Blockbuster franchise films reigned supreme at the North American box office in 2011. Of the ten highest grossing movies, the top seven — led by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 with $381 million — are sequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (No. 9, $176.7 million) is a prequel, and Thor (No. 8, $181 million) and Captain America: The First Avenger (No. 10, $176.7 million), while not sequels, are part of the larger Avengers franchise which Marvel will roll out next year.
All told, theatrical releases sold about $10.2 billion worth of tickets in 2011 (final numbers not yet available) at an average price of $7.96. (Ticket price via the National Association of Theatre Owners. Although, seriously, when was the last time anyone paid so little for a ticket?) That total marked a 3.5 percent drop from 2010, when the box office earned a yearly total of $10.6 billion, and attendance dipped by about 5 percent for the second year in a row. In fact, with 1.28 billion tickets sold, 2011 was the least-attended box office year since 1995.
What caused the dip? Well, that’s complicated. 2011 actually outgrossed 2010 during the spring and summer, but during the first quarter of the year, the same time that Avatar and Alice in Wonderland enjoyed remarkably lucrative box-office runs in 2010, revenues were down by 22 percent. And in the fourth quarter, 2011?s grosses were down by about 8 percent — but for more precarious reasons than stiff competition. There’s lot of info to break down, and in every month, there were highlights and lowlights at the box office. Let’s take a look at the past year, month-by-month, followed with a few industry trends that became apparent in 2011:
2011 began unremarkably, which was no surprise in the box-office dead zone of January. The month’s top release was Sony’s Seth Rogen vehicle The Green Hornet, which mustered up $98.8 million against its $120 million budget, a disappointing result compared to other superhero movies. January also brought us No Strings Attached, the first of 2011?s friends-with-benefits comedies. (The other was more literally titled Friends With Benefits.) Thanks to Natalie Portman’s white-hot status as an Oscar front-runner in Black Swan, Strings, which also starred Ashton Kutcher, managed to pull in $70.6 million. The rest of the month’s releases performed modestly. Despite ample buzz (and controversy), The Dilemma sputtered with only $48.8 million total, while Jason Statham continued his impressively long-running unimpressive box office streak, as The Mechanic only earned $29.1 million. Also, the Season of the Witch ($24.8 million) happened. Yeesh. Well-reviewed 2010 leftovers like True Grit ($171.1 million), Black Swan ($107 million), and The King’s Speech ($138.8 million) did much of the heavy lifting in the early part of the year.
Adam Sandler logged his 12th $100+ million hit with Just Go With It, which attracted $103 million worth of viewers and became the biggest hit of February, while Disney’s 3-D animated Gnomeo and Juliet also proved successful, earning $100 million thanks to a dearth of family competition. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, a 3-D concert movie, pulled in a sturdy $73 million — a result closer to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour ($65.3 million) than Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience ($19.1 million). Tweens — they can be so fickle! Liam Neeson’s vengeful Unknown managed $63 million, a far cry from the actor’s 2009 comeback Taken ($145 million), while Nicolas Cage’s attempt at vengeance, Drive Angry ($10.7 million), proved even less popular than his previous release, Season of the Witch. Disney misfired with YA adaptation I Am Number Four, which only attracted $55 million, and audiences largely ignored the Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass, which grossed $45.1 million, and Martin Lawrence’s latest fat-suit retread Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son ($37.9 million). Other sad results? The Roommate ($37.3 million), Sanctum ($23.2 million), and The Eagle ($19.5 million).
