The Year in Film: 2011's Biggest Surprises

The Year in Film: 2011's Biggest Surprises

Dec 27, 2011

Just as quickly as it began, 2011 is rapidly drawing to a close. I think we can say, without fear of contradiction, that this has been quite a bizarre year for movies, movie news, and movie stars. Despite our best efforts to expect the unexpected, predicated upon the increasingly erratic nature of Hollywood and celebrity over the last several years, there were still plenty of moments that genuinely surprised us. In fact, there were so many moments of astonishment that it was difficult to whittle the list down to the top 20.

Below is our attempt to do just that. Hopefully, these were the same moments that most left you scratching your head and pondering the unpredictability of the movie industry.


King's Speech Wins Oscar (Gets PG-13 Re-release?)

Now don’t misunderstand us, The King’s Speech is a terrific film. What was so shocking about it’s taking best picture during the Oscars in February is that it was up against several films that could have easily bested it: The Social Network, Black Swan, Inception, heck even Toy Story 3 seemed more likely to take home the statue. But even more surprising than The King’s Speech winning the Oscar was its subsequent theatrical PG-13 re-release. Given that this is a film about a political leader struggling valiantly against his own speech impediment—which included frustrated, almost compulsive, swearing—the removal of all the naughty words seemed a bit antithetical to its emotional core.

We Miss Getting Cabin in the Woods...Again

I guess we really should have expected another delay in this beleaguered horror film from director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon. The film was initially slated for release in February of 2010, but was apparently pushed back so that the film could be post-converted to 3-D. So we’d be getting it in January of 2011, right? Nope, that date came and went. Then MGM got into serious financial trouble and had to sell the rights to the film to Lionsgate in March of this year. But with the movie mostly complete, surely we’d still be getting it this year, right? Wrong again. Unless you were fortunate enough to attend this year’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon, you won’t be seeing Cabin in the Woods until its new “official” release date of April 13, 2012. So a film already plagued with the worst possible luck is now opening on a Friday the 13th? We’ll believe it if/when we see it.

Universal Topples Guillermo del Toro's Mountains of Madness

When we heard that Guillermo del Toro was planning a big screen adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, we were all atwitter with geek joy. When we heard him speak about the ambitious project with such passion and enthusiasm, those feelings were easily returned doubly from us. We should have known this project would be too ambitious for Hollywood. Universal had taken its risks on geeky properties in the past and gotten burned; Scott Pilgrim vs. The World being the most notable recent example. So I suppose we should have been expecting that they’d balk at a $150 million R-rated horror film, but something about del Toro’s enthusiasm, and the fact that at one time Tom Cruise was attached to the project, fooled us into harboring a sliver of hope for this film.


SUCKer Punch

Already finding purchase on several Worst Films of 2011 lists, Sucker Punch was not content merely being subpar. The film was so bad as to be an inexplicable experiment in how not to make a film. Director Zack Snyder, whose track record had been mostly unblemished, managed to create his first near universally panned box office flop. Better luck with Man of Steel, Zack.


Rango Strikes Gold

An animated neo-western from Nickelodeon Pictures about desert creatures trying to survive during a drought, Rango seemed poised for failure after it’s opening weekend gross of $38 million came in under studio expectations. But Rango proved to be the little movie that could; netting a worldwide gross of over $245 before it was finished. One of the bigger sleepers of the year.


Jessica Chastain & Michael Fassbender Breakout With A Vengeance

Every year there are one or two actors who manage to stand out from the pack and establish themselves as the breakout stars. But rarely have those actors amassed such a bountiful and impressive catalogue of titles within the span of a single year. Such was the case with Jessica Chastain (The Help, Take Shelter, The Debt, CoriolanusTree of Life) and Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame). Both Chastain and Fassbender have already been nominated for a slew of awards for their work this year and it’s a cinch that more nods are on the horizon.


It’s Good To Be Bridesmaids

Until very recently, men had the market cornered on crude buddy comedies. That all changed with the release of Universal’s Bridesmaids starring SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph as well as dynamite newcomer Melissa McCarthy. The film proved women aren’t afraid of utilizing toilet jokes while also relying on strong character-based humor. The result was box office gold with a small amount of award buzz to boot.


Green Lantern Fails To Shine

Ryan Reynolds stars as cocksure pilot Hal Jordan in this adaptation of the slightly lesser known DC comic character. With Martin Campbell at the helm, our hopes for this summer superhero epic were considerably high. But Green Lantern turned out to be tepid and unsatisfying, and banked substantially less green than the studio had expected. It’s rare that DC places such a distant second to Marvel in terms of quality, but with Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America all proving to be damn fine superhero flicks, Green Lantern was little more than a dim glimmer in the 2011 film firmament.


Ryan Gosling Breaks Up A Fight?

Two people getting into a fight on the street of any big city is not unusual. For that fight to take place in one of the largest cities on the planet is even less shocking. But when an A-list Hollywood actor breaks up a skirmish over a piece of artwork, it becomes news. Ryan Gosling (who had one hell of a 2011 with Ides of March, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Drive) intervened in just such a brawl this last summer and, from eyewitness accounts, is actually responsible for saving the day. We’d be quick to call this a publicity stunt, but if he knew he was going to be a YouTube star, would he really have been carrying that goofy umbrella?


