The Only Summer Blockbuster Awards That Matter For 2011
(well, sort of)
By: Lawrence Napoli
Another major summer for the Hollywood machine has come and gone, and I must say that I cannot recall a season in recent history that was so hyped, and met said hype for the most part. It was an exciting summer with hits and misses, and I really had a lot of fun seeing all of these films. There are, however, some aspects of the summer of 2011 that raise some concerns for at least the immediate future of Hollywood blockbusters:
- Reboots/remakes are here to stay – Love them or hate them, the allure of the reboot is undeniable for the business side of Hollywood. You can read about my opinion concerning this issue here on CBN, but for the most part, I consider them to be a crutch and a shameless admission by creative professionals that they, in fact, have run out of creativity.
- This is only the beginning of the comic book adaptation surge – This claim could also be made back in 1998 when Blade was released, and it showed that comic book characters can drive excessive profitability. Since then, the most successful adaptations have been the X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman franchises. The latter is an exceptional example of successful rebooting while the former two are currently being rebooted. Perhaps Hollywood is bent on the reboot in order to keep comic book adaptations fresh, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, and may open the door to half-assed production companies shoveling poor showings down our throats. Jonah Hex anyone?
- Bad writing is endemic – I’m not talking about awkward dialogue, but the overall sculpting of a plot, purpose, theme and focus of basic storytelling. There are so many popular licenses out there that I cannot help but wonder if any of the professional writers that are hired for rough drafts and rewrites for blockbuster adaptations have ANY comprehension of the source material. If that is not the explanation for some curious choices that have delivered us films like Super Mario Bros. and Batman and Robin, all that remains is plain writing deficiency either by choice (studio politics) or by birth (no real talent in the first place).
- 3D glasses are neither you nor your wallet’s friend – Avatar brought this flavor of the week back from the 1980s, and now it needs to be sent back to its mausoleum. It is nice, but not twice-the-price-nice. Digital, non-3D projection is so clear that a standard cinema canvas is more than adequate for delivering “larger than life” experiences. 3D enhances the cinematic adventure in a very minimal way and it’s a scam that may lead to a rapid inflation of ticket prices by 2012, the year of The Avengers.
- There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” – Beware of such a phrase; it may be the harbinger of doom. Sure, there were some great successes this summer, but some licenses and Hollywood personalities have showed that they can bleed, and when there’s blood in the water, the sharks will come. Without great execution, even great talent can be made to look foolish on the silver screen.
It’s just some food for thought. Now on with the awards!
Best Surprise Performance – Chris Hemsworth in Thor
No, I do not foresee Oscar gold in the near future for this young thespian, but his performance as the title character in Thor was equal parts surprising and satisfying. The Avengers cinematic initiative has thus far been nothing short of pristine, but there was no way that A-listers would be recruited to fill out every primary role. In this respect, Thor represented the greatest risk because Hemsworth was an unknown (at the time). If physique was the only important aspect of the character then any meathead could’ve gotten the job done. Marvel fans surely breathed a massive sigh of relief when Chris Evans didn’t muck up Captain America, but he’s had more experience with these types of films than Hemsworth. His interpretation of Thor was chivalrous, charming, spoiled, rebellious and furious when necessary and I’m sure working with Anthony Hopkins didn’t hurt much either.
Worst Surprise Performance – Natalie Portman in Thor
Some of you may have a few other actors lined up for this razzie, but after considering that Portman followed up her best actress victory in Black Swan with the irrelevance she delivered in Thor, she has to be the clear choice here. This seemed like the same, paycheck-power play she pulled in the Star Wars prequels and I get it; actors need to make money. Getting paid, however, should never invite mailing-in a performance, and reaffirms the notion that there’s a difference between great actors and great performances. Again, I direct the reader’s attention to Anthony Hopkins.
Best CG Performance – Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
CG characters will continue to be more of a factor in special effects driven films as time goes on. The academy has already created a category that placates to anything Pixar makes so it is conceivable that a completely fabricated character may get recognition for its performance one day. Why not? Is there any less artistry in generating the look, sound and feel of a character via the combined efforts of motion capture actors, voice over actors and computer artists? We may have witnessed some intricately designed robots, freaky aliens and fantastic critters of mythology, but the best showing was by a chimp, without which would have made Rise of the Planet of the Apes forgettable. He was the only CG character that showed emotion, vulnerability and growth. At times, Caesar even managed to make the audience completely forget what he was; opening us up to who he was.
Worst Use of a License – Green Lantern
I really wanted to put Transformers: Dark of the Moon here, but the one thing that film had that Green Lantern didn’t, was flow. Sure, the story was dumb, the characters were flat, and it couldn’t possibly have less to do with the Transformers, but at least it was consistent while looking good. Green Lantern was all over the place. It had plenty of great looking visuals (minus Parallax), but it couldn’t decide on its main villain, couldn’t endear Hal Jordan to audiences and tried to do too much in a traditional origin story. The Brightest Day and Blackest Night storylines proved that GL can be a headliner and a show stopper so I doubt that the filmmakers ever studied the source material for proper adaptation. Perhaps Geoff Johns ought to consider taking a page out of Frank Miller’s playbook and assume more direct control of Green Lantern’s light in the future.