The inventively animated Rango rangoed up $123.3 million to become March’s top performer. Unfortunately for Paramount, the ‘toon cost $135 million to produce. After Rango, a quartet of thrillers geared to males all turned in moderately respectable numbers. Battle: Los Angeles invaded wallets to the tune of $83.6 million, Bradley Cooper’s star-solidifying Limitless drew $79.2 million, Matt Damon’s long-on-the-shelf The Adjustment Bureau found $62.5 million, and Matthew McConaughey’s turn in The Lincoln Lawyer earned the film $58 million. Ah, March, a time when sensibly budgeted thrillers that aren’t part of blockbuster franchises have a shot! Wait a sec — speaking of franchises, sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules earned a fine $52.7 million, but trailed its predecessor, which found $64 million. Over in misfire territory, Red Riding Hood, despite having Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke on board, got eaten by the box office wolf and grossed a majorly disappointing $37.6 million. Hey, at least it did better than Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, which cost more ($82 million vs. $42 million) and earned a worse $36.4 million. Beastly‘s ugly $27.9 million cume put it in the same YA-failure camp as Red Riding Hood and I Am Number Four, but The Hunger Games won’t likely encounter similar problems in 2012. March’s worst performer was ’80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight ($6.9 million), which was outshone by successful limited releases Jane Eyre ($11.2 million) and Win Win ($10.2 million).
The first real blockbuster of 2011 arrived on April 29 when Fast Five raced to an $86 million opening weekend on its way to $209.8 million. Looks like the “summer movie season,” which already begins early in May, will now include late April as well. The month’s two other success stories were both aimed at kids. Rio soared to $143.6 million total, while Hop hopped to $108.1 million, thanks to its proximity to Easter. Water for Elephants earned a modest $58.7 million, a bit underwhelming considering the popularity of the book. Insidious finished close behind with $54 million, but with a tiny $1.5 million budget, the horror flick was one of the most successful films of the year, and it outperformed Scream 4, which failed to revive the ghostface franchise with $38.2 million. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family made a Madea-esque $53.3 million, which was better than the medieval James Franco comedy Your Highness ($21.6 million). April had two outright bombs: Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, the first of many underperforming animated sequels, and Disney’s Prom — both films earned $10.1 million. Oh, and to be totally subjective for one second, the totally underrated Hanna made a just-okay $40.3 million. That is a total shame!
Thor kicked off the May box office with a $65.7 million opening on the way to a $181 million total — the best total of this year’s superhero movies — but it was The Hangover Part II that easily topped the month with a whopping $254 million. Audiences weren’t totally enamored with Part II, and the sequel fell short of the $277.3 million that the original Hangover earned in 2009. Another sequel that couldn’t match its predecessors was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which earned a franchise-low (but still huge) $241.1 million. Fortunately for Disney, Pirates played much better overseas and ultimately earned $1.04 billion worldwide. Bridesmaids didn’t need any franchise support to score $169.1 million. After opening with $26.2 million, the wedding comedy never saw a weekend drop above 30 percent for its first two months in release. Kung Fu Panda 2 wasn’t as fortunate. It’s $165.2 million was well below Kung Fu Panda‘s $215 million haul. The real surprise May release was Woody Allen’s delightful hit Midnight in Paris, which ambled its way to $56 million this year in a mostly limited release. Indeed, it’s a more accessible film than Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which earned just $13.3 million.
Halfway through the calendar year, summer was in full effect. Transformers: Dark of the Moon earned a tremendous $352.4 million, the second-highest gross of the year. The blockbuster scored $1.1 billion globally. Pixar’s first-ever critical misstep, Cars 2, drove all the way to a respectable $191.4 million, although that was the animation company’s second-lowest box office finish ever behind 1998?s A Bug’s Life ($162.8 million). Two superhero movies debuted during the month, yet neither earned back its production budget. X-Men: First Class found $146.4 million against a $162 million budget, while Green Lantern burned dimly with just $116.6 million against a $200 million budget. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, which cost a more reasonable $50 million, finished between those two films with strong $127 million. Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher continued the R-rated comedy hot streak begun by The Hangover Part II and Bridesmaids with $100.3 million, which was better than Jim Carrey’s family comedy Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which waddled to $68.2 million after a mediocre $18.2 million debut, and kiddie comedy Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, which attracted just $15 million worth of ticket buyers. In limited release, Entertainment Weekly office fave Beginners scored $5.8 million.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 cast a spell on the box office with its record-breaking $169.2 million debut, the largest opening weekend in history. The Harry Potter series finale ended up grossing $381 million domestically and $1.3 billion worldwide, lifting the franchise’s worldwide cume to $7.7 billion. As if all that’s not enough, Deathly Hallows – Part 2 sold over 10 million DVDs and Blu-rays in its first six weeks on the home market, earning an additional $180 million. We (and Warner Bros.) will miss you, Harry! Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger opened with a Thor-ish $65.1 million, and Cappy ended its run just behind the Norse god with $176.7 million. We’ll see both heroes again in 2012?s The Avengers — perhaps then they can pull numbers closer to Spider/Iron/Batman’s. After a surprise neck-and-neck opening with Cowboys and Aliens, which debuted in first place with $36.4 million but earned a hugely disappointing $100.2 million total, The Smurfs emerged as the true hit of the pair, grossing a big $142.6 million and $562 million worldwide. Horrible Bosses continued the R-rated comedy hot streak with a $117.5 million haul, but Friends With Benefits fared worse with $55.8 million. After middling debuts, Crazy, Stupid, Love., and Zookeeper both exhibited substantial endurance, ultimately grossing $84.4 and $80.4 million, respectively. Unfortunately, no amount of endurance could turn the Julia Roberts-Tom Hanks film Larry Crowne ($35.6 million) into a success.
