Well, with twelve months basically in the can, it’s time to put the year to bed, and hopefully, into a little perspective. 2011 was, well, just another year in movies, and that's not to say it was an uninteresting year, it's just that while things are evolving, and not always for the better, Hollywood, indies and the general state of filmmaking kept on trucking like they had to. Sure, it was hard for some movies to get made. Warner Bros. apparently said no to a Leonardo DiCaprio pitch because it was a drama (and he's their golden child), big, ambitious studio projects were shut down because the chance to recoup seemed too tenuous (Guillermo del Toro's R-Rated $150 million "At The Mountains Of Madness") and several highly expensive tentpoles that were released this year ("Green Lantern," "Cowboys & Aliens") turned out to be some rather underperforming turkeys ('GL' was supposed to trigger a lucrative franchise, but now it's back to the drawing board).
Stars were made (mostly young ingénues at Sundance) and some icons' candles finally flickered out (RIP Elizabeth Taylor, Sidney Lumet, Peter Falk, Polly Platt and Ken Russell). So, twelve months down, twelve more months to go in the arbitrary cycle of when we judge and evaluate art (and sometimes just hollow entertainment). Let's take a look back and try and make sense of things. And in honor of "Harry Potter" and "Breaking Dawn," we've cut the feature in two to maintain the integrity of the piece. Or to maximize box-office returns. One of the two.
The year begins and almost immediately we lose British actor Pete Postlethwaite to cancer. His last roles are “Inception,” “The Town” and “Killing Bono.” Very soon after we also say goodbye to legendary ‘Bond’ composer John Barry and director Peter Yates (“Bullitt,” “The Hot Rock” to name just a few).
The don’t call it dumping ground season for nuthin’. Despite some hopes from ardent fans of Michel Gondry, Vince Vaughn and Natalie Portman, "The Green Hornet," "The Dilemma" and "No Strings Attached" once again prove that January is truly the nadir season of movie releases for your brain (though ‘Hornet’ & ‘Strings’ are successful at the box-office regardless).
Just as Hollywood is kicking off the holiday cobwebs in time for their first self-congratulatory awards show, Ricky Gervais tears everyone a new one. Best line? Hard to pick, but this dig was aces: “Our next presenter is from such films as 'Hudson Hawk,' 'Look Who’s Talking,' 'Mercury Rising,' 'Color of Night,' 'The Fifth Element,' and 'Hart’s War.' Please welcome Ashton Kutcher’s dad, Bruce Willis.” Though the Globes organizers were so embarrassed on behalf of the industry that they vowed to never have him back, they swiftly realized that it was the only reason anyone paid attention, so he’ll be returning again in a few weeks.
Anne Hathaway is cast as the Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” while Tom Hardy’s villain character is revealed as Bane. What doesn't become clear until later: Hardy will record all his lines with a tangerine in his mouth and his head in a bag.
After accruing some good will with 2010’s Southwest Airline Fat-gate, an semi-disliked Kevin Smith engenders even more ill-will with a fake auction for this new film called “Red State” at Sundance. And also by making a terrible film called “Red State.”
After years of inhabiting the runner-up spot, British actor Henry Cavill is crowned the next Superman for Zack Snyder’s upcoming superhero film, “The Man of Steel.” Too bad for Cavill it’s a Snyder film…Cavil is the third English actor to play a major American super hero icon, subsequent to Christian Bale (Batman) and Andrew Garfield (Spiderman), a sustained campaign by the British government to avenge the time Anne Hathaway played Jane Austen.
Another cabal of Sundance starlets are created based off some pretty terrific performances. The names Felicity Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Adepero Oduye and Brit Marling don’t mean much at the time, but later in the year, they’re inescapable. In fact, one of them’s reading over your shoulder right now.
Having scored 12 Oscar nominations, and coming tops at the DGA and PGA awards, "The King's Speech" takes the front-runner position in the Oscar race. Sorry, “The Social Network,” it’s gonna be a fait accompli any minute now. Nevertheless, after many claims that "this will never happen,” Harvey Weinstein gets his way and announces the re-release Oscar-contender “The King’s Speech” in a PG-13 form, in order to appeal to that vital demographic of 14-year-olds obsessed with the ins and outs of 1930s British monarchy. To make up for the subsequent negative publicity, he’ll be re-releasing this year's awards smash “The Artist” in the original, untainted NC-17 cut in March.
