10 People Who Mattered in Movies this Year

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Tue, Dec 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM
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By Ernest Hardy, Karina Longworth and Mark Olsen

Some of our notables showed great courage this year, others are simply notorious, but all 10 had a big impact in 2011.

click to enlarge Bridesmaids
  • Bridesmaids

Kristen Wiig

Six years of Saturday Night Live was threatening to calcify Kristen Wiig's brand of highly physical yet conceptual comedy of awkwardness. Turns out she was working on a second act all along: As co-writer and star of the summer blockbuster Bridesmaids, Wiig proved, first and foremost, that female-fronted comedy can fuel mainstream box office, which is, to date, nearly $170 million. She also proved that she can carry a film (and that she can write a career-changing role for co-star Melissa McCarthy). Next up for Wiig: a starring role in the indie drama Imogene, directed by American Splendor pair Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. (K.L.)

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Jafar Panahi

Sentenced to house arrest in his Tehran apartment and banned from filmmaking (his crime allegedly was planning to make a film about post-election unrest in Iran), writer-director Jafar Panahi collaborated with Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (who himself was just released from Evin Prison after three months in jail) to make This Is Not a Film, a video diary documenting a day in his life, his struggle to come to terms with his restrictive situation and reconcile his identity without breaking the law. This stunning "not-a-film" was smuggled out of the country on a flash drive hidden in a cake so that it could premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, which it did, to huge praise. The movie won't be released stateside until 2012, but Panahi's ongoing persecution and his remarkable act of resistance was the world cinema story of 2011. (K.L.)

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Reed Hastings

Netflix began 2011 riding high on the popularity of its Watch Instantly service, the industry standard for legal movie streaming, which the company offered as a "free" added benefit to all DVD-by-mail subscription plans. The first of a string of PR disasters came in July, when Netflix announced that subscribers would have to pay for DVDs and streaming separately, amounting to as much as a 60 percent price hike for some customers. In an effort to quiet the public outcry, CEO Reed Hastings wrote a late-night blog post fashioned as an apology, explaining that he was spinning the DVD service into a new company, Qwikster, to justify the two charges. A month later, in response to further backlash, Hastings killed the Qwikster plan -- but left the price hikes in place. With Netflix's stock price plummeting and subscribers fleeing, the 12-year-old company, a survivor of numerous tech and e-commerce bubbles that itself had a major hand in the death of Blockbuster, suddenly seemed to combine the worst of two worlds: the inexperience of a start-up with the cash-gouging hubris of a corporate titan. In a climate when companies are failing without such major fuck-ups, the impetuous Hastings presided over the Unnecessary Industry Meltdown of the year. (K.L.)

click to enlarge Ameena Matthews
  • Ameena Matthews

The "cast" of The Interrupters

One would be hard-pressed to find scenes in any drama this year with as much impact and resonance as those in Steve James' documentary The Interrupters. Following a group of former Chicago gang members who now act as intermediaries in disrupting street violence, the film approaches main subjects Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra not so much as heroes but as humans, capturing the ways each of them is trying to get right with the world. The film's straightforward style is immersive and overwhelming, overflowing with heartbreak, insight, startling access and hard-won uplift. After the legendary snub of his landmark Hoop Dreams, that James has again been left out of the race for the feature documentary Oscar only proves the category is in need of its own intervention. (M.O.)

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Harvey Weinstein

After many rounds of layoffs at the company that bears his name and a failed 2010 bid to buy back Miramax, we can safely call 2011 Harvey's comeback, even though he has been here for years: Weinstein began 2011 by ending a nearly decadelong Oscar slump with a Best Picture win (and, perhaps more controversially, a Best Director win) for The King's Speech. He was back to his old buying ways by Cannes, where he picked up current Best Picture frontrunner The Artist. And as distributor of both The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher) and My Week With Marilyn (Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe), he almost certainly stands to benefit from an expected impersonation race in the Best Actress field. The only thing missing from Weinstein's 2011 has been a media scandal. For that, we turn to ... (K.L.)

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