January 6, 2013

The box office receipts didn’t automatically match studio expectations in 2012. For once, some of the most lauded movies took money away from the mediocre ones.

This year we saw superheroes, grown-up movies, genre mash-ups and cartoons scoring places at the top of the box office. Much was made about big flops, from the divisive John Carter and ridiculous Battleship, both of which starred the same unlucky actor.

This topsy turvy year in the world of film is likely to lead to some interesting shifts in focus for actors and filmmakers alike.

Out of respect and a hope for healing I’m sure we all wish for the families involved in Colorado, Cinema Siren isn’t going to spend much time on the movie event in 2012 that made the most newspapers.

Any one of us movie lovers could have been there. Every time we leave our houses it is a choice, knowing someone somewhere could be planning something crazy, and we have been shown that includes the multiplex. Few will argue Warner Brothers handled what happened with surprising sensitivity and grace. As to the film, The Dark Knight Rises, which was #2 last year, it could have been more financially successful had it not been for what happened.

You need but look to Europe, where records from 2008’s The Dark Knight film were crushed, to see further affect of the tragedy. Given many of us have chosen once again to enter into the black veil of fantasy and suspension of disbelief that is the cineplex, it is sad such a great movie had further reverberations from one man’s insanity…

Whedon and Superheroes Avenged
Big news in the “Whedon-verse” and elsewhere is Joss Whedon, who has had numerous unceremoniously cancelled TV shows reach cult status, including Firefly and its subsequent movie sequel Serenity, with its obsessive fan base, is finally vindicated as the director of the top-grossing movie of 2012, The Avengers. None of his longterm fans are surprised, but oh, how they are pleased.

Superhero staples Batman and the Spider-Man reboot both brought in enough cash to nab #2 and #6 of the top 10 movies of the year. Further, Skyfall, representing pop culture quasi-superhero James Bond, is at #4. All these movies attracted major directors, due in no small part to auteur Christopher Nolan, who rounded out his lush, visually complex Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, his last release.

Superhero movies, which used to be seen as very low-brow, are now considered a coup for directors and actors that attach themselves. No longer do they fear being badly branded. They now know it will only help their climb to the top of the “A list,” and give them wider options for other projects, whether they are known in Hollywood or a rising star.

The much anticipated Man of Steel is director/geek darling Zack Snyder’s baby. The cast is full of A-listers like Russell Crowe and Amy Adams. The great Laurence Fishburne will play Perry White, and the spectacular indie talent Michael Shannon will also co-star.

As Superman, it is young hottie Henry Cavill’s chance to leap the tall buildings of Hollywood in a single bound. Alan Taylor, indie director who has been working on the delicious Game of Thrones for HBO, will helm Thor: The Dark World. James Mangold, director of Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma will be in charge of The Wolverine.

Noted action screenwriter and directing hopeful (he both wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is stepping in for Jon Favreau to head Iron Man 3. It remains to be seen who among the above mentioned will soar and who will sink like a Battleship.

An Independent Studio Rules
No doubt many of you saw and got sucked into the The Hunger Games story with the first film. Lion’s Gate, the studio that supported this, the #3 highest-grossing movie of the year, is now the independent studio with the most financially successful release in history.

There has been a trend of indies releasing more high-profile yet unusual features of late, and it was only a matter of time until their risks paid off at this level. The success of Hunger Games is likely to make the majors seek out riskier, more interesting properties to back, which longterm will make going to the movies more surprising and exciting for us all.

Mashups/Genre-Defying Films
Because the major studios are looking for the “next big thing,” there is a growing willingness to try new concepts. This has led to the glorious advent of mixed genres in film, or “mashups.” Many of the most successful films of 2012 were mashups. 21 Jump Street (mixes a teen comedy, police buddy flick, drug comedy and spoof), Looper (sci-fi, gangster flick, horror), Django Unchained (blaxsploitation, revenge flick, Spaghetti Western), and Cabin in the Woods (horror, comedy, sci-fi, horror, spoof) were all scripts that mixed genres.

While screenwriters have been pitching ideas that defy genre to Hollywood heavyweights for a long time, we the audiences are finally getting to see more of these ideas put onscreen. Thanks to the success of these movies, we will be seeing more mashups at least for the foreseeable future.

Grown-up Movies
Spielberg’s Lincoln, the badly promoted (yet gloriously acted by Denzel Washington) Flight, the further confirmation of Affleck’s talent, Argo and Streep’s latest Hope Springs, as well as the great The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, all surprised at the box office.

We movie consumers over 24 have been told over and over we are obsolete, that we don’t drive the numbers in the worldwide box office. This year told a different story. Those of you above the 18-24 demographic, keep going to the movies! There are so many films that were predominately supported by an older audience, Hollywood is having to stand up and take notice.

Animation Expands
Also in the box office news, is the heretofore largely ignored animated feature as top box office fare. No surprise to Cinema Siren, studios now know it can save a year’s numbers if the movie captivates its audience. No longer will most cartoons be focused only on children. Brave, Madagascar, Wreck-It Ralph and Ice Age have all broken international box office records, and added significantly to their respective studios’ takes for the year.

As a result, more and more actors who have avoided being cast as animated voices are scrambling to be considered for future cartoon features. Inclusion as an actor is fun, financially rewarding and stands the test of time.

Film to Theater
Actors in Great Britain have bounced back and forth between film and theater forever. Fans of Xavier the Younger and Wanted’s Wesley, James McAvoy, already know their favorite actor will be starring in Macbeth at Trafalgar Studio from Feb. 9 to April 27 in London.

As I’m sure Mr. McAvoy will tell you, stage work keeps great actors sharp and grows their craft. Somehow, the folks in Hollywood are getting the memo. Right now, Scarlett Johansson is starring in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This season, anyone wanting to get up close and personal enough to be spat upon by their favorite star might want to go to NYC.

Tom Hanks, Jessica Chastain, Lee Pace, Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Earl Jones, and Shia LaBoeuf, among others, either have been or will be treading the boards, experiencing the moment by moment audience to actor interaction only live theatre can bring them.

Based on the scurrying toward the limelights we are seeing in Hollywood, Cinema Siren recommends you pay attention to announcements of what’s coming up this spring on Broadway.

After Les Miserables, and with the upcoming The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s choice to be in a new stage musical about Houdini, penned by Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Schwartz of Wicked, will incite soccer moms, edgy goth-teens, and comic fans to take a trip to NYC…for these actors who have the potential of stage award and great word of mouth, as well as a great education, what’s not to love?

As 2013 begins, movie lovers have much about which to be excited. The studios, both independent and major, are finding any way they can to keep us coming to the movies. The resulting mixture of advancements in technologies and acceptance of more diverse stories and scripting will likely bring a fun collection of movies for us to enjoy. It is also always exciting to watch up and coming actors we root for get closer to the top of the A list.

Here’s to a glorious year in the dark!