With the notable exception of two breakout hits, 2011?s fortunes took a turn for the worse in August, but let’s focus on the positive first. Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised everyone with $54.8 million in its first weekend. The well-reviewed preboot enjoyed strong word-of-mouth and grossed $176.7 million. Close behind was the Kathryn Stockett adaptation The Help, which debuted with a decent $26 million and then rode its “A+” CinemaScore grade all the way to $169.4 million and a whole bevvy of award nominations. The rest of August’s movies fared much worse. The Change-Up and 30 Minutes or Less, both of which stumbled to $37.1 million, and Our Idiot Brother, which made just $24.1 million, definitively ended the R-rated comedy wave, while Anne Hathaway romance One Day flopped with $13.8 million. The biggest victim of all, though? 3-D. All five of the month’s 3-D releases disappointed in a big way. Final Destination 5 ($42.6 million) and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World ($38.5 million) both sank to franchise lows, while Conan the Barbarian ($21.3 million), Fright Night ($18.3 million), and especially Glee: The 3D Concert Movie ($11.8 million) were all DOA.
Simba returned to Pride Rock to claim his rightful place as king of the box office in September. Disney theatrically rereleased The Lion King in 3-D ahead of its Blu-ray release, and the classic animation grossed a tremendous $94.2 million. It’s no surprise that Beauty and the Beast and Titanic are getting similar treatments next year — though, the jury is still out as to whether 3-D or simple nostalgia was the actual draw here. Meanwhile, Steven Soderbergh’s viral thriller Contagion contracted $75.8 million, while Brad Pitt’s baseball drama Moneyball batted up $74.4 million, and family film Dolphin Tale became a surprise mid-level hit thanks to slim week-to-week drops, swimming all the way to $71.5 million. The modestly budgeted 50/50 and Drive enjoyed fairly solid holds as well, finishing with small-ish cumes of $35 million and $34.8 million, respectively. And then there was a whole lot of unsuccessful dreck: Abduction ($28.1 million), I Don’t Know How She Does It ($9.7 million), Dream House ($21.3 million), Shark Night 3D ($18.1 million), and Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star ($2.5 million) all went belly-up — as did Warrior ($13.7 million), unjustly I would argue! Two small movies did succeed amongst all the failures though, church-produced Christian drama Courageous, which was made for only $2 million, grossed $33.6 million, while $750,000 comedy film Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain surprised with $7.7 million in limited release.
