Oscar Moment: “The American”

24 08 2010

I really have no idea what to say about “The American,” but I know there has to be something to say.

Looking at the poster, we see a giant George Clooney.  That’s what Focus Features wants you to see because the rest of the poster (and the trailers as well) give you zero clue what the movie is supposed to be about.  He’s an assassin, as we might deduce from the gun, but no peeking at plot has given me any insight into the events of the movie.  Which may be just what Focus wants.  Hey, I’m not complaining about a movie shrouded in mystery.

In the past five years, Clooney has become a dominant force in Oscar season.  With three nominations for acting under his belt since 2005 (four if you count his Best Director nomination); the only people to match that total in the same amount of time are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Penelope Cruz, and the legendary Meryl Streep.  So we have to assume that anything Clooney stars in nowadays is an Oscar contender – although look at the mistake we made with “The Men Who Stare At Goats.”  If the Best Actor field is particularly weak this year, the Academy could easily sneak in a familiar face like Clooney.

The cast may become an issue in awards season.  The problem isn’t that the movie stars George Clooney; it’s that the movie stars George Clooney and no one else you’ve ever heard of before.  “The American” is being sold almost entirely on Clooney, a little bit on Corbijn for those whose moviegoing tastes are far enough off the beaten path to recognize his name.  So if Clooney isn’t at the top of his game, the whole movie’s chances may be derailed.

This is just Anton Corbijn’s second film, but he’s been behind the camera for quite a while, making music videos for groups as well known as Nirvana and U2.  Prior to that, he spent time behind a different lens doing music photography.  He still keeps up his first profession, albeit as a hobby, chronicling the production of “The American.”  Corbijn kept up a photo blog during production, posting some really interesting shots.  In the very near future, he will release them in a picture book called “Inside The American.”

His first feature, “Control,” about the lead singer of the band Joy Division, premiered at Cannes in 2007 to great reviews.  It opened theatrically later that year to very respectable critical marks, a 78 on Metacritic and an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Across the pond in Britain, it won Best Film and Best Director among others at their equivalent of the Indie Spirit Awards, the British Independent Film Awards.

Despite these laurels, “Control” didn’t exactly ignite here, failing to earn a release over 30 theaters or a revenue over $1 million.  Not that money really matters that much, especially in the context of a directorial debut.  Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow, made only $3 million with her first film, “Near Dark,” in 1987.

The bar has been set high, at least in terms of quality, for Corbijn’s follow-up.  First films usually don’t receive much notice at the Oscars, the rare exception coming, ironically, for the George Clooney vehicle “Michael Clayton,” which received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for Tony Gilroy.  Second films, however, have been able to gain traction.  Let’s look at last year’s Best Director nominees and their second films.

  • Winner Kathryn Bigelow made her second film, “Near Dark,” in 1987.  A vampire movie can become a cult favorite, but it’s certainly very hard to take seriously as an Oscar movie.
  • James Cameron made his second film, “The Terminator,” in 1984.  Wildly under-appreciated at the time, it’s now a classic, enshrined in the National Film Registry.
  • Quentin Tarantino made his second film, “Pulp Fiction,” in 1994.  It is considered by some to be a watershed movie in the history of independent film and got Tarantino an Oscar nomination for his directorial work.  The movie also won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.
  • Jason Reitman made his second film, “Juno,” in 2007.  The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and Reitman was a surprise announcement for a Best Director nomination.
  • Lee Daniels made his second film, “Precious,” in 2009.  The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and Daniels was nominated for Best Director.

See, it does happen!  Second films have found great success, both for the movie and for the director.  The question is whether “The American” will trod the glorious path in 2010 or march its way into (potentially momentary) obscurity.  There has yet to be a review of the movie, so the path truly is unknown.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (George Clooney)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography


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6 responses

25 08 2010
Fitz

I couldn’t vote glory, not with all the Oscar bait out there (Conviction, The Kids Are Alright, and 127 Hours) the odds aren’t good for this, or The Town or Black Swan for that matter. The Academy will be too stodgy to recognize those three films.

25 08 2010
CMrok93

Doesn’t look like anything special, other than another typical thriller, that just so happens to have Clooney in the lead role. I liked Control, but this just looks so different.

25 08 2010
Jennifer

When I first saw this movie poster I was instantly reminded of this one:
http://tinyurl.com/22pqr2z

When I saw “Up in the Air” I declared Clooney a modern-day version of Carey Grant, I just saw so many similarities.

26 08 2010
Marshall

That’s interesting … I do feel like Clooney has become the suave leading man of our era, someone with a lot of class like an old time movie star. Glad you brought up that comparison.

26 08 2010
Red

While it’s good to see Clooney do a part that isn’t a typical role for him, I am with the crowd that thinks that this will be just another triller that Oscar won’t care about.

10 09 2010
Stuart O'Quin

Judging by the general exit polling for this movie, I think most viewers found “The American” to fall short of the dream. As to how the academy will look at it: the Oscars are becoming more and more of a popularity contest all the time. This can only spell bad things for a film like this.

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