#280. Brad Pitt

How does an actor become a household name? Most of the time, this occurs not because of their acting, but because of the things they do off-screen. This is a bit of a Catch-22 because, in order to be notable for their off-screen activities, they need to have some semblance of on-screen success. Perhaps it’s the schadenfreude in us all that attracts us to the personal lives of movie stars, because deep down we want them to fail. We want to see them come back down to our level. This would explain the almost constant attention that tabloids give to actors like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. That’s not to say they aren’t successful actors, it’s more that our society makes them household names because of the notoriety of their personal lives. An added benefit to this is increased attendance at their films. This week’s two films look at the work of a household name actor: Brad Pitt.

Se7enSe7en
Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

One of the draws that Brad Pitt utilized in his early career was that of his sex-appeal. The “pretty boy” used his looks in such films as Thelma & Louise (1991) and Interview with the Vampire (1994), both of which did not necessarily showcase his acting talent. Almost all at once, Pitt started to flex his acting muscle, showing the depth of his talent in such films as Se7en (1994) and 12 Monkeys (1995). While the latter of these two films earned him his first acting nomination (for Best Supporting Actor), the former was the first in a series of collaborations with director David Fincher. After Se7en, Pitt starred in Fight Club (1999), further proving his commitment to these grittier roles. By this point in his career, most people had heard of Brad Pitt, but he still had many more years to refine his craft from there.

Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) has just moved to a new town with his wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). As part of his transfer, he’s been assigned to work with aging detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). While the two detectives have drastically different methods for investigating cases, they’ve nevertheless been placed together to find a mysterious killer who is using the seven deadly sins as themes for his murders. Following this thread, they find a suspect in John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who runs away upon their first meeting. The two detectives arrive moments too late to stop two more murders, but now John has given himself up and offers to lead them to the final two murders. Along the way, Doe admits that he’s jealous of David’s wife, egging him on to become the penultimate “wrath” in his string of serial murders.

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours

Action and comedy worked well for Brad Pitt in the years after Fight Club. From the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) trilogy to Troy (2004) and from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) to Inglorious Basterds (2009), Pitt proved that he could run the gamut in a variety of roles. Joining up with David Fincher again, he earned his first nomination for Best Actor with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). This was followed by his second nomination in 2011 for Moneyball. By this point in his career, he had turned to producing films, earning him three Best Picture nominations for Moneyball (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and The Big Short (2016), all three of which gave him small acting roles (but only 12 Years a Slave earning him his first Oscar). If people don’t know who Brad Pitt is by now, they haven’t been paying attention.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born near the turn of the 20th century as an old man. As time passed normally for the rest of the world, Benjamin aged in reverse. Once he was young enough to walk again, Benjamin ran across a seven-year-old girl by the name of Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Becoming younger and stronger, Benjamin takes to sea and is involved in World War II on a tugboat that comes across a sunken military boat, as well as a German U-Boat. Returning home, Benjamin meets up with Daisy, who has a successful career as a dancer. After an accident ends Daisy’s career, she is frustrated with Benjamin’s decreasing age, as well as her own limitations. Years later, when they both arrive at close to the same age, they finally start a life together. Unfortunately, as Benjamin becomes younger, they end their relationship. Eventually, the elderly Daisy cares for Benjamin as he reaches the “start” of his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best Brad Pitt roles

Bacon #: 1 (Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)

#255. George Clooney

Some actors are easily recognizable. From their face to their physique, many famous actors can be immediately identifiable by these visual characteristics. Similarly, some actors have unique and recognizable voices that are often heard in voiceovers and other audible media. The double threat of an actor comes when their look and their voice are both easily recognizable. When an audience no longer sees an actor and asks, “Isn’t that, so-and-so?” and instead exclaims, “It’s him!” an actor has truly made it in Hollywood. Granted, it might take some time for an actor to make a name for himself, but if he has good looks and a recognizable voice, it’s likely he’ll make it in Hollywood quite quickly. George Clooney is definitely a recognizable actor in today’s Hollywood. This week’s two films focus on some of his acting efforts.

The Perfect StormThe Perfect Storm
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours

Like many other actors, George Clooney started his acting on the small screen of Television. In the mid to late-1990’s, he starred in ER while at the same time getting his feet wet acting on the big screen. While most of his early roles were in films that were critically panned or just plain goofy, when the new millennium hit, Clooney had a lot of success in the film industry. With films by the Coen Brothers (O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Intolerable Cruelty (2003)) and Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Solaris (2002), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), The Good German (2006), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)) featuring George Clooney, he quickly found that his success was now well ingrained in American culture. This being said, the one film that started him on this string of successful roles was that of The Perfect Storm (2000).

Because of the unprofitable catch of fish for the Andrea Gail, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) needs to go out for one more expedition before the season ends in order to break even. Since he cannot fish with his boat alone, he has to convince his crew to join him on a last-ditch effort in a generally dangerous time of year. Despite some of his regulars not feeling comfortable about the trip, he manages to find a full crew and sets out. At first, they come up with nothing, but as they continue to head further out, they hit the motherlode. Unfortunately, a storm has built behind them and it’s up to Billy to guide the ship safely back to Massachusetts. Taking the full brunt of the storm, the crew cannot catch a break as water floods their boat, winds rip off communication equipment, and waves threaten to capsize them.

The DescendantsThe Descendants
Year: 2011
Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

As an actor, George Clooney has been nominated for an Oscar a number of times, but these accolades didn’t start arriving until 2005 when he was nominated (and won) for his supporting role in Syriana. By this time in his career, he was also starting to direct films, as is usually the case from actors who find they are multi-talented. In fact, he has received just as many Oscar nominations and wins through his non-acting roles as he has for his acting ones. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) saw Clooney nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, while The Ides of March (2011) garnered him another nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He won his non-acting Oscar for Argo, the Best Picture of 2012. Of course, Michael Clayton (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and The Descendants (2011) garnered him his three nominations for Best Actor, none of which resulted in a win.

While Matt King (George Clooney) is good with his money, the rest of his family has not developed the same skill. Consequently, because he is the sole person responsible of their family trust of 25,000 acres of land on Kauai, all of his cousins are pressuring him to sell the land to developers because of a rule that limits the amount of time they have to make a decision on the property. Meanwhile, with two difficult daughters and a comatose wife, Matt learns that his wife was having an affair with a man who is incidentally linked to the possible sale of the family land. Partly because he does not want to give the adulterous man the huge commission that would result from this, he makes the decision to keep the land and figure out a solution to the rule against perpetuities. The cousins are irate, but Matt feels this is the right decision. Concurrently, he also comes to terms with his wife’s situation and allows her to die peacefully.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great George Clooney performances

Bacon #: 2 (Spy Kids / Teri Hatcher -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)