Oscar nomination voting started today, and George Clooney as he has often in his career, has a movie that deserves consideration in The Tender Bar which, so far, has been somewhat unfairly overlooked in critics and guild award nominations. But it’s a kind of small gem, a family dramedy and coming-of-age story, that I think is the finest directorial job Clooney has done since Good Night And Good Luck. Apparently those who have caught the film in its streaming run that began on January 7 on Amazon Prime agree.
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The streamer says the movie, which is based on JR Mohringer’s memoir of growing up in Long Island where the patrons of his Uncle Charlie’s bar basically stood in as father figures for him, had one of the best debuts of any original movie on Prime Video. It’s currently in their top 10 movie releases of all time, and opened globally on the service in over 240 countries and territories where it was #1 in its opening week. It has also been getting a large amount of five star reviews from users on the site.
Clooney is back in England at his home there after hif currently-shooting film, Ticket To Paradise, was shut down due to several Covid outbreaks on its Australian locations. He will be returning soon but had time to hop on the phone to talk about his excitement at the success of The Tender Bar, and especially the attention being given to Affleck’s performance, which has been nominated for a SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor. The turn is likely to put the actor back in the Oscar race, if the Gods are smiling.
“I have to say the thing that’s so cool about that is Ben really showed up, and he stuck his neck out, and yes, he’s gotten a SAG award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination. He deserves it. He put his neck out there, and he really worked hard on this, and he hasn’t been acknowledged much as an actor, and he’s a really wonderful actor,” Clooney told me.
“I’ve had great success working with him the two times I’ve worked with him. I’m a giant fan of his,” he said of Affleck who directed Argo , a film he also produced with Clooney and Grant Heslov. That project won the Best Picture Oscar in 2012.
Clooney says Affleck was the very first person he thought of when they were casting this film, and he said Affleck immediately responded after reading the first ten page of the script and said he was in.
“I looked at this as a real showcase for Ben, and you know, Ben’s been through the ringer. He’s been as high as you could get,” he said. “He stood on the stage and won a couple of Oscars. He knows what it’s like to be at the top of the game, and he also has had some rough patches. Some of them, as he has said many times, self-inflicted, but he’s a fighter, and he’s been out there, and he showed up on this one in such a big way and in such a gracious way, and he’s been doing it for a bit, and it’s fun to see the reactions towards him, and it’d be lovely if the same sort of attention was carried on [to the Oscars]. I think he would deserve it.”
Clooney then went on to admit, “I feel a great responsibility to the actors and the crew and the people who put their hearts into this, because, you know, this was not easy to make, and we were all masked up and on location. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens with Ben. I’d like it to happen.”
The director is over the moon about the reception the movie has gotten on Amazon, as well as the sheer numbers of people who have seen it there this month. It also received an initial theatrical release in December, albeit a smaller one than the straight theatrical releases for most films he’s either stared in or directed — or both.
Clooney has been on quite a run with streamers lately after last year’s Netflix epic, The Midnight Sky, and another coming up for Apple in which he and Brad Pitt will star for Spider-Man director Jon Watts. He is realistic about the way the business is trending and is hopeful theatrical and streaming can learn to live together. However a small character-driven movie like The Tender Bar would never get the kind of instant reception it has on Amazon if it were exclusively in theaters.
“I’d like to believe — and I still believe — that there’s a way that grownup films can still survive, and survive in movie theaters. But in general, in the world’s understanding the business end of this, that may very well mean that the negotiation is a short window in the theatrical world and then onto the streaming, so that a lot more people see it. A lot more people see this than see Good Night And Good Luck or films like that that were, you know, hits. Michael Clayton didn’t get this kind of an audience, so we’re just over the moon thrilled,” he said, before mentioning notes he has gotten from directors like Joel Coen who loved it, or Chris Columbus. In fact he says he and Heslov have been averaging several calls a day from friends in the business about this film.
Clooney feels streamers are actually filling a void right now for this kind of small film the studios really don’t seem to be interested in making anymore.
“It’s really interesting, and you know, it’s a fascinating thing because, you know, about 20 years ago or something, I started looking at different kinds of films that I wanted to do, and Steven Soderbergh and I really pushed Alan Horn to create Warner Independent. It ran for a while. We needed a place that we could go to make small adult films [like] Michael Clayton, Up In The Air. It was hard to get those kinds of films made, but there were a couple small independent houses that you could get these things done,” observed Clooney.
“Streamers have sort of taken over that. And so, the good news is there’s still a way to get these kind of films made, and the other part of the good news is that Amazon and Netflix, who we’ve also worked with, are also more than willing to have them be released in theaters, so that you can co-exist. I think that’s a pretty exciting prospect because films like mine, films like The Tender Bar aren’t going to open on three thousand screens. Not designed to do that,” he said.
As for the future, he will be working with another streamer again, this time Apple, on that aforementioned movie with frequent co-star Brad Pitt. It will be written and directed by Spider-Man: No Way Home filmmaker Jon Watts.
“Yeah. Brad and I. It was an exciting time because it got to be one of those weird bidding wars which happen every once in a while, and it ended up being pretty extreme, and Apple came in with a really big number for Brad and I, and we said we’d like to take less as long as we can guarantee that we can have a theatrical release, and they said great. So, I do think that there’s a way that we can all co-exist.
“You know, I do think that there is a version of this that we can do. There’s a lot of movies that are fun to still see on a big screen. You know, the film I’m doing with Julia (Roberts) right now is a Universal film, and it’s a comedy, and comedies are fun to see in a room full of people,” he said about Ticket To Paradise he had been shooting in Australia. Clooney is set to return to finish it in about two weeks he says, adding 90% of it was done before they got shut down.
“Well, this one is something special. This guy named Ol Parker is a really wonderful writer and director, and he wrote us a script, and I haven’t done a romantic comedy really since One Fine Day, and more than that. I’ve done some sort of snarky ones, you know, and in this one Julia and I just get to be mean to each other in the funniest way, and the minute I read it I called Julia, and I said, ‘Did you get this?’ and she said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said ‘Are you going to do it?’ and she goes ‘Are you going to do it? and I said, ‘Yeah, if you do it.’ So, it was just one of those very lucky things,” he said, noting it was such a drag to be shut down so near to completion of principal photography.
“Australia has done so well. They had these very severe rules that kept everyone very safe. A lot less people died there than almost anywhere, but then Omicron hit, and it was just so contagious that it just spread like wildfire there. Suddenly we lost cast and crew members, and it just got to be everyone was going down with it — losing like 15 people a day — and it just got to be impossible to work, so we just figured well, we’ll shut it down, ride it out until we can get back, and get to work,” he said. “Part of it was also making sure that we had all the right protocols.”
Clooney feels that, because it is a romantic comedy, the shutdown won’t affect the current planned October release date. In fact he’s hinting they may even take it to a festival. He’s that high on it.
“It’s going great, man. We’re having the time of our lives. Julia is just fantastic in it, and this wonderful actor named Lucas Bravo, who’s just absolutely the funniest thing in the movie, and you know, Billie Lourd and Kaitlyn Dever. It’s just a really fun, fun, fun cast all the way around. We’re having a great time.”
“We only have a few days left, and he’s been cutting [director Ol Parker, that is], so he’ll be able to finish. We want to take it out a little bit earlier. Maybe we can take it to Venice or something, not in competition, but just because it’s sort of an old-fashioned film like that.”
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