Best Action – Fast Five
This one is not even close. The stunts, the cars and the fights were all superior to every other blockbuster this summer because everyone else generated most of their action inside a computer. Yes, the previous category basically labeled me a transhumanist, but CG cannot always deliver the same level of adrenaline that practical stunts and hand held camera work (if done well) can. Action is what the Fast and the Furious franchise is all about, and after a small detour in Tokyo Drift, Justin Lin has this franchise back on track.
The Best Movie “Nobody” Saw? – Super 8
Mr. Christopher Bushley, my esteemed colleague at CBN, slapped the “flop” label on Super 8 (although he’s never seen it), and my immediate response was to defend this film. J.J. Abrams is no Spielberg (yet), but this film really captured a youthful interpretation of events that transpire in the classic “disaster film” scenario. This film was no flop! It had a budget of $50 million and earned over $126 million at the box office - and more than doubling one’s budget at the box is the goal for EVERY summer release. True “flops” are films that don’t even match its original budget and speaking of which. . .
Biggest Flop – Green Lantern
There were some serious contenders for this category which is separate from “Worst Use of a License” in that it was financially (and therefore technically), the worst film of the summer. GL had a budget of $200 million and earned back a measly $116 million at the box. The other contenders didn’t have quite so appalling returns. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides missed its budget by about $9 million and X-Men: First Class whiffed by about $14 million. Aesthetically, I wouldn’t qualify any of these films as better than average to below average for the standard, special effects-driven, adventure. However, the numbers don’t lie, and the general lynching this film experienced at the hands of all critics buried this movie so deeply that not even Black Hand could reanimate it.
Sexiest Babe – Olivia Wilde in Cowboys & Aliens
Although any female cast in Fast Five could have easily taken this award, none got as nude (thank you Ms. Body Double) or looked as beautiful as Olivia. There’s no questioning her alpha status as an attractive woman and she was just about the only good part of Cowboys & Aliens. She’s also a decent actress although I might recommend a name change for her if she plans on pursuing more serious roles in the future. Even if she delivered a performance worthy of Meryl Streep, I could never picture the Academy giving the nod to someone who has a porn star’s name.
Worst Actress – Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Let’s just say the reason Jason Statham is bagging this broad isn’t for her keen conversational or intellectual prowess. Apologies Rosie, I don’t mean to get personal, but wow, you found a way to make Megan Fox look like Liz Taylor for crying out loud! Even that smart sounding accent cannot conceal her status as a living, breathing pinup. Sigh, the hardships of wielding a perfect body are mitigating, but I suppose she doesn’t deserve all the blame. The rest will go to the director of that disgraceful film who shall remain nameless!
Best Actress – Elle Fanning in Super 8
My previous category admits that the primary responsibility of adult women in summer blockbusters is to showcase curves and shake their asses, so quality performances won’t exactly be growing on trees during this season. Thankfully, Ms. Fanning’s child status doesn’t require such sub-aspiration and she delivers a level of sincerity and appeal in her character that makes the audience forget she is “acting.” Elle proves that children can contend in serious acting evaluations and bearing witness to such a performance is reason alone to view Super 8.
Worst Actor– Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern
GL strikes again with yet another razzie and you know what, double shame on Reynolds because he really is a much better actor than what he’s put forth this past year. Originally, I felt that no one would be more perfectly cast in a Deadpool adaptation than Reynolds, but his performance in GL makes me question his intensity. The Merc with a Mouth must define intense spontaneity and psychosis to drive the comedy and action. That film could be a valuable rebound for Ryan, so let’s hope he has the fortitude to step up his game.
Few actors have multiple quality performances in any single year of Hollywood releases and although most will remember him as an endearing Charles Xavier, his true skill is showcased in The Conspirator. It is perhaps the one and only performance of the summer that could (and should) receive recognition from the Academy come Oscar time. Had Robert Redford scored more financing for advertising, more people would have showed up to see this movie, but therein lies the inherent weakness of the Indy film.
The Summer King of 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
With almost a billion dollars in global box office returns, a perfect balance of “popcorn” and poignancy, the best performance of a cast and exquisite special effects, the last installment of the Harry Potter saga hit a grand slam! Sure, this was yet another summer of sequels and adaptations, but few films have ever bookended a franchise with such grandeur and satisfaction. I really shouldn’t have to explain to anyone how much fun this film was for both kids and adults because quite frankly, you should have seen this already. The Harry Potter films represent the best of British filmmaking and Warner Bros. continues to cement its status as the #1 studio in the world for bank rolling one of the best IP’s ever adapted to the silver screen.