In trying to understand the year, you've got to look back, recap it and understand its individual touchstone moments, and see how it adds up and affects the whole. Or so they tell us anyhow. You've seen our round-up of all the top news from the first six months of 2011. Now, part two, with all the notable moments from July to December that helped shape and define the year. See you in the new year for much more.
After “Green Lantern,” Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” is the next biggest tentpole to take it right in the teeth, audiences somehow resisting the lure of a concept made up by someone’s 7-year-old cousin. But seriously, when you've got James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) starring in your film and it's made by the director of "Iron Man" and even geek-friendly audiences aren't responding, you know there's a serious problem going on. It goes to show just because a Western makes a huge comeback ("True Grit"), doesn't mean audiences are going to respond just because you throw another genre in there.
While constantly working (a lot of documentaries), Spike Lee hasn’t released a feature-length effort since 2008’s “Miracle At St. Anna." And then surprise, surprise, within the span of a few days, he’s back in full force. Over Twitter, Spike first surprise announces his next film, “Red Hook Summer,” has just started shooting in Brooklyn, in its namesake neighborhood. Later in the day, swirling rumors turn out to be true, Lee is also directing the long-mooted remake of “Oldboy.” Welcome back Spike, with a vengeance.
In perhaps the biggest sign of recession aftershocks and studio fiscal responsibility – more of which you can read about here in this 2011 feature – Disney first scraps and then delays Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer’s $250 million dollar version of “The Lone Ranger.” A scaled-down version is brought back to life a few months later, but a message is sent loud and clear to the makers of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films – which have grossed $3.7 billion worldwide combined, three of which are in the all time top 15 grosses – nothing is a sure thing until it’s a sure thing. And until then, make sure your margin of default loss is low. Or else.
Proving that early August can still be part of the summer tentpole conversation, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” becomes the summer’s biggest surprise hit grossing $481 million worldwide – the 11th highest grossing film of the year globally (domestically, it’s #9). Meanwhile, the “Glee” movie flops badly and the second Ryan Reynolds stinker of the summer (“The Change-Up”) illustrates that no matter how badly studios and agents want to position a new star, if audiences don’t respond, they don’t respond.
File under: franchises you practically forgot existed, let alone asked for another sequel: in August, we found out that Mike Myers, coming off the famously execrable “The Love Guru,” wanted to add a fourth installment to the “Austin Powers” franchise. Monetarily we can see why, but these films have aged like blue cheese that’s sat in a dank basement for years. Four months later it will be revealed that Myers is combining the return with a stage-show prequel first. Good lord, stop.
Sean Penn reveals he has issues with Terrence Malick’s beautiful but wandering “The Tree of Life.” Before a major controversy begins, everyone else realizes they too have issues with the awe-inspiring, but uneven film. It also doesn't hurt that Malick himself isn't around to add fuel to the fire.
The second biggest hit of August is "The Help," perhaps this year’s “Julie & Julia,” only with much bigger Oscar chances, including a very likely Best Picture shot. While its opening weekend is relatively low compared to most films released this summer, by the first week of September it’s been #1 at the box-office for three straight weeks. The picture has massive legs and eventually grosses $202 million worldwide; proof, if proof were needed, that white folk will always pay money to be congratulated for not being as racist as their grandparents.
Charlie Sheen caps off an insane year, full of quotable epithets and questions of whether he’ll survive another year, by getting (relatively) clean and earning indie respect by taking the lead role in Roman Coppola’s long-belated second feature, “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlie Swan III.” Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzmann sign on to co-star. Winning indeed, Sheen definitely has the last laugh.
2010 saw the advent of the fairy tale film, mostly thanks to Tim Burton’s garish, but highly lucrative “Alice In Wonderland” in 2010 (some $1 billion grossed). What followed were two competing Snow White projects that you heard about earlier, (not to mention a Sleeping Beauty film in the works that Angelina Jolie might star in). Now there’s two competing Cinderella films. One has Mark Romanek as a director, which is a plus, but give us a fucking break already. Next summer brings a Jack & The Beanstalk film, and a Hansel and Gretel-influenced project. Let’s just be semi-thankful that "Red Riding Hood" tanked earlier this year, at least giving some executives pause. Later in the year a “Tinkerbell” film is announced, specifically to annoy The Playlist staff.