Shrek-spinoff Puss in Boots debuted impurrfecty with $34.1 million (blame the World Series, Halloween, and a freak snowstorm), but it quickly turned its fortunes around and finished atop the month of October with a moderately good $143.9 million. Sure, that’s not a Shrek-level gross, but Puss wasn’t the stray he initially appeared to be. Paranormal Activity 3 scared up a terrific $103.8 million against a $5 million budget, making it one of the most profitable ventures of the year. Hugh Jackman’s robot-fighting film Real Steel grossed $84 million, which would be okay if the DreamWorks film hadn’t cost $110 million to make. A Footloose reboot kicked up $51.4 million, a mid-level gross that doesn’t make the dance flick the bomb some people have called it — critics should save their reboot tomatoes for The Three Musketeers and The Thing, which only made $20.4 million and $16.9 million, respectively. George Clooney and Ryan Gosling’s collab The Ides of March found an underwhelming $40.6 million, while Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried’s In Time clocked a weak $36.9 million. Bird-watching dramedy The Big Year never got off the ground, earning a disastrous $7.2 million, which makes sense when you read the words “bird-watching dramedy.” In limited release, Wall Street thriller Margin Call hit theaters and VOD on the same day, and performed admirably. It earned $5.2 million theatrically and another $4.5 million On-Demand.November
In what came as a surprise to absolutely no one, November’s top release was the penultimate Twilight movie, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, which has earned $272.7 million so far, and may finish just below $280 million. That’s a bit short of 2010?s Eclipse, which sucked up $300.5 million, but it’s still huge, and Summit’s not worried — they still have the sure-thing Twilight finale ready for theaters in 2012. No other movies even came close to Breaking Dawn, as November proved to be an exceedingly weak month at the box office. In 2008-2010, November movies pulled in an average of $1.2 billion each year. This year, partially due to a very weak Thanksgiving frame, November films have only earned $855 million. Swords-and-sandals actioner Immortals slashed up $82.2 million, while Eddie Murphy/Ben Stiller comedy Tower Heist stole a middling $76.4 million. Both films carried a $75 million price tag. The Muppets, budgeted at $40 million, proved more successful, although the film fell quickly after its five-day opening of $41.5 million, and it has earned $78.9 million so far. After this point, things get very grim. Adam Sandler made a rare misstep with Jack and Jill, which grossed $71.1 million — well short of his $100 million standard. Happy Feet Two found a chilly $60.3 million, less than a third of the original Happy Feet‘s $198 million cume. Two other family films did even worse. Hugo, which is rumored to have cost about $150 million, has earned $45 million and won’t likely make it much further. Arthur Christmas only unwrapped $44 million against a $90 million budget. J. Edgar couldn’t overcome negative buzz and took in a sad $36.3 million. The film will be passed in no time by The Descendants, which has platformed all the way to $35.2 million and has ample life remaining. Fellow Oscar-bait limited releases haven’t fared as nicely, but its a bit too soon to rule out My Week With Marilyn ($7.8 million), The Artist ($3.4 million), Melancholia ($2.4 million), or A Dangerous Method ($1.1 million).
All this brings us to December, the best performer from which will certainly end up being Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which has already earned $94.6 million and should have no trouble blazing right past Mission Impossible III‘s $135 million take. Ghost Protocol may finish in the $200 million range, effectively putting Tom Cruise’s career back on track. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the sequels everyone thought would lead the month, have underwhelmed. Both films are running far behind their predecessors, and after 13 days, they have earned disappointing-but-not-disastrous grosses of $103.7 million and $69.8 million, respectively. A few films are still finding their footing, and it’s unclear how far great reviews will carry The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ($32.5 million) and War Horse ($22.4 million). We Bought a Zoo started slow with $23.4 million in six days, but I’m not writing it off just yet — its family appeal could help the $50 million film become a modest success in weeks to come. The same can’t be said for New Year’s Eve, which has only found $37.9 million, The Adventures of Tintin, which has earned $31.8 million (but cost $130 million), or Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter, which grossed only $24.1 million. Bad girl comedy Young Adult ($8.2 million) hasn’t quite clicked with audiences, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is showing major potential in very limited release. The British drama has earned $2.4 million in three weeks, and it’s still only playing in 55 theaters.
Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies in 2011
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – $381.1 million
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $352.4 million
3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 – $272.7 million
4. The Hangover Part II – $254.5 million
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $241.1 million
6. Fast Five – $209.8 million
7. Cars 2 – $191.5 million
8. Thor – $181 million
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $176.7 million
10. Captain America: The First Avenger – $176.7 million
So, now that we’ve gone through the whole box-office year, what have we learned? Well, here are a few key trends about the state of the industry:
1. While the domestic box office fell, international receipts soared
Ten years ago, it was typical for a tentpole movie to make about two-thirds of its global gross in the U.S. and the rest from foreign territories. By 2011, international box office was booming, and that ratio had flipped for most blockbusters. The top 10 domestic performers all earned substantially more money overseas than in America — on average, about 63 percent of their grosses came from foreign markets — but this trend was most notable with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. While the film earned a franchise-worst $241.1 million domestically, it sailed to a franchise-best $802.8 million overseas — about 77 percent of its total. Increasingly, Hollywood is targeting a global audience.
