Some say the term “movie star” is outmoded, since studios don’t make as many movies or build up their acting talent as they once did. But I think the term still applies to George Clooney, who’s very much with us as he nears retirement age (63) this month. But don’t expect him to slow down.

Descended from Hollywood royalty (his aunt and uncle were singer Rosemary Clooney from “White Christmas,” and Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer), you might think he enjoyed a smooth glide path to fame. Not so. 

In fact, he grew up in Kentucky and Ohio, attending both Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati without graduating. He held a variety of jobs to support himself in the lean years that followed, and only truly broke through as an actor in his mid-thirties.

Another perhaps antiquated term that applies to him is “leading man.” His dark good looks, deep voice and masculine charm harken back to the Golden Age, and the likes of Clark Gable.

Yet Clooney has worked hard to become more than that — to prove himself as a versatile  actor (and director, producer, and writer). For every Danny Ocean role, there’s been another that’s stretched him, whether it’s Everett McGill in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2001), or Bob Baer in the dense, overstuffed “Syriana” (2005), the film that won him his only acting Oscar to-date. Playing the dumpy, disheveled Baer, Clooney aces a character role.

My personal favorite George Clooney titles (listed below) are five he made in his prime over a fifteen year period. Outright hits have been more elusive over the past decade, with his latest directorial effort, “The Boys In the Boat” receiving mixed notices and lagging box office expectations. 

Clooney is hardly stagnating. Instead he’s raising a family with his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, and actively engaged with her in a raft of humanitarian causes- that is, when not pursuing new projects for screens both big and small.

Leading man, indeed. Happy Birthday and salutations, George Clooney.

Out of Sight (1998)

Bank robber Jack Foley (Clooney) meets the lady of his dreams while making a prison break. Unfortunately she’s federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) who shares the attraction but is also sworn to bring him in. This creates conflict and confusion, yet the sparks still fly. Steven Soderbergh directs this wildly entertaining, Oscar-nominated adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story. The teaming of Clooney and the alluring Lopez yields potent on-screen chemistry. The colorful supporting cast includes Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, and Don Cheadle. This snappy, sexy entry makes an ideal double feature with the prior year’s “Jackie Brown,” based on another Leonard yarn.

Find out where to watch.

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Inspired fact-based period drama takes place in 1953, when Senator Joe McCarthy was on a rampage with claims of Communist infiltration in government and media. Broadcaster Ed Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) finally resolve to challenge him. Clooney was Oscar-nominated for best director and original screenplay, along with partner Grant Heslov (who plays  producer Don Hewitt). Strathairn also got a nod for his uncanny portrayal of Murrow. Shot in luscious black and white by the Oscar-nominated Robert Elswit, “Good Night” recounts a true story that needs to be remembered.

Find out where to watch.

Michael Clayton (2007)

Clooney scores again playing the title character, a so-called “fixer” for a large law firm that finds itself in jeopardy when Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), one of its senior partners, has a breakdown while defending a corporate client accused of industrial pollution. It seems the firm and its client have something to hide. Meanwhile, Clayton has his own problems, including a drug addicted brother and a gambling addiction. Tense, gripping legal thriller won an Oscar for Tilda Swinton as opposing attorney Karen Crowder. Late director/actor Sydney Pollack is also memorable as the firm’s honcho.

Find out where to watch.

The Descendants (2011)

Alexander Payne’s outstanding family drama concerns Matt King (Clooney), a native of Kauai, Hawaii dealing with personal and professional challenges. Just after his wife has a boating accident that leaves her on life support, he learns she’d been having an affair. Angry and confused, Matt must now become primary parent to his two daughters, while persuading his numerous fractious cousins to sell their large tract of family-owned land to developers. Shailene Woodley is a stand-out as Matt’s older daughter Alexandra, and the Oscar-nominated Clooney was never better. “The Descendants” will leave you moved and inspired as the closing credits roll.

Find out where to watch.

Gravity (2013)

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is an engineer on a routine space shuttle mission with seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney). When a Russian satellite explodes, destructive debris hits them unexpectedly. With the shuttle immobilized and communication with Earth cut off, Stone and Kowalski must improvise some way to get home. Director Alfonso Cuaron uses 3D and CGI to create awe and wonder throughout; it feels like we too are floating helpless in black, infinite space. The pivotal scene when the debris hits is genuinely terrifying. Two charismatic lead performances further enhance this memorable, heart-pounding thriller.

Find out where to watch.

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