- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2010

In 2010, the “Harry Potter” franchise ruled anew, Pixar dazzled audiences with a toy chest full of old friends, and a Smith rocked the box office.

Jaden, not Will.

The past 12 months also offered a glimpse at the movies we will be watching in the coming years as well as how we’ll be watching them. Better not throw away those 3-D glasses just yet.

Computer-generated effects continue to make the impossible all too easy to achieve on-screen, but old-fashioned storytelling proved the killer app for movie studios.

Jeremy Parsons, L.A.-based reporter for “Hollywood Dailies” on ReelzChannel, said while 2009 ended with the eye-popping “Avatar,” such 2010 hits as “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” showcased tales told well.

“Toy Story 3,” the top-grossing film of the year, made moviegoers fall in love with Woody, Buzz Lightyear and company all over again. And “Inception” dared summer movie audiences to think more than usual to decipher the film’s intricately layered plot.

Even a film like “127 Hours,” with a story set primarily within in a deep, dark cavern, took creative turns, thanks to Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s signature style.

The stuff of box-office success and failure took tech-based turns in 2010 as audiences rushed to their Twitter accounts to spread the word about “Hours” and other quality fare.

“Twitter is having a drastic effect on the turnout,” Mr. Parsons said, adding that movie studios are paying attention to how social-media outlets affect box-office results.

The film industry’s embrace of 3-D technology flourished in 2010, but the genre’s growth suffered some growing pains.

The year began with the 3-D-enhanced “Alice in Wonderland” raking in cash, but subsequent 3-D features, such as “Step-Up 3D” and “Piranha 3D,” fizzled.

Nick Dager, editor and publisher of the websites Digital Cinema Report and IndieFilm3D, said Hollywood hurt a growing goodwill toward 3-D among audiences by rushing the conversion process of 2-D features including “Clash of the Titans” and producing work widely criticized as sloppy.

Those technical failures led such major filmmakers to back away from the technology, and “Inception” director Christopher Nolan rejected 3-D outright for his mind-bending film. It also meant “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I” hit theaters without any 3-D effects as had been planned.

The new year may end up as the make-or-break year for the technology in its current form. The next few months could tell if audiences are still willing to pay an average $3 to $5 extra for the chance to don those Buddy Holly-style 3-D spectacles.

Mr. Dager points to another, less-heralded movie trend from 2010.

Digital technology has opened the doors for alternate theatrical content, from simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera to fresh editions of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Nearly 2 million people attended theatrical events from NCM Fathom, the company responsible for programs such as Glenn Beck’s Jan. 30 tag-team event with fellow Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

The latter proved the top-drawing event for Fathom, followed by the Feb. 4 “Companion” broadcast and “Glenn Beck Live: Broke — Restarting the Engine of America.”

Animated films dominated the top-10 movie list in 2010, securing four of the coveted slots. They ranged from another Pixar gem (“Toy Story 3”) to the fourth and final film, or so the minds behind the big green ogre say, in the “Shrek” franchise.

Chuck Walton, senior editor with Fandango.com, said to expect more of the same in the animation realm for 2011 — and beyond.

“It’s one genre with legroom for original stories,” Mr. Walton said, citing “Despicable Me” and “Megamind,” with their complex yarns, as examples of films that take risks with conventional motifs.

The just-wrapped film year saw such wannabe franchise-starters as “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Robin Hood” and “The A-Team” disappoint, but they still made buckets more cash than the average independent film.

But the growth of video-on-demand technology is letting consumers order foreign, independent and documentary films, often before they hit their local art-house cinemas — or see them at all, in the case of smaller markets.

That means films such as the financial documentary “Inside Job” and the fact-based drama “All Good Things” will have a bigger impact in the years to come, Mr. Walton said. And when the Oscar nominations are announced, consumers will be able to see some of the nominated films from the comfort of their living rooms.

Looking ahead, Mr. Parsons sees audiences starting to savor country-themed projects, from out-and-out oaters such as “True Grit” to more westernized yarns such as “Crazy Heart.” And with the “Harry Potter” franchise drawing to a close in 2011, expect film studios to scramble to fill the void left in the teen wizard’s wake.



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