Farewell Harry and Hermione Photo: AP
THERE'S been a shortage of surprises at the multiplex this year, but the few that made it past the predictability-filter were delightful. It was the year of Woody Allen, Kristen Wiig, Brendan Gleeson and a dust-covered kelpie with no proper name.
They gave us reason to hope, in a cinema year that looked a lot like every other year of the 21st century.
Harry Potter conjured a hit – just as he’d done seven times since 2001. The Transformers built a blockbuster – just as they did in 2007 and 2009.
Wiig and Byrne
We got a Hangover, almost identical to the one we suffered in 2009, except that it happened in Thailand. The romantic vampires of Twilight came back for their fourth bite since 2008.
There were more Caribbean Pirates, more X-Men mutants, more comic book heroes (Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Thor, Captain America) and more Cars, both fast and furious and with humanoid -- all evidence of how Hollywood has run out of ideas and seeks safety in numbers such as two, three or four after a proven title.
But amongst all the repetition, there was Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s nostalgic rebirth; Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig’s grossout comedy about grownup women; Oranges and Sunshine, a poignant study of English kids forcibly transported to Australia; The Lincoln Lawyer, an old-fashioned thriller full of twists; and The Guard, Brendan Gleeson’s Irish stew.
Those films convinced us that originality isn’t buried yet. They started in limited release and spread to extra cinemas as word-of-mouth carried them to unexpected popularity.
Despite a jump in admission prices – a ticket for a 3D movie now costs three times the rental fee for a new DVD – Australians kept queueing at the multiplex. Our ticket-buying this year is expected to top the $92 million we spent at the box office in 2010.
What changed was that we lost interest in our own creations.
The Hangover Part II Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
In 2010, no less than five local productions earned more than $4 million (a record year for Australian films this century). They were Tomorrow When The War Began, Bran Nue Day, Animal Kingdom, Kings of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2, and Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’hoole.
This year, the cultural cringe was back. Only one Australian film made more than $4 million. It was Red Dog, in which a kelpie (real name Koko) crossed the north and west of the continent in search of his lost master.
Partly funded by the mining industry, it became the Crocodile Dundee of the 21st century, reaching deep into the collective unconscious. It was a comfort for Rachael Taylor, whose TV turn in Charlie’s Angels was axed after four episodes.
Koko, Lucas and Taylor
Australian actors may not have achieved much at home, but they continued to soar in US productions.
Home and Away graduate Chris Hemsworth bulked up and earned $19 million for Thor (two sequels are in the works). Hugh Jackman didn’t need to bulk up because a robot did his fighting in Real Steel, which made $12 million.
Mia Wasikowska, best known as Alice in Wonderland, perfected her English accent in Jane Eyre ($3.3m). Rose Byrne was an upper class American in Bridesmaids ($28m) and X-Men: First Class ($14m). And Teresa Palmer was allowed to keep her Australian accent to play a teenage alien-hunter in I Am Number Four ($7.3 million).
Richard Roxburgh in Sanctum.
Only Mel Gibson suffered serious embarrassment. The Beaver, in which he played a depressed man who communicated via a hand puppet, made just $140,000 here and less than $1 million in the US.
But we’ve stopped claiming Mel as one of us ever since his exciting night on the streets of Los Angeles back in 2006.
For once, Australia did not provide the breakthrough young actors of the year. That title went to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who popped up everywhere.
Midnight in Paris
Stone, who had her first hit in 2010 with Easy A, played an annoying ex-girlfriend in Friends With Benefits (one of two films this year on the theme of sex-buddyism) and then raised Oscar hopes as a Southern belle with brains in The Help.
Gosling, previously known as the young James Garner in The Notebook, displayed brooding menace in Drive and political cunning in The Ides of March.
Naturally Stone and Gosling had to get together. They became sweethearts in Crazy, Stupid Love, one of the few islands of adult intelligence in the sea of sequels this year.
There was one more bright spot in 2011 for which Australia can claim credit – the quirkiness of The Guard.
Its writer-director John Michael McDonagh, who was the screenwriter for Ned Kelly in 2003, revealed that he’d been so embittered by the experience of working with Sydney director Gregor Jordan that he promised himself he would direct all his own scripts in future.
Thus there was no director to stop McDonagh from having a character in The Guard tell the audience how to make a successful small film: “A fish out of water tale, million dollar drug bust, lots of action, bit of humour, throw in a couple of young ones getting their kit off, and you’re well away.”
Gleeson and a couple of young ones
Lets hope for more of that in 2012.
THE SURPRISE SUCCESSES: 1 The Help $7.7m; 2 Midnight in Paris $6.3m; 3 The Lincoln Lawyer $5.0m; 4 Oranges and Sunshine $3.8m; 5 The Guard $2.1m.
THE BEST AUSTRALIA COULD DO: 1 Red Dog, $21.3 million; 2 Sanctum, $3.8m; 3 The Cup, $2.7m; 4 The Eye of the Storm, $1.8m; 5 Mrs Carey's Concert, $1.1m.
THE MONEYMAKERS: 1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, $52.6 million; 2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon, $37.4m; 3 The Hangover Part II, $32.7m; 4 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, $27.3m; 5 Bridesmaids, $27.1m; 6 Fast and Furious 5, $25.3m; 7 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1, $23m (so far); 8 Tangled, $22.2m; 9 Red Dog, $21.3m; 10 Cars 2, $20.2m. (Source: MPDAA)
David Dale teaches communications at UTS, Sydney. He is the author of The Little Book of Australia -- A snapshot of who we are (Allen and Unwin). For daily updates on Australian attitudes, bookmark The Tribal Mind.