2. 3-D giveth, and 3-D taketh away
To be clear, 3-D had some major high points this year. Transformers, Harry Potter, and The Smurfs all earned substantial portions of their grosses from 3-D showings. But then, there were action blockbusters like Fast Five and Rise of the Planet of the Apes that skipped 3-D altogether and earned major audience praise as a result. And, of course, there were outright 3-D flops (see every 3-D release in August) as well. But now that the novelty of 3-D — which helped make Avatar a $749.8 million hit in 2009 – has faded, people have started asking whether 3-D actually does boost box office for some movies. If you ask me (or anyone outside of Hollywood), consumers don’t seem to be very enamored with the format at this point. They see it as a blatant cash grab that lessens the film-going experience.
The 3-D blockbusters that succeeded this year probably would have succeeded without the added dimension — it’s just that theaters don’t offer many 2-D screenings, and people settle for expensive 3-D tickets. Studios and theater owners always adamantly insist that “the consumer has options,” but frequent moviegoers know that that’s not always the case. A few weeks ago, a quick Fandango search revealed that 83 percent of Hugo‘s weekend showtimes were in 3-D and that many theaters didn’t have any 2-D shows at all! For movies that people really want to see, like Transformers or Harry Potter, the hefty 3-D surcharge on ticket prices doesn’t prove too dissuasive. Those films do well. But for movies that look somewhat unappealing to begin with, like Conan the Barbarian, consumers balk at the idea of having to pay a regular ticket price PLUS an additional $3.50 for an experience that doesn’t often provide much more than a headache.
As everyone looks back on the year that was, I’ve found myself returning to a few moments in the movies that resonated especially well thanks to a phenomenon that achieves soul-stirring status so rarely, though not for lack of frequency: Song choice. I’m not talking about dropping the latest Kelly Clarkson/Natasha Bedingfield ditty into a crap rom-com. I mean the special, skin-tingling magic that occurs when a song is married so perfectly to a character, story, or feeling that the music and the moment swell within us with new, layered meaning. Join me and let’s hash it out: Which movie(s) used music the best in 2011?
This is certainly a subjective topic, but consider the lost art of meshing music (songs, not score; pre-existing or original recordings) to film. “Mrs. Robinson” in The Graduate. “Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz! Where were our iconic movie-music moments in 2011?
For me it comes down to two films: Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 and Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Drive, two very different offerings with wildly divergent sounds that nevertheless have stuck in my mind and my senses, indelibly tied to the musical choices within.
50/50: “Yellow Ledbetter”
Despite being shot in Vancouver, Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 was about a 27-year-old Seattle man facing cancer, so maybe that bit of intent factored into Levine’s use of Pearl Jam in his end credits; in any case, using the “Jeremy” B-side “Yellow Ledbetter” to close the film was an inspired choice.
As Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), having survived cancer, tentatively embarks on his first date with Katie (Anna Kendrick) — the start of new possibilities, a new hope — the strains of “Yellow Ledbetter” tentatively begin. And while nobody really knows the actual words that are coming out of Eddie Vedder’s mouth, there’s an optimistic melancholy to the song that just works. Legend has it Vedder wrote the song after walking with a friend who’d just learned his brother had died in the Gulf War, watching as patriotic neighbors shunned the grieving friend; easy to see how thematically this works with Adam’s movie ending, having been in close proximity to death while everyone else — except that one special someone — doesn’t quite understand.
Honorable mention: 50/50‘s use of Radiohead’s “High & Dry” as Adam learns he has cancer.
