As 2011 comes to a close, are you fondly remembering the Royal Wedding, or perhaps searching YouTube for Charlie Sheen rants, or maybe looking through magazine ads for the Karadashian line of nail polish?
Not that I'm judging. After all, I've just spent several hours gathering trivial movie factoids to reflect on the year in cinema. So who's the real time-waster here?
You probably won't be surprised to learn that the year's biggest box-office hits were dominated by sequels. No less than eight of the top 10 were follow-ups to earlier films in the "Harry Potter," "Transformers," "Twilight," "Hangover," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Fast and the Furious," "Cars" and "Planet of the Apes" series. (OK, that last one might be a remake … or a prequel … or a reboot … or something else.)
And the two top-10 pictures that were not sequels — "Thor" and "Captain America" — were designed to spawn sequels.
It was definitely the year of comic-book superheroes, beginning with "The Green Hornet" in January, a woefully unfunny farcical take on the character. Then, in May, came "Thor," the first summer entry and a much better big-screen adaptation. That was followed in June by the clever prequel, "X-Men: First Class," and the truly awful "Green Lantern" (maybe Hollywood should avoid "green" superheroes). And July gave us what is arguably the best of the bunch, "Captain America."
And all made big money, ensuring that we'll be seeing plenty more.
During the summer, Harry Potter leaped past "Star Wars" to take the crown as the biggest moneymaking movie series of all time. As a result, James Bond is in third place, followed by Batman and Shrek. (Shrek? Really?)
Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang were reinvigorated and made a happily received return to the big screen with the simply titled "The Muppets." Here's hoping future entries in this franchise can retain the cynicism-free innocence this one recaptured.
Matt Damon took on the "everyman" mantle that once belonged to James Stewart. No one in 2011 was as good at portraying the kind of genial, down-to-earth character with whom the audience can quickly identify. Exhibits A, B and C are "The Adjustment Bureau," "Contagion" and "We Bought a Zoo."
On the distaff side, newcomer Jessica Chastain had an amazing run of films showing off her versatility. In "The Help" she was the white trash girl who married "up" and was snubbed by her peers; "The Debt" cast her as the younger version of Helen Mirren's Mossad spy; and she played sad, loving, confused wives in two ponder-the-universe films of very different stripes, "Tree of Life" and "Take Shelter."
Theater marquees this year carried quite a few generic titles that might have been confusing for the casual moviegoer. My guess is that many people — even those who saw them — might have difficulty distinguishing (strictly by title) between "Another Year" and "The Big Year," or "The Way" and "The Way Back," or "Just Go With It" and "No Strings Attached," or "Take Me Home Tonight" and "Friends With Benefits," or "The Dilemma" and "Unknown," or "Like Crazy" and "Crazy Stupid Love."
The buy-that-director-a-tripod award goes to "Battle: Los Angeles," a film so shaky it seemed to dare the audience not to get motion sickness.
A few low-budget Christian films worth seeing played extended runs in local theaters this year, led by "Soul Surfer," "Courageous" and "The Mighty Macs." And a couple of Mormon period movies also did well, "17 Miracles" and "Joseph Smith, Volume 1: Plates of Gold." (Look for them on DVD.)
As usual, there were plenty of unnecessary remakes, including "Arthur," "Straw Dogs," "The Three Musketeers," "Footloose," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "Conan the Barbarian" — and a pair that pretended not to be remakes, "The Thing," which was billed as a prequel but which replicated note for note the 1982 version (which was itself a remake of a 1951 classic), and "Real Steel," a padded remake of an old "Twilight Zone" episode.
There were also a lot of unnecessary sequels, including "Final Destination 5," "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," "Scre4m," "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil," "Happy Feet Too," "Johnny English Reborn" and "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World."
"Cowboys & Aliens" proved not to be as bad as most critics said it was, but it wasn't very good either. A clever idea squandered by conventional thinking, mixing a so-so western with a so-so monster movie.
Animated features were everywhere. During 2011 there were between 15 and 20, starting with "Gnomeo & Juliet" and "Rango," and ending with "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked" and "The Adventures of Tintin."
Of course, whether "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "The Smurfs" and any number of comic-book movies are more live-action than animation may simply be a judgment call.
There were also a couple of offbeat, open-to-interpretation art films that used science fiction as a backdrop, "Melancholia" and "Another Earth." (Some might wish to include "Tree of Life" in this category.)
The best action film of the year was the French thriller "Point Blank," but a close second was a latecomer, the much better-than-expected "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol."
Fans of older movies saw a veritable explosion of manufacture-on-demand Internet sites selling titles that have long been unavailable, as well as many that were once on VHS but are just now catching up with DVD.
It began with Warner Archive, which remains the industry leader, but the business model now has some competition from other studios with large film libraries that have also been dormant too long.
And, of course, we'll fondly remember the movie icons we lost in 2011, including Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Sidney Lumet, Harry Morgan, James Arness, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Falk.
Hey, overall it wasn't a bad movie year. Of course, I didn't go to a lot of the bad movies. And that worked out so well I think I'll skip a lot of the bad movies in 2012, too.
Happy New Year!
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