Irked George Clooney Explains Why He Moved ‘Monuments Men’ Out of Oscar Contention

John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men."
John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men."

Does George Clooney have a bomb on his hands?

The shockwaves are still reverberating around Hollywood the day after Clooney announced that his highly anticipated WWII movie, "The Monuments Men," will not be released until February 7, 2014. This eleventh-hour action came on the heels of Martin Scorsese's decision to remain in the Oscars game with "The Wolf of Wall Street," which yesterday was slotted for a Christmas Day release.

Why all this last minute agita? Because both Clooney and Scorsese want to win that gold statuette — but they don't want to uncork the wine too soon and have a sour product.

And why the delay, specifically, around the release of "Monuments Men"?

A widely circulated story on The Wrap that incorporated weeks-old quotes from Clooney purported that the delay had to do with tonal issues in the film.

"It's been a bit of a dance," co-writer/director/producer/co-star Clooney told Sharon Waxman in the piece. "We're trying to do the movie in the vein of war films, but you don't want it to sound like 'The Great Escape.' Those movies that were done in the '50s and '60s, they all had their own sort of life. You don’t want to do a replica. You have to do a new version. "

A clearly annoyed Clooney responded to The Wrap story through its rival website Deadline Hollywood, saying tone had nothing to do with the delay and blamed it instead on his team's inability to finish the project's visual effects and music in time. "It's absolutely ridiculous and false," Clooney said of The Wrap story.

While Clooney and his distributor, Sony, initially explored a November release, it proved impossible. So they moved on to December. "I don't know how many movies are opening, but it’s got to be the toughest December in recent memory for box office," he explained. "We said, where’s another good place to land? And we looked at February and the 'Shutter Island' slot."

"Shutter Island," as Deadline explains, faced similarly negative press when it bowed out of a fall release date and awards run, but went on to be a critically praised box office hit in February 2010, raking in $128 million domestically and $295 million worldwide.

Clooney's movie — based on Robert M. Edsel’s bestseller — follows a special force of British and American curators, art historians and soldiers. Known collectively as the Monuments Men, the unconventional team raced against time to recover fine art looted by the Nazis before it could be destroyed by that failed artist Adolf Hitler. Matt Damon and Clooney lead the large ensemble cast that also includes Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, and Jean Dujardin ("The Artist").

While Quentin Tarantino, with "Inglourious Basterds," meshed extreme violence and laughs and Allied triumph over the Nazis, that's neither Clooney's goal nor his style.

"When we started this movie, we said all along this was something we wanted to do in the tradition of 'The Guns Of Navarone' and 'The Great Escape,'" Clooney said. "That's what we wanted all along and we took the date because we’d had so much luck on it with 'Ocean's Eleven' and 'Ocean's Twelve.' We wanted it to play through the holidays."

But he insists that balancing tone and humor on a deadline was not the challenge. "It's certainly not about tone of the film, because it's testing through the roof."

[Related: George Clooney Leaves Cynicism Behind in the New 'The Monuments Men' Trailer]

Clooney, who gets most of the laughs in the Oscar contender "Gravity," has a flair for grace under pressure. And he's not entirely out of this year’s race. While it's unlikely that he will get an Oscar nomination for his role opposite Sandra Bullock as astronaut Matt Kowalski, he and artistic wingman Grant Heslov also have another iron in the awards fire. They produced the Meryl Streep-starring dysfunctional family drama "August: Osage County," adapted from Tracey Letts's award-winning play.

Meanwhile, "Monuments Men" is not the only movie that got bashful in 2013. Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carell, and the Nicole Kidman vehicle, "Grace of Monaco," both at various points considered awards contenders, also decamped to 2014.

Neither film faced the scrutiny that "Monuments Men" is experiencing, however.

And the fact remains, delays raise red flags around Hollywood and the press that covers it (not to mention the average Joe who follows Oscar buzz with a sports fan's fervor), especially when a film moves out of awards contention.

So the big question — whether this delay reflects on the quality of "The Monuments Men," despite what Clooney says about test screenings — could linger. While Clooney has had his directorial hits, like the Edward R. Murrow biopic "Good Night, and Good Luck," he's also had some critical misfires, particularly the tonally challenged "Leatherheads." The last Oscar-friendly movie he directed, "The Ides of March," had high hopes early in the Oscar season but pulled up lame in the final lap.

[Related: George Clooney on Oscar Whisper Campaigns...]

Given his track record, Clooney (and Heslov) had to make the tough call and throw in on the side of making the best movie possible.

And if that meant delivering the bitter pill to Sony Pictures that they wouldn’t be done for a Christmas Season release date and an Oscar run, so be it. Perhaps, with an ambitious period piece based on a 640-page book, it was too much to hope for that a movie that began production only last March (right after Clooney and Heslov picked up their Oscars for "Argo") could be wrapped up with a bow for Christmas.

Watch the trailer for "The Monuments Men":