Drive: “Tick of the Clock”/”Oh My Love”
But let’s be honest — the entire Drive soundtrack has been in heavy rotation for me and many others all year, and I’ve raved about it here so much already. But a closer examination of how Refn uses his song selections is worth a look, Cliff Martinez’s throbbing score notwithstanding.
Two scenes in particular conjure that magical musical feeling for me. One is the early getaway scene in which the pulsating beat of Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock” sneaks in as Ryan Gosling‘s Driver is introduced during his latest getaway job. His clients have taken too much of their five-minute window, the cops are wising up, and the clock is literally ticking; Johnny Jewel’s beat kicks in as the real action starts, accelerating and swelling as this simple job turns into a chase.
It’s pure aural adrenaline we hear, approximating the same daredevil juices that flow through Gosling’s calm, coiled being. Like the track itself, Gosling is just so motherfucking cool. It’s a brilliant way to jump into Driver’s life in a snapshot that instantly informs us of who he is, what he does, and that he’s cruising on the razor edge of danger.
The better song in Drive, however, is also the most underappreciated track in the bunch, possibly of the year: Riz Ortolani’s original recording of “Oh My Love,” sung by Katyna Ranieri decades ago. Recall the film’s turning point, as the soaring operatic tune plays while Driver finds Shannon (Bryan Cranston) dead, then stalks and confronts Ron Perlman’s Nino — the most imposing of his enemies, even if Albert Brooks’ Bernie Rose emerges as the one to be feared the most — culminating in a moonlit beach attack.
Now, in a soundtrack filled with contemporary electro tracks (including College’s “A Real Hero,” the theme song of Drive) and fleshed out by Martinez’s complimentary score, “Oh My Love” seems an oddity — but it’s the most inspired, and the most brilliant choice of them all. Originally recorded circa 1971 for the infamous Italian exploitation flick Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom), a mondo faux-documentary about American slavery reviled for its terribly misguided content, the song is a beautifully evocative, lyrical ode to the inherent darkness in our nature — but also to the redemptive potential in man. Take a closer look at the lyrics, and watch the sequence in which it appears:
Oh my love, look and see
The sun rising from the river
Nature’s miracle once more will light the world
But this light is not for those men
Still lost in an old black shadow
Won’t you help me to believe that they will see
A day, a brighter day
When all the shadows will fade away
That day I’ll cry that I believe
That I believe
Oh my love
High above us
The sun now embraces nature
And from nature we should learn that all can start again
As the stars must fade away
To give a bright new day
It’s a sequence featuring a swirl of emotion and action — sadness, hope, revenge, bloodlust — marking the moment when Driver, pushed to the brink, throws any chance for a peaceful happy ending away and instead embraces the darkness within. This is the defining moment for Driver, and for Drive, the instant in which our hero truly becomes an anti-hero, choosing to avenge Shannon and preemptively protect Irene over the possibility of running away with her and Benicio — a future in which they would have run, together, but would’ve always lived in fear of retribution. Ortolani and Ranieri’s song perfectly illuminates Driver’s place in this world of hard, dangerous men, but it also, importantly, gives us hope for his future.
So, gauntlet thrown: Do you have a better pick for best song use in the movies this year?
I’m going to assume none of us learned anything from Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve other than, “I was right to avoid New Year’s Eve.” Fortunately, there are real lessons to be gleaned from the best in New Year’s cinema, and we’ve lined up five movies with tips for your bash this weekend. Whether you’re ringing it in alone or spending it with the grimmest Vietnam vet on Earth, you’ll learn something valuable here.
The Gold Rush: If you’re alone, you can envision a party that’s better than a real one.
Charlie Chaplin’s iconic fork-and-roll dance from The Gold Rush is a fantasy sequence where the Little Tramp entertains guests who never show up to his place. Though the flatware choreography is cute, it’s hard not to look in Chaplin’s striking eyes during the entire sequence. But what a fabulous (and fictional) fete!
The Apartment: Don’t pop a wine cork when your lady friend can mistake it for a gunshot.
The Apartment is a treasure, but it’s also dour enough to put a damper on your New Year’s. Let’s revisit its best moment of pure levity and watch when Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) ditches her party, realizes that C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) risked his job for her, and arrives at his apartment to deliver a few classic lines of dialogue — namely, before a rummy game, “Shut up and deal.” C.C.’s cork-popping could be better timed, though — as Fran rushes to his door, she receives a ghastly fright.