In a sea of pointless remakes, Alcon Entertainment announces a remake of what else, “Point Break.” Many of us are surprised to learn that the film has a lot of nostalgia appeal with certain viewers. Who knew?
Signaling a nostalgic and commerce-driven trend that you will only see more of in 2012 – of which there are already four instances of so far, including “Titanic” – 17 years after its initial release, Disney’s “The Lion King” takes the #1 spot at the box-office in its 3D re-release. Adding another $94 million domestically to its almost $1 billion worldwide gross to date, Disney smells blood in the water and quickly decides to re-release “Finding Nemo,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Little Mermaid” in 3D. “Basil The Great Mouse Detective” and “The Emperor’s New Groove” are still waiting their turn.
Previous winners of the Toronto International Film Festival's audience prize "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Precious," have gone on to become serious Oscar contenders (two of those three won Best Picture in the last three years). In 2011, TIFF audiences threw a curveball and awarded the Lebanese comedy, "Where Do We Go Now?" While surely that affects the Foreign Oscar game this year, the prize kept Oscar pundits on their toes with one less piece of critical information at hand
The biggest gaffe of the year in the DVD market is announced as Netflix fuuuuck up. In April, the streaming and direct-to-mail DVD service with 23.6 million subscribers jacks their prices. Subscribers get outraged and the company expects to lose 1 million of those followers. Their stock subsequently plummets 20%. In a brilliant move of panic, the company announces they are bifurcating themselves: two companies. One for direct-to-mail dvds (good ol’ Netflix) and a separate company for streaming only that they will call Qwikster. Following massive negative reaction from confused and angry customers and the media – the company's explanation of the service change is 13 paragraphs long – in October, Netflix renege on the entire plan and say everything’s gone back to normal. The whole fiasco is a PR nightmare. In the end Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings took a 33% pay cut after their dismal year.
Proving that all forms of nostalgia were not created equally, hot on the heels of “The Lion King” re-release success, Sony announces a quick three-night stand for “Ghostbusters” around Halloween. Obviously, three nights is much smaller than a new unlimited ‘Lion King’ run, but either way, their plan doesn’t really break the bank and the re-release happens virtually unnoticed come the 31st.
AKA, George Lucas licks his balls because he can. While fans bemoaned yet more changes and tweaks to the original trilogy, they still made sure Lucas could buy a few more ivory back-scratchers, once again answering the Pavlovian call of New Stars Wars Stuff and buying up the Blu-ray in record-setting amounts. That showed him guys!
What have you done with your day so far? 103-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira begins shooting his 31st feature-length film, “Gabo and the Shadow.” The rest of the world feels like shit for the day.
After an unpleasant 2010 that saw the filmmaker under house arrest for most of it, filmmaker Roman Polanski apologizes again and reveals he shot his own documentary while under his 2010 detention.
After a wait of many years, Kenneth Lonergan’s post-9/11 drama “Margaret” finally hits the screens. Despite a chorus of #TeamMargaret Twitter supporters at the close of the year, that will leave it destined for cult appeal down the road, the film is a flop that Fox Searchlight barely markets. Fun facts: 1) Had “Margaret” made its original release schedule, it would have been the first film to be released in color, 2) The film originally featured a cameo by then-President Herbert Hoover.
While Lars von Trier briefly found it funny – he made a poster flaunting his “persona non-grata” status at Cannes – the Danish filmmaker loses his sense of playful humor when the Danish police question the filmmaker to determine whether or not he broke French laws against the justification of war crimes with his “Nazi” monologue in May (the investigation eventually came to naught). While again, we do feel badly for the clearly misunderstood guy, and think it’s a massive bummer he won’t speak to the press again (though we’ll see how long that lasts), anyone as carelessly provocative as Lars stands to learn a lesson once in a while.
