Hollywood and teenagers have been going steady since the ’50s, but there were troubling signs this year that those fickle youngsters are thinking about straying. While Harry Potter’s curtain call was still the biggest box-office grosser, the third Twilight film was just gross. The red flag is that teenybopper flicks with no intention of snagging grown-ups, such as Prom, Monte Carlo and (gasp) the Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, were as forgotten as last Tuesday’s text messages. Uncool.
Girls on top
While the very notion would have sent the late, great, contrarian pundit Christopher Hitchens into a raging snit, this was the year Hollywood figured out that women can actually be funny on purpose. Go figure. Bridesmaids led the way, shocking everybody with its raunchy yet heartfelt yuks, its bawdy gal-pals outshining their male counterparts in the Hangover sequel, and several other of the season’s rude-dude comedies. Jennifer Aniston did her funniest on-screen work in years in Horrible Bosses as a sexually harassing dentist, and proved she was still hot as lava to boot. Cameron Diaz was good in Bad Teacher (she was better than the movie), and the ladies of The Help got big laughs between the tears.
Long ago, cartoons used to be just an appetizer before the double feature, but animation has dominated Hollywood in recent decades — and yet 2011 showed signs of toon fatigue. Stalwart and dependable hit-maker Pixar finally ran out of gas with Cars 2, which made a profit, but finished far behind its predecessor, and featured far too much Larry the Cable Guy; which is to say any Larry the Cable Guy at all. Johnny Depp’s Rango was kind of quirky and cool, but after that was a forgettable assault of sequels, fairytale rehashes and disposable video babysitters: Gnomeo and Juliet, Rio, The Smurfs, Happy Feet Too, Hoodwinked Too, and Puss in Boots. The mega-budgeted Tintin failed to thrill America, but the No. 1 bomb of the year was Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture disaster Mars Needs Moms, which saw few, if any, moms in attendance.
This summer, the big studios shied away from San Diego Comic Con after a half decade of overindulging rabid fanboys, but the geek butter was still abundant at the multiplex. Regrettably, The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern both disappointed creatively, and failed to collect a lot of green in receipts, but non-lime-hued heroes saved the day. Longtime funny-book champions Captain America and Thor made their overdue big-screen debuts, and — surprise! — people actually liked these characters that have been successful for decades (or millennia, in Thor’s case). Meanwhile The X-Men hopped on the Mad Men bandwagon and went back to Kennedy’s Camelot, with winning results, and the free world was once again safe for the cape set to conquer show biz, with Batman and The Avengers on the horizon.
Man of the Year:
Narrowly edging out Ryan Gosling, the German-born, Irish-raised Fassbender was everywhere this year, appearing in four high-profile films, with two more just around the corner, and he was dynamite in all of them. He made for a wonderfully haunted Mr. Rochester in the gauzy and engrossing Jane Eyre, played a kinkily buttoned-up Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, and proved magnetic (forgive me) as a supervillain-in-training in X-Men: First Class. But it was his nakedly raw performance in Shame that will be hardest to scrub from memory.
Woman of the Year:
Who? From bit player to "it girl" in just a calendar year, Chastain exploded onto screens in 2011, with a stunning seven releases. This would be criminal overexposure for most actresses, but Chastain was so gripping, and so varied in her performances — in everything from tear-jerker The Help to thriller The Debt to the drama Take Shelter — she was unforgettable. But it was her brilliant, almost impressionistic performance in the almost-inexplicable Tree of Life that should put her on the top of everyone’s lists come awards season.