A look back at the year in film in Austin
Austin reinforced its reputation as a great city for filmmaking and an eclectic bounty for movie lovers in 2011. All the biggest names in Austin film — Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge — completed or released new material this year, and Jeff Nichols represented a new generation of filmmakers ready to move to the forefront of local talent.
Malick and Nichols achieved massive success in Cannes, France, and received critical praise at home for "The Tree of Life" and "Take Shelter," and both have already begun working on their next projects.
In other big film scene news of the year, the Violet Crown Cinema opened in the 2nd Street District downtown, offering an elegant home for indie film fans, and the juggernaut that is the Alamo Drafthouse continued its growth at home and out of state.
South by Southwest and the Austin Film Festival, the city's two largest film events, treated locals and out-of-towners to a slate of quality work and helped advance the idea that Austin is both incubator and champion of fantastic films.
Here's a look at our top 10 Austin area movie developments for the year:
1. The Violet Crown Cinema delivered arthouse films to a downtown area that experienced a burst of cultural growth. The sleek but inviting theater at 434 W. Second St. screened many films that otherwise might not have shown in Austin and gave movie lovers a centralized alternative to the Regal Arbor in Northwest Austin. Equipped with brilliant digital projection and sound and comfortable stadium chairs, the four-screen theater provides a sophisticated and intimate movie-going experience.
"By showing documentaries, foreign films and quirky independent films, the Violet Crown has found a niche that speaks to Austin's well-educated audiences," Austin Film Society executive director Rebecca Campbell said. "The more variety and quality available to local audiences, the more our appetites are increased for fine cinematic fare, which makes the Violet Crown a refreshing addition to our local film scene."
With a full bar and kitchen serving small plates and pizzas, the Violet Crown offers a complete entertainment experience and helped flesh out and anchor the western end of the 2nd Street District. The Violet Crown also took advantage of its location in the heart of Austin's nightlife scene to turn film openings into events, such as the multi-artist musical performance held at midnight in the lobby on the opening night of the Tribe Called Quest documentary "Beats, Rhymes and Life."
"Few places in the country support independent film more than Austin," Violet Crown Cinema owner Bill Banowsky said. "In less than eight months Violet Crown has become one of the more productive art theaters in the country, frequently finishing among the top 10 theaters nationally with the films we play. Our goal was and is to bring a higher level of customer experience to art film exhibition while showing the best independent films from around the world. We could not have chosen a better place than Austin to do this."
2. Austinite Terrence Malick became the first Texas filmmaker to win the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The evocative "The Tree of Life" beautifully portrayed the director's philosophical musings on nature and grace. In addition to its artistic ambitions and seemingly deeply personal story, "The Tree of Life" also represented one of Malick's greatest commercial successes, taking in more than $50 million worldwide.
For a media-shy director who guards his privacy, Malick appeared in very public settings this summer and fall. He turned heads following Christian Bale around Zilker Park during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September, and in November he trailed Ryan Gosling around Auditorium Shores during Fun Fun Fun Fest. With three star-studded films in various states of production, it seems we are embarking on what should be a thrilling period of creativity from Malick.
3. Jeff Nichols premiered "Take Shelter" at Cannes and won the Grand Prize of the 50th annual Critics' Week, a prestigious sidebar at the French festival. The laurels at Cannes represented the first of the film's honors. "Take Shelter" has been nominated for best feature and Nichols best director at the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Austin filmmaker's dark thriller about a man wrestling with a crippling fear appeared on multiple year-end lists. Nichols' next film, "Mud," starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and "Take Shelter" star Michael Shannon, is in post-production and should further cement Nichols reputation as Austin's next great director.
4. In response to the wildfires that ravaged Central Texas this summer, director Richard Linklater turned what was originally intended as a cast-and-crew screening of his latest film "Bernie" into a benefit that raised more than $150,000. "Bernie" star Jack Black appeared at the screening at the Paramount Theatre in September to raise money for Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry, Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department and Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks.
"I think it's an excellent opportunity for Austinites and members of our community to help out their neighbors in Bastrop," said Linklater, who owns a house in Bastrop. "There's a lot of great work being done, and there's been this outpouring of support for the relief effort, and we're just happy to be one more thing Austinites and people in our area can do for our neighbors."
5. The Alamo Drafthouse continued its expansion, breaking ground on its fifth Austin-area theater (Alamo Slaughter) and one in Colorado, and announced long-term plans to move into more markets including California and New York. Widely admired for its commitment to making the movie-going experience enjoyable by banning texting and talking, the theater earned international attention with its viral video mocking an angry theater patron removed for using her cell phone. The profanity-laced public service announcement created by the Alamo in response to the "angry texter" led CNN's Anderson Cooper to declare Drafthouse co-founder and CEO Tim League a "national hero."
Drafthouse Films, the company's distribution arm, acquired several films, including the Danish comedy "Clown" and the powerful drama "Bullhead," Belgium's official entry for the best foreign film Oscar.
6. Local filmmakers did their best to draw attention to Texas this year with locally shot films such as "The Tree of Life," "Spy Kids 4," and "Bernie," but the state Legislature made a decision that some think might limit the influx of production. The Legislature approved a budget that will reduce the amount of tax incentives for film productions to $30 million over the next two years, a 50 percent reduction from the previous allotment.
"The 50 percent reduction will certainly slow down the program and its positive outcomes by reducing the number and size of grants which can be awarded," state representative Dawnna Dukes said in July. "Studios and producers are reluctant to start new projects in Texas for fear that the incentive grants will disappear quickly."
7. Director Robert Rodriguez took his "Spy Kids" franchise off the shelf after an eight-year hiatus and returned with "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World." The franchise reboot starred new Spy Kids Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook along with the franchise's original pair, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, all of whom showed up at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in August with Rodriguez for the world premiere and a family-friendly carnival. The locally shot production has earned close to $75 million to date at the worldwide box office.
8. Austin prides itself on handling celebrity appearances with a coolness bordering on indifference, but nonchalance was put to the test in October. The Austin Film Festival welcomed both Johnny Depp ("The Rum Diary") and James Franco ("Sal"). Franco was spotted taking in a host of screenings, and Depp popped up at the Continental Club to jam with Billy Gibbons, Bill Carter and Denny Freeman, while locals nervously tittered and tried to act like it was just another day in Austin.
9. Filmmaker Mike Judge has made some underrated movies over the past 10 years ("Idiocracy," "Extract") and had a commercial smash on network TV ("King of the Hill"), but the Austin multi-hyphenate will probably always be remembered as the man who brought the world "Beavis and Butt-head." After more than a decade off the air, Judge brought the two lovable idiots back to MTV. Judge premiered the first episode of the new season of "Beavis and Butt-head" at the Paramount Theatre during the Austin Film Festival.
10. South by Southwest Film celebrated another successful year, highlighted by two exceptional documentaries that made their world premieres at the festival. "Incendiary," the documentary from Austin filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., explores the possibility that Texas wrongly executed Cameron Todd Willingham.
Heather Courtney's "Where Soldiers Come From" examined the lives of a group of friends from rural Michigan who joined the National Guard and ended up serving in the war in Afghanistan. Courtney's film received a national broadcast on PBS' "P.O.V." Both films went on to win awards at other festivals across the country.
A Texas filmmaker, Robbie Pickering, took home audience and jury awards at SXSW for his drama "Natural Selection."