Cars 2: A Rare Pixar Disappointment

With Pixar on such a seemingly unstoppable streak, it was a cinch that Cars 2 would be another win, right? Unfortunately, the sequel to the 2006 animated hit ended up putting the breaks on Pixar’s heretofore largely untarnished record. A desperate, attempt to squeeze more life out of the property, Cars 2 lacked the heart and depth for which the studio has come to be known.


Amy Winehouse Dies

It was no secret that singer Amy Winehouse, whose songs had been used in several movie soundtracks, had problems with substance abuse. In fact, one of her most successful songs was about her stubborn refusal to go to rehab. But it was still quite a shock when she was found dead of alcohol poisoning in July of this year; just shy of her 28th birthday.


Attack the Block

First time director Joe Cornish was relatively untested when he helmed the incredibly stellar sci-fi actioner Attack the Block. When the film premiered at SXSW, the critical reception was nothing short of thunderous. When Screen Gems purchased the film for distribution, we were all expecting a nationwide theatrical release. Instead, the film was released on a gimmicky rolling schedule that ended up only covering 66 screens at its widest. What should have been a smash hit sadly failed to even make back its budget. Hopefully word of mouth boosts DVD sales.


The Rise of Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Not even 20th Century Fox expected much of its most recent installment of the languishing Planet of the Apes franchise. Their shaky confidence led them to dump the film to the tail end of summer; fearing it couldn’t compete at the box office. Turns out Rise of the Planet of the Apes was both of sound quality and financially successful; netting a worldwide gross of over $400 million. The franchise may just be on the rise once again.

Lost Hitchcock Film Discovered

Alfred Hitchcock was one cinema’s greatest directors, and certainly one of the most prolific. It has been over thirty years since his death, and his films are still turning up in some very bizarre places. In August, film archivists found three reels of what may very well be Hitch’s earliest film entitled The White Shadow in a vault in New Zealand. While Hitch did not officially direct the 1924 film, he did write, assistant direct, edit, and build sets. The New Zealand Film Archive, in conjunction with several other film preservation organizations, is now hard at work restoring the film. This marks one of the most significant film discoveries in recent memory.


Paranormal Activity 3 Experiences Paranormal Levels of Success

Paranormal Activity has established itself as the newest cash cow horror franchise. The 2009 original grossed almost $200 million on a budget of $15,000. The sequel achieved equally high financial returns on a $3 million budget. So it was a given that we’d get a third. Even with the success of the first two entries as precedent, no one could have predicted the dent the third would make at the box office. Paranormal Activity 3 not only had the biggest debut weekend for a horror film, but also had biggest October opening for any film. Ever. Hooray for horror!


Zachary Quinto Comes Out

Most of the surprises on this list amount to little more than trivia in the grand scheme of things. But Zachary Quinto’s personal bombshell represented one of 2011’s most humanitarian moments. When the Star Trek Heroes star heard about the suicide of a gay teenager who had only days before recorded an “It Gets Better” campaign ad, he used the opportunity to admit to the world that he was gay himself. This beautiful act of solidarity was a plea for tolerance and a wonderful testament to Quinto’s character.


Brett Rattner Oscar Debacle

On the distinctly opposite side of the struggle for tolerance, director Brett Rattner found himself in hot water after making some ugly, insensitive comments toward the homosexual community. The Tower Heist director’s thoughts on the importance of rehearsal forced him to step down as producer of the 84th Annual Academy Awards. This then caused temperamental comedian Eddie Murphy to resign as host. Billy Crystal was asked to fill in at relatively the last minute in one of the Oscars’ most unfortunate controversies.


Brad Bird CAN direct live-ACTION!

Brad Bird is a director who has, up until now, only worked within the animation medium. 2011 marked his live-action feature film debut when he took over the Mission: Impossible franchise with the fourth installment, Ghost Protocol. The emphasis here is definitely on the action. M:I-Ghost Protocol is a high-flying, high-impact statement that Brad Bird is a director without limitations.


AMC Not Ashamed of Shame

One of Michael Fassbender’s aforementioned high profile roles this year is in the controversial Shame. Fassbender plays a sex addict dealing with the sudden appearance of his sister. The film was given, though perhaps doesn't earn, a NC-17 rating, and yet AMC movie theaters agreed to show the film in multiplexes across the country where other chains, such as Cinemark, refused to do so. AMC is showcasing Shame under its AMC Independent banner as evidence of their commitment to independent film. This is a surprise considering just last year AMC pulled independent, unrated horror film Hatchet 2 from its theaters after only one weekend. If only Hatchet 2 had had Fassbender.


Year-End Box Office Grosses Down

When looking at the yearly box office bottom line, unofficial by a few days, a significant drop can be observed from last year’s numbers. According to the New York Times, North American ticket sales are down $500 million from 2010. With the sheer number of popcorn flicks opening and an increase in the average price of tickets this year, this sizeable drop in ticket sales is quite astounding. Is this an indicator of a change in America’s movie-going habits? Only time will tell.

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