Harry Potter says goodbye while other movies cover familiar territory


The next big thing? Maybe next year.

That's because 2011, cinematically speaking, focused far more on endings than beginnings.

The year's biggest box-office attraction, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," ended the boy wizard's cinematic journey, while "The Twilight Saga" marked the beginning of the end with "Breaking Dawn -- Part 1." (The end of the end comes next year.)

Many of the year's other hits also carried more than a whiff of "been there, seen that" -- sequels to past smashes ("Transformers," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Hangover" ), prequels ("X-Men," "Planet of the Apes"), spinoffs ("Puss in Boots") and new versions of old characters, from "The Muppets" to "Thor."

Even those movies that weren't direct retreads seemed variations on a theme.

"Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher," for example, put a female-centric spin on R-rated raunchy comedy. And Oscar-winning directors from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese looked homeward to past filmmaking eras with such holiday-season contenders as "War Horse" and "Hugo," respectively.

Even the surest thing at the movies -- Pixar Animation -- had a (relatively) off year with "Cars 2." No wonder "The Lion King's" 3-D return proved so welcome. (Watch for even more past favorites in 3-D next year, including Disney's "Beauty and the Beast.")

The revival trend may restore some of the luster 3-D lost this year as the premium process went from bonus to bore-us in what seemed like record time. (Was anybody really clamoring for "Three Musketeers" or "Spy Kids 4" at all, let alone in 3-D?)

Maybe not, but that didn't stop studios from touting all those retreads, remakes and rip-offs at CinemaCon, a revised version of the long-running ShoWest convention and trade show, which brought a host of movie movers and shakers to Caesars Palace in March. Among the speakers: directors James Cameron and George Lucas, touting upcoming 3-D versions of "Titanic" and the "Star Wars" saga, respectively.

But the biggest shouts at CinemaCon were cries of protest from theater owners who objected to studio plans to release movies on video-on-demand shortly after their theatrical debuts. (So far, those plans haven't been tested; Universal scrapped a scheduled two-city VOD launch of "Tower Heist" this fall after several theater chains threatened not to show the comedy at all.)

Nostalgia also reigned in Las Vegas' 2011 film festival realm, which saw multiple smaller events -- including the inaugural Vegas Independent Film Festival and Vegas Cine Fest -- invoke the memory of CineVegas, which faded to black after its 2009 edition.

Local movie buffs also had the chance to catch an eclectic array of documentaries, features and shorts at the returning Las Vegas Film Festival, the Nevada Film Festival, PollyGrind, Boulder City's Dam Short Film Festival and the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival. The latter celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011, becoming Southern Nevada's longest-running cinematic celebration. (The 2012 edition gets under way Jan. 14.)

Many of those festivals spotlighted local filmmakers, who kept cameras rolling across Southern Nevada this year -- even as Hollywood productions continued to bypass the Silver State for other locations offering incentives to outside productions.

The local film community hoped Nevada would have its own incentive plan by the close of the Nevada Legislature's 2011 session, but an eleventh-hour collapse of proposed tax-credit legislation left industry professionals pushing for its passage disappointed -- and determined to try again in 2013.

Without the tax-credit legislation, many outside productions spent a few days shooting Las Vegas exteriors before heading to a state with incentives in place.

One such set-in-Vegas movie: "Lay the Favorite."

An adaptation of Beth Raymer's sports-betting memoir, "Lay the Favorite" brought stars Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall to Las Vegas in April for five days of location work -- followed by a 25-day shoot in New Orleans. ("Lay the Favorite" debuts next month at Utah's Sundance film festival.)

Other upcoming Hollywood releases that filmed in Las Vegas in 2011, however briefly, included the Seth Rogen-Barbra Streisand cross-country comedy "My Mother's Curse" and the Jake Gyllenhall cop drama "End of Watch."

It's a far cry from the glory days of the '90s, when both "Casino" and "Leaving Las Vegas" began shooting in Las Vegas the same day.

Then again, "that's what the present is," as successful screenwriter/frustrated novelist Gil Pender (alias Owen Wilson) reasons in writer-director Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" -- another wistful comedy that, as my favorite movie of 2011, I'll yearn for from now on. "It's a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying."

Ah, but maybe not for long. After all, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are scheduled to hit Las Vegas in a few weeks to start shooting the dueling-magicians comedy "Burt Wonderstone."

The next big thing? It could be closer than we think.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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