The Godfather, Part II: Don’t reveal that you’re a traitor during festivities.
Fredo Corleone (the late, great John Cazale) receives a grim kiss from his brother Michael (Al Pacino) upon revealing that he’s the traitor that Michael suspects he is. This leads to a classic line, “I know it was you, Fredo — you broke my heart,” which also served as the inspiration for the John Cazale documentary I Knew It Was You. Oh, New Years. What a perfectly inopportune time to expose your true character.
Forrest Gump: Do not party with your bitter commanding officer from Vietnam.
If we were focusing on Jenny’s New Year’s festivities in Forrest Gump, this tip might be titled, “Don’t kill yourself!” But we’re looking at Forrest (Tom Hanks) now, just as he exchanges glances with the resentful, abrasive Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise). It seems obvious, but please try not to ring in a new year with a disrespectful, not to mention emotionally battered comrade.
Sex and the City: Find your most sensible, downtrodden friend and hole up with her in a glamorous apartment.
I’m always a little baffled by the vitriol spewed at the first Sex and the City movie, which was truly no different — or better or worse — than the TV show. Here, in the movie’s most poignant scene, we watch as Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) sneak over to Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) place for a warm New Year’s. That sweeping, Celtic rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” helps too.
Got other favorite New Year’s movie lessons? Drop ‘em in the comments below!
Mission: Merrily Accomplished for Tom Cruise. The fourth installment in the actor’s Mission: Impossible spy-fi franchise — this time directed by Oscar winner Brad Bird making his live-action debut — finished in first place at the box office this weekend (Friday-Sunday), beating last weekend’s top flick, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol scared up $26.5 million on 3,448 screens and has grossed nearly $59 million since its release on Dec. 16. Game of Shadows brought in $17.8 million on 3,703 screens, down 55.1% from last weekend. The sequel has tallied $76.5 million since opening two weeks ago.
In a close battle for third, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ($13.3 million; $50.3 million overall) edged the opening weekend frame of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ($13.0 million; $21.4 million cumulative).
The Adventures of Tintin grossed $9.1 million ($17.1 cumulative) for fifth place, followed by We Bought a Zoo, which brought in $7.8 million in its first three days in theaters.
At last! The wait is over! The prologue to The Dark Knight Rises is finally here… just to ratchet up our already maxed-out expectations for the climactic chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, due in theaters July 20. The follow-up to The Dark Knight — set eight years after the Joker made a mess of Gotham City and a killing joke out of the caped crusader’s brand of vigilante justice — stars Oscar winner Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but the prologue (which actually represents the first several minutes of the three-quel itself) is all about Bane, a seething, brilliant brute with a mecha-malevolent mask played by Thomas Hardy (Warrior, Inception). If you’ve seen the prologue at select IMAX theaters showing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, or if you’re planning to this weekend, we’d love to read your reactions in the message boards below. I hope you don’t mind if I get the conversation started with my thoughts about…
The Spectacle. It’s a good thing Mission: Impossible is an exhilarating action movie with a couple How The Heck Did They Do That? sequences. The Dark Knight Rises prologue — which suggests a movie of epic scope and a conflict with global implications — includes an action set piece so spectacular it would upstage almost any other full-length feature presentation that follows it. I don’t want to describe what happens play-by-play, blow-by-blow, and I’m pretty sure I’ll go to Arkham if I tell you about The Thing That Everyone Is Going To Be Talking About Involving The Thing That Happens To The Thing. Please: Just see it. And in a theater, too. What made the biggest impact on me was the bigness of it all, how Nolan and his collaborators picked locations and conceived action and framed shots that so perfectly fit and fill that monolithic IMAX screen. There’s an establishing beat of an airplane flying over low mountains that approaches the sweaty-palmed awe that you feel from one of those IMAX nature-porn docs. The whole prologue resonates with Nolan’s signature grand-and-gritty vibe. His much-talked-about preference for practical effects over computer-generated effects — or, at least, creating the illusion of practical effects, to avoid that whiff of uncanny valley fakeness –- has been applied to a scenario that one would think could only be achieved via animated trickery. Maybe it was. And I don’t know if I really want to know.
