After positive notices following its debut at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals last month, George Clooney's last directorial effort opened to the masses on Friday.  Seen as a potential best picture player, the political thriller had an O.K. weekend grossing $10.4 million. But, don't judge that figure too hastily.

"Ides" first weekend was actually strikingly similar to "Michael Clayton's" first "wide" weekend (actually its second overall after debuting in 15 theaters the week before) in 2007. Both were the equivalent "second" weekends of that October and both found a similar audience reception. "Clayton" found $10.3 million in just 2,511 theaters compared to "Ides" estimated $10.4 million in just 2,199. Many believed "Clayton" had a shaky start, but the Tony Gilroy drama ended up landing seven Academy Award nominations including best picture.  Moreover, Tilda Swinton was something of an upset winner in the best supporting actress category over sentimental favorite Ruby Dee ("American Gangster") and critic's charge Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There").  "Clayton" also eventually found $49 million or what is termed a "five multiple" which basically means it played much stronger than expected.  The big difference between the two pictures, so far, is their nationwide critical reception.

"Clayton" averaged an 82 on Metacritic and a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.  The film featured raves from Roger Ebert, USA Today's Claudia Puig and EW's Owen Glieberman as well as very strong notices from important Academy bellwether Kenneth Turan of the LA Times as well as Manohla Dargis of the paper of record.  "Ides" found major supporters in regional critic Stephen Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Glieberman and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.  Turran and the NY Times' A.O. Scott gave it mixed reviews.  Currently, it has a 67 on Metacritic and an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The question for "Ides" in the 2012 awards season frame revolves all around one man: director, co-screenwriter and star George Clooney.  The Oscar favorite rarely campaigns for his films, but after doing very limited press and awards events for "Clayton" initially, he did a full court press right before nominations were determined in January of 2008.  Whether that helped push "Clayton" into what were just five nominated pictures that year is unclear.  However, without 10 guaranteed nominees this season, his popularity may be needed to foster recognition for his cast and crew in January (although we'd be shocked if Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't make the supporting actor race without George's help).  Clooney will also have his impressive leading role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" to campaign for (competing features seems to be a regular thing for Clooney during awards season).  Normally, a studio would be calling the shots here and pushing the talent to act, but without a major monetary investment, Sony Pictures will also (and understandably) be more concerned with "Moneyball" and possibly "The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo" (Sony put up the P&A to distribute the $12.5 million budgeted drama in the U.S.).  With Clooney's Smokehouse Pictures production company now based at Sony, however, it's possible the film will remain an important awards season priority on the Culver City lot.  Maybe.  Because, as already noted, it's all up to George.

As it's only October 10, this year's awards campaign has a lot of twists and turns to go.  So, for those of you already assuming "Ides" may not find itself in the um, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 this year, beware of making early proclamations.*

*Unless it's about "W.E," "A Dangerous Method," "Anonymous" or "Carnage" of course.

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