under two hours – and totally organically.
2. Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou
Clooney’s first entirely “silly” performance is also one of his smartest and most brilliantly tuned. As Ulysses Everett McGill – a chain gang escapee unwittingly acting out Homer’s Odyssey in Great Depression Mississippi – he’s a fast-talking huckster, brilliant schemer, foolish romantic, slick singer, and nitwit all in one. But damn if he doesn’t have one hell of an impressively coiffed ‘do! Thanks, Dapper Dan!
1. Jack Foley in Out of Sight
The role that well and truly broke him out of his E.R. prison, and helped people forget that Batman and Robin was a thing (just kidding – we’ll never forget!), Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight features Clooney at his most charismatic, and either introduced or perfected the characteristics that would consume his later performances: slickness, vulnerability, goofiness, loneliness, cheekiness, sensuality, and conversational acumen. The scene in which he, recently escaped convict Jack Foley, shares a car boot ride with U.S. marshal Karen Cisco (Jennifer Lopez)…well, cinema just doesn’t get much better than that. This is quintessential Clooney.