Bane. I was never a fan of his comic-book manifestation. I hated the villain’s look — the ridiculously exaggerated physique, the lucha libre wrestler attire. It was a significant barrier of entry into the character’s otherwise fascinating backstory and complex psychology. My disdain was also surely shaped by the taint of the silly, sensationalistic creative stunt that produced his most iconic moment: The time when he broke Batman’s back by cracking him across his knee like kindling. Bane appeared in Joel Schumacher’s franchise-killer, Batman and Robin, and while that version — a serial killer-turned-inarticulate flunky to Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy — was a shallow caricature of the comic book character, it nonetheless embodied the essence of my low (snooty?) opinion.
This is all to say I wasn’t turning fanboy cartwheels when I heard Nolan was going to pit Batman against Bane. He seemed to lack the iconic heft and terrifying depth of the Joker. So I came to this prologue wanting Team Nolan to make me a Bane believer. Mission accomplished. I was immediately seized by a larger-than-life presence that feels tailor-made for IMAX grandeur. Hardy has bulked up to flesh out Bane’s imposing silhouette, minus the cartoonish conflations. He’s tough and hard, an elemental force of nature… though there is that perversely unnatural mask. Which strikes me as both medically necessary and cosmetic, part breathing apparatus, part dog muzzle. Something Malcolm McDowell’s Alex from A Clockwork Orange might wear during a night of ultraviolence in a smog-choked future. And then there’s the unsettling voice, deep and accented and muffled. You can’t really understand him in the prologue, for various reasons, including some that are unique to the chaotic circumstances. Some viewers might be frustrated. I think the choice is genius. By making me work hard to make out Bane’s words, Nolan and Hardy drew me deeper into the scene, into the character. The few things I could glean suggested a fiend of great intelligence, awful ambition, and prone to pulpy poetics. Bane captured my imagination and now haunts it. Joker who?
The Story. I am forbidden from spoiling anything, and I don’t know if I could if I wanted to, given Bane’s creepy garble. At the same time, I never felt “confused” per se watching the prologue. I always felt like I was in the hands of a storyteller who knew exactly what he was doing. And while the details are fuzzy, the impressions created tell you everything you need to know, which is actually very little. Remember: This “prologue” is actually the first few minutes of the film itself. What is “confusing” in the context of a fragment screened out of context of its greater whole will most likely be experienced as an invitation into menace and mystery when we see the finished movie.
The Sizzle. Following the blast of Bane, a buckshot of images, including Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), a high tech new roadster for Batman (hint: it makes roads irrelevant), and a shot that represents an extension of the just-released teaser poster. To be honest, these bits bounced off me. It was like I had just been served a savory appetizer, and then suddenly someone started pelting me with crumbs and teeny little cubes of cheese. If Warner Bros. releases the prologue to the Web, perhaps more can be gleaned from these fleeting beats via frame by frame study.
Bottom Line: Apparently, Bane’s slogan is “Fire rises.” So does my anticipation.
This red-band promo clip of Young Adult indicates that Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron) confrontation with Beth Slade (Elizabeth Reaser) will be mean, profane and pretty embarrassing for both characters. According to my calculations, that’s a level-four tantrum in the “angry lady” cinematic universe. Young Adult opens in limited release this week, and to celebrate, let’s counting down 10 classic types of female conniptions in film. Everyone from Ellen Ripley to Joan Crawford is accounted for — but who’s the grande dame of femme freakouts?
Maybe it’s more like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Too Soon: “There is also the question of whether or not certain aspects of Sept. 11 — such as the people who leapt out the tower windows — should even be dealt with in a fiction film. ‘Should you show the jumpers or not?’ wonders Angus Kress Gillespie, who teaches a course on the history of Sept. 11 at Rutgers University. ‘It’s very controversial. It’s terrifying, it’s horrible, but it needs to be shown. This is not an abstraction that it was a horrible event; it was a horrible event.’” [LAT]