We can’t think of a more inept, frightless franchise than “Paranormal Activity.” But you know what? The studios don’t fucking care what we think. The films are dirt cheap to make and audiences flock in droves, so it’s gravy to them. The third film in this cheapo-Flipcam-shot genre collected the biggest all-time horror opening weekend gross ever in October with a whopping $54 million. While folks like us generally panned the film, Paramount laughed at its critic-proofness. The film went on to gross $202 million worldwide off a $5 million budget. Expect 10 more films from this series and a dozen more spin-offs.
First it was a 20-year hiatus (1999’s “The Thin Red Line” marked his return), then it was another film six years later (“The New World”) and then another film six years later (“The Tree of Life”). But something seems to have changed in take-your-frickin’ time Terry Malick world. Maybe it’s mortality staring him down the face, maybe it’s something a rare exotic bird whistled to him, who knows. All we do know is that Malick is working much more rapidly these days. His untitled romance picture with Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams is said to be done and could arrive in 2012 (though please don’t be shocked if it doesn’t) and then Malick surprised us all in November when he announced two films shooting back to back, both of which will star Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett. Too good to be true? Let’s not get too hasty. Just because Malick is shooting fast, doesn’t mean he’s editing fast – his notoriously labored editing is what truly takes his pictures so long. 2012 will tell if we’re going to see one Terrence Malick film every year for the next three years, or more likely three films in the span of six. Still, we suppose we’re grateful the molasses pace has quickened that much.
To much media-frenzy, Universal head Ron Meyer admitted his company made “shitty movies,” citing specifically “The Wolfman,” “Land of the Lost” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” We’re of three thoughts on the matter. 1. Duh. 2. Actually in the scope of things, Universal has taken plenty of artistic-friendly risks in the last few years that unfortunately didn’t pay off ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "Green Zone," "Funny People," "Bruno"), so maybe you shouldn’t be quite so hard on yourself, Ron. 3. If we had more time we would devote this space to pointing out embarrassing positive reviews of “The Wolfman” from geek-friendly easy-lays, but life is too short. Now if only all studio heads were this candid. Y tu Warner Bros. & Paramount?
It starts out with a rather fresh and ingenious plan: Brett “The Rat” Ratner will produce the 2011 Oscars and his host will be his “Tower Heist” star Eddie Murphy. Say what you will about Ratner – and we sure as hell have – but Murphy hosting the Oscars sounds about a billion times more interesting then say, Billy Crystal hosting for the umpteenth time. But Ratner just talks too much. First, he insults those who like to stay organized and look sharp by saying “rehearsal’s for fags,” then on some video game show he throws aspersions at alleged former paramour Olivia Munn and says he “banged her a few times.” The buttoned-up Oscar folks are outraged that such a filthy mouth could be directing such a wholesome show. Ratner is given the boot and without his director, Murphy walks. Brian Grazer then comes on board and who does he pick to host? Perennial “favorite” Billy Crystal. Thanks a lot, Rat.
Ok, maybe the movie part isn’t real yet, because it hasn’t happened and we sure know about counting our chickens before they’re hatched. But after three years of talk that began to turn into cheap foreplay and then painful blue balls this much is a reality: a new season of "Arrested Development" is coming and it will be on Netflix. The idea is the mini-season will be a precursor to the eventual "Arrested Development" movie. At this point, we kind of don’t give a shit if it happens or not, but a few more episodes of the Bluths up to their wacky, dysfunctional yet lovable nonsense? Yes, please and if Netflix did anything correctly this year, this was it.
Sure, critics awards don’t often ultimately mean that much in the Oscar conversation, but the black and white silent film “The Artist” is a crazy-good audience pleaser that also tips its cap to cinema history. If you’re surprised when this film becomes a major contender when the Oscars are announced, well, don’t quit your day job.