January Jones says what every geek fan pretty much already knows, “X-Men: First Class” is rushed and over-scheduled. Her icy demeanor, alleged affair with director Matthew Vaughn and general candidness wins her no additional fans, although her push-up bra does get through to a certain demographic. GQ then names her one of the 25 Least Essential People of 2011 at the end of the year. It all starts around here. Let’s hope Season 5 of “Mad Men” gives her more to do.
Fortifying his position as one of the worst working filmmakers alive, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” wins out at the Razzie Awards. Will Smith will eventually have the bright idea to work with him instead of Quentin Tarantino.
“The King’s Speech” wins Best Picture, signaling two shifts in Hollywood. 1) Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar-campaigning mojo is back. 2) The pendulum that the Academy seems to revert back to every five years seems to have swung to the safe and conservative side. After his PG-13 meddling, Weinstein is noticeably absent in filmmaker Tom Hooper’s Best Director acceptance speech.
James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the Oscars, ensuring that Franco won’t host the opening of a Banana stand, let alone any major awards ceremony for the rest of his life. On the plus side, Rob Lowe had a good night, knowing that his dance with Snow White is no longer the worst moment in the history of the show.
Sequel and prequel rights for “Blade Runner” are sold. Purist fans gasp that a sci-fi touchstone could be besmirched with a lesser follow-up. They then go put on their Tyrell Corporation t-shirts, and settle down to rewatch “Alien Vs. Predator.” Later in the year, Ridley Scott will get in on the act as well.
After months (arguably years) of delays and a last-minute perforated ulcer for Peter Jackson, which briefly smells like Mordor doom, “The Hobbit” finally starts shooting in New Zealand. Accountants at Warners/New Line comment: “Precious!”
Amy Adams is cast as Lois Lane in “The Man of Steel.” She’s not a brunette, which leads one California-area DC Comics fan to set himself on fire in the studio car park.
Todd Haynes’ brilliant five-part HBO drama “Mildred Pierce” is released. It is eventually nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards and wins two, including supporting turns for Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce. It’s also nominated for another twelve Creative Emmys and wins two.
Warner Bros. announces that they’ll reboot “The Dark Knight” series once Christopher Nolan is done. In the same breath they admit the first “Green Lantern” trailer was terrible, but promise better things to come. We’re still waiting... There’s no talk of a ‘Harry Potter’ reboot yet, but you can rest be assured that cash cows with that much brand equity do not stay dormant for long in this day and age.
Non-controversy controversy about “Black Swan” and its ballet dancing begins, Yawn, “Black Swan”-gate doesn’t last very long. Guys, next time you do this BEFORE the Academy Awards Ceremony, duh.
The great Sidney Lumet dies. Known for such seminal films as “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” "The Pawnbroker," and "Fail-Safe," Lumet was sadly never given a proper academy award for his directing work, but luckily the Academy were wise enough to reward him with an honorary Oscar in 2005.
After months of back and forth, and Tony Gilroy reportedly almost bailing on the entire thing at one point – he wanted Oscar Isaac or Joel Edgerton for the lead – compromise is begrudgingly struck and Jeremy Renner lands the lead role in “The Bourne Legacy,” leading to you spend the next eighteen months explaining to your dad “No, Matt Damon isn’t in this film.”
The “Paranormal Activity” team (Jason Blum, Oren Peli and Steven Schneider) know what they’re doing. Make cheapo fright films at budget cost, prey on audiences' bored lust for shitty cheap thrills. And others are catching on; case in point, made for under $1.5 million, a little horror film that you barely remember -- "Insidious" starring Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson -- would go on to gross $97 million worldwide, by April making it the most profitable film of the year .
After months of talk about his gestating “Southern,” project, Quentin Tarantino reveals his latest will be a spaghetti-western slavery epic called, “Django Unchained" and Christoph Waltz will star. Will Smith flirts with the lead role, but it ultimately proves to be too controversial (or too racist) for his squeaky-clean image, depriving us all of a “Wild Wild West”-style tie-in single.
The first official superhero film of the summer, "Thor" grosses a very strong $65 million in its first weekend, then eventually grosses $449 million worldwide, thus ensuring a sequel. Rumors it’s going under the working title “Thor Horse” are, as yet, unconfirmed.
