Clooney Vs. Clooney

Oh, poor George! How to handle the rare problem of one star with possibly too many noms.

George Clooney can expect to spend a lot of time in the shower during the coming months. Oscar campaigning makes him "sort of feel unclean," he bellyached a few months back. Or was that just a mock complaint? With Clooney, a serious man (witness his campaign against genocide in Sudan) who has perfected the knack of never seeming to take himself too seriously, you never really know.

But when it comes to juggling competing awards campaigns, Clooney is on familiar ground. Six years ago, he had two politically themed films in play: Syriana (in which he starred) and Good Night, and Good Luck (which he co-wrote, directed and acted in). He managed to divide his promotional efforts between the two, without slighting either.

The result was a combined eight Academy nominations for the two movies, with Clooney picking up mentions for directing and co-writing Good Night and taking home the supporting actor Oscar for his worn-down CIA agent in Syriana.

This year, it's not quite deja vu all over again. But the pattern is similar. Clooney has one movie, the backroom political drama The Ides of March, that he co-wrote, directed and produced and in which he has a supporting role as a governor with presidential aspirations. And he has another, writer-director Alexander Payne's The Descendants, in which Clooney stars as a man struggling to keep both his immediate and extended family from spinning out of control.

Having two films up for consideration can present problems. Last year, Leonardo DiCaprio, a far more reticent public personality than Clooney, tried to voice equal support for Shutter Island and Inception. But instead of being named best actor for one or the other, he was recognized for neither.

Clooney doesn't face that predicament, though. The categories in which he'll contend are clearly delineated. In Descendants, he's front and center. In Ides, he's providing support to Ryan Gosling's political operative-- in fact, Clooney's character didn't even appear in the stage play on which the movie is based. Says one of Clooney's associates, "The two movies are two very different canvasses."

Additionally, Sony, which opened Ides on Oct. 7, and Fox Searchlight, which will begin to roll out Descendants on Nov. 18, have been playing nice on the festival circuit: Ides premiered in Venice; Telluride got Descendants; both movies screened on successive nights in Toronto and London; and Descendants was applauded as the closing-nightfeature at the New York Film Festival. Clooney capped the first phase of his awards bid by accepting Actor of the Year honorsfor Descendants at the Hollywood Film Awards on Oct. 24.

Will both movies go the distance? At the moment, Descendants, which also picked up three Gotham noms, looks to be building momentum. Ides, which grossed a respectable $24 million through its first two weekends of release, is one of several high-profile nominees Sony will field, but Descendants is shaping up as the lead card in the pack of Searchlight's awards hopefuls. Fox's specialty unit plans to send about 30,000 screeners to the industry's awards groups.

But even if Clooney doesn't ultimately pick up writing or directing Oscar noms for Ides -- and he faces stiff competition in those categories -- the fact that the possibility is being discussed adds to his gravitas, strengthening his best actor bid for Descendants.

It's the equivalent of what rocket scientists call the slingshot effect: Send a spacecraft on a quick loop around a distant planet, and the planet's gravitational force will hurl the spacecraft even farther into space. Voters impressed by Clooney's performance in Descendants are likely to be even more so when reminded of his work behind the camera in Ides. Rather than canceling each other out, the movies could add up to an effective one-two punch, with Clooney emerging as the best actor victor.

THE SLINGSHOT EFFECT: A combination of two great performances in the same year can boost one into the winner’s circle.

1993: Holly Hunter -- As a secretary who conspires with Tom Cruise in The Firm, Hunter earned a supporting nom. But by going period in The Piano, she landed the best actress trophy.

2004: Jamie Foxx -- Playing opposite Cruise in the thriller Collateral brought Foxx a supporting mention. But it was his star turn as Ray Charles in Ray that earned him the gold.

2008: Kate Winslet -- Winslet received Golden Globes for Revolutionary Road (lead) and The Reader (supporting). The Academy gave her one nom, for lead in Reader, and she won.