In some corners of the movie world, this was called the non-story story of the year, but the reality is, it was one of our biggest stories of the year, bar none. The tale went like this: by seeing Sony’s/David Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ film early, critics essentially promised not to review the film before the embargo date. Then New Yorker critic David Denby did anyhow. His email exchange with super producer Scott Rudin then leaked (via us). The exchange basically provided a pitiful excuse by Denby (“But i didn’t want to review "We Bought a Zoo”) and Rudin rightfully took him task. We had no horse in the race other than we thought it was a shitty thing to do by Denby (by breaking his word) and to his fellow film colleagues (who adhered to the embargo). Are embargoes dumb? Don’t get us started there, suffice to say it’s a business prerogative to mandate how their business is run and that should be respected (Nikki Finke thinks they’re worthless, but imagine if you leaked one of her articles before they were meant to publish? Vesuvius-sized meltdown). In the wake of this fiasco was a humorous Cameron Crowe who took the digs in stride.
Marvel’s cheapo, controlling ways are now legendary. They’re the reason Jon Favreau won’t even bother with “Iron Man 3” or “The Avengers” (which he was once interested in directing). Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson have both publicly griped, so when filmmaker Patty Jenkins left (read: was fired from) “Thor 2” over “creative differences," we weren’t exactly shocked. Moreover when Natalie Portman, who co-starred in “Thor,” spoke out about it, claiming Jenkins was fired and she was possibly no longer interested in appearing in the film, we weren’t surprised either. Alan Taylor finally landed the gig on Christmas Eve, causing comic geeks everywhere to Google the words "Alan Taylor."
If you paid close attention (and maybe read this piece or many other pieces on the Internet) you knew there were always tensions and splinters within the creative team on the 'Bourne' franchise. In short, one side had the architect of Jason Bourne, screenwriter Tony Gilroy and the other side has its director and star, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon. Over the years, Gilroy had publicly spat on the Greengrass films, but Damon stayed quiet throughout. And yet in a relatively benign GQ interview, Damon finally went off and said his piece -- almost prompted out of nowhere. He realized his blunder and said his apologies, but we should probably forget another 'Bourne' film with that core creative team. And the saddest part is one great actor and another terrific filmmaker may never make a film together, period. Let's hope they hash it out one day.
Comedian David Cross seemed unapologetic when he first appeared in the “Chipmunk” films, his response generally being tantamount to, “fuck you, I got paid well, and besides these films aren’t aimed at you so chill the fuck out.” And for the most part, Cross was right. Who gives a shit whether he appears in these films or not. Good for him. But something changed on the third film, ‘Chipwrecked’ (sadly, we didn’t make that title up). “This last film was literally, without question, the most unpleasant experience I’ve ever had in my professional life," he told us. "It’s safe to say I won’t be working with some of those people ever again.” So, no ‘Chipmunks 4’ then, right?
Ok, don’t trust the critic awards? Fine, the surefire augur of the Academy Awards are the guild awards. They include the big three: SAG, PGA and DGA. The latter two haven’t been announced, but if you want a nice snapshot of the Oscar nominees, look no further than at the best evidence presented so far. Likely to vie for Best Picture are what you should likely consider your three biggest frontrunners right now: “The Artist,” “The Help” and to a somewhat lesser degree, “The Descendants.”
Whether it’s true or not – this alleged story of Bill Murray hating on his old "Ghostbusters" pals by reportedly shredding the "Ghostbusters 3" script – what is emblematic about it is that it did strike a chord. Because whether he actually said it all not, we’re all thinking the same: No one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts. Poor Dan Aykroyd must fucking hate the media though. Maybe just let it go, dude?
Christmas arrives early. After a few days of cruddy bootlegs that some are bold enough to post, Warner Bros. finally releases the trailer for what is, in some circles at least, the definitive Most Anticipated Film of 2012, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman installment, “The Dark Knight Rises.” As Tom Hardy’s villain Bane says in the trailer: “Mumfurhrurh ferreaugh Batman greunarguargh mumumumur Gotham seurgaergghagh.”
No, we don’t mean Roger Friedman. Remember the guy who was caught leaking "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" weeks ahead of its release, and in a relatively pristine copy ripped from a DVD? Well, in a move that attempts to show you that studios are as serious as a heart-attack about piracy, that man was punished to the full extent of the law and was sentenced to one year in prison. Sadly, the film’s director Gavin Hood still remains at large.
And that’s all she wrote. So long, folks, and see you next year.