Production begins on George Clooney’s ‘The Monuments Men’

As Kris noted last week in our gallery of potential 2013 Oscar contenders, the next awards season could be a(nother) big one for George Clooney — whose Best Picture win for “Argo” last week put him in an elite club of individuals to have won Oscars for acting and one other discipline.

With his regular producing partner Grant Heslov, Clooney will be looking to score a second straight Best Picture win — a feat last achieved by David O. Selznick in 1941 — and has two shots at bat. The first, the eagerly awaited adaptation of stage sensation “August: Osage County,” is simply a producing gig for the star. The second, WWII thriller “The Monuments Men,” features more Clooney for your buck: it’s his first project as director, co-writer and star since “The Ides of March” in 2011. 

“The Monuments Men” is a film a number of you have already pegged as a potential Oscar heavyweight, and it certainly adds up on paper, given Clooney’s awards history, the historical subject matter, a December 18 release date (though December prestige releases have an easier time securing nominations than wins these days) and an all-star cast that, besides Clooney, includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin. (Suck it, Seth MacFarlane.) Here’s the baity-sounding synopsis:

“The Monuments Men focuses on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind”s greatest achievements.”

Production on the film started this week in Berlin, with Clooney and Heslov producing through their company Smokehouse Productions. The crew — including cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, composer Alexandre Desplat, Oscar-winning editor Stephen Mirrione and production designer Jim Bissell — is mostly the same team Clooney gathered for “The Ides of March.” (Sharon Seymour of “Argo” fame designed that film, though Bissell has been along for the ride on every other Clooney-directed effort.). And like “Ides,” this one will be released through Sony Pictures. You may or may not choose to see this likeness as a good Oscar omen — that 2011 political thriller may not have been a major awards player, but by securing a not-entirely-expected writing nod, it kept Clooney in the Academy’s good books.

With production starting now in Germany — and moving later to the UK — the film is expected to complete shooting by the end of June. That suggests a fall festival berth may be a bit of a reach, but we’ll see how things go.

“The Monuments Men” opens December 18.