Mel Gibson returns not with a bang, but a whimper. Reviews at SXSW for “The Beaver” are tepid and when it finally arrives in theaters, and it grosses a paltry $6 million (on a $21 million budget). It’s less of an outright audience rejection of Mel and his very public and notorious 2010 antics as it is something even more debilitating to a career: a big, collective shrug. We imagine Mel reacts the way he usually does; by drinking a gallon of bourbon and shouting at BET until he falls asleep.
A week or so after a deliciously anticipated project is announced (Lars Von Trier & Marty Scorsese shooting some 'Obstructions'), good ol' provocative Lars nearly deep-sixes it all (and his career), with some tossed-off, careless comments about Nazis, and a shitstorm is kicked off. Cannes organizers deem him persona non grata, the media breaches in the water like a great white smelling blood and poor Lars learns firsthand about the power of misguided words when they hit the wires. An ugly situation in which we're all culpable.
After major buzz at SXSW, “Bridesmaids” becomes a smash hit. It also delivers the introduction of many to Melissa McCarthy and a tsunami of “hey, girls! We can do it” articles about the heretofore-unsuccessful female-led comedy genre. It grosses $288 million worldwide and surpasses “Knocked Up” to become the most successful Apatow-produced comedy thus far. It’s such an incontestable hit that sequel talk begins and cast and crew start to see multiple rewards as their stock in Hollywood skyrockets.
Meanwhile, “The Hangover Part II” is a painfully lazy retread of the 2009 comedy hit. It therefore unquestionably becomes the highest grossing R-Rated comedy of all time ($581 million worldwide) and, surprise surprise, director Todd Phillips says a third film is on the way. Shocker. Still, Justin Bartha gets to buy a summer house.
Three years after it shot, "The Tree Of Life" premieres in Cannes and eventually wins the Palme d’Or prize. Terrence Malick makes a surprise appearance, although for some reason the paparazzi seem more interested in taking pictures of Brad Pitt.
The stupid, and perhaps even reckless, game of release date chicken with Universal and Relativity’s disparate ‘Snow White’ projects ends. Relativity wins round 4 (or is it 5?) of this one-upsmanship lark by nabbing the earlier release date, but it remains to be seen if they’ll laugh last with the box-office crown. Whoever wins, we lose. Especially when a filmmaker is forced to turn around and release a film in 8 months.
“X-Men: First Class” doesn’t perform as well as “Thor;” its opening is considered soft, and there’s some question of whether a sequel is dead in the water. Domestically it is the lowest grossing of the five “X-Men” films so far, and second lowest internationally, but it does still crawl to $353 million worldwide, and a writer’s eventually hired for the follow-up. Maybe next time around, they can afford enough screen time for all the characters!
In a surprise move: Warner Bros. keeps both “The Dark Knight Rises” & “The Man of Steel” away from Comic Con. Fans console themselves by masturbating their way to carpal tunnel syndrome in front of a PPV rental of an animated “Justice League” movie.
Michael Bay throws his producer under the bus and says Steven Spielberg told him to fire Megan Fox from the “Transformers” franchise for calling her director a Nazi. Of course, no one really notices, but near the end of the year Spielberg refutes this claim, telling Entertainment Weekly that he did no such thing. Although he has cast Bay as the villain in the next "Indiana Jones" film we're told.
Despite being a piece of shit, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” goes on to become one of the top ten grossing films worldwide ever. Somewhere in the world, Terry Gilliam sheds a single tear. The small consolation is by the end of 2011, it’s pushed to the #12 slot, so it turns out that vanquishing Voldermort wasn't the only good deed Harry Potter did this year.
Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” becomes his highest grossing film since “Annie Hall,” eventually raking in $145 million worldwide, beating the 1977 film by almost four times the amount. Oscar talk starts to bubble, but as of right now it remains to be seen whether it will land among the Academy's finalists. In fairness, it's just mediocre enough to do so.
Despite a rumored budget of near $300 million, in its second week in release “Green Lantern” plummets at the box-office, demonstrating that anyone who showed up in the first place was curious, or a masochist, or both. While it does eventually gross $219 million worldwide, it’s not nearly enough. Unquestionably the biggest stumble of the summer so far.
Part 2 will follow tomorrow, put it on your calendar.