2011 will be remembered as the year of the dolphin for Tampa Bay's movie community, guided by a tailless bottlenose back into Hollywood's spotlight.
The summertime release of Dolphin Tale was our biggest movie news in or outside theaters, inspired by Winter's rescue and rehabilitation at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The $37 million production starring Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and Winter herself was solid family entertainment grossing more than $82 million worldwide to date. More importantly, Dolphin Tale became a calling card for Tampa Bay's filmmaking attributes, from photogenic locales to skilled craft workers.
Florida's tax credit incentive plan for film and television production recouped $5 million in production costs for Alcon Entertainment. In exchange, the production pumped more than $16 million into local coffers, temporarily employing nearly 1,300 actors and crew members from around the state.
Not long after Dolphin Tale's splash Tampa Bay was in front of cameras again, although not long enough to qualify for tax crediting. Oscar winning director Steve Soderbergh spent a couple weeks shooting scenes for Magic Mike, a strip club comedy starring Matthew McConaughey and former Tampa resident Channing Tatum. Magic Mike is slated for release on June 29.
On a much smaller, independent scale director Laurie Collyer recently wrapped principal photography in Clearwater on Sunlight Jr., starring Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon. No release date has been set yet.
The future looks bright for Tampa Bay filmmaking. Before turning the calendar, let's take a final look back at 2011's movies that provided my favorite times spent in theaters:
1. The Artist
The year's most unique theater experience, joining others in wonderment that a black and white, mostly silent movie — except for Ludovic Bource's grand music — can fascinate in the 21st century. (Tampa Theatre, with wider release likely)
2. The Descendants
Alexander Payne deftly blends tragedy and comedy, with George Clooney's award-worthy portrayal of a clumsy father and cuckolded husband living in paradise and surrounded by pain. (Now in theaters)
3. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon is superb as a man haunted by premonitions that something catastrophic will happen soon. Writer-director Jeff Nichols keeps you guessing whether he's a prophet or schizophrenic to the final shot. (DVD on Feb. 14)
4. Midnight in Paris
Writer-director Woody Allen returned in top form with this absurd, sophisticated fantasy of an aspiring author (Owen Wilson) finding his muse through time travel. (Available on DVD)
Like most movies about cancer, Will Reiser's dramedy based on his own experience is inspiring but much differently. Most movies on the subject don't get laughs during chemotherapy, or make hip, urban friendship the best medicine. (DVD on Jan. 24)
Everything about this animated gem is gonzo weird, and I love it. Johnny Depp voices a lizard nervously taming the Wild West, in a comically grotesque send-up of spaghetti Westerns and Chinatown. (Available on home video)
7. The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg masters 3-D motion capture animation the first time trying, and creates a thrilling new franchise in the breakneck style of Indiana Jones and Capt. Jack Sparrow. (Now in theaters)
8. Young Adult
Charlize Theron is jaw-dropping as a crazy ex-girlfriend believing her high school flame (Patrick Wilson) will leave his wife and baby for her. Diablo Cody's venomous script also offers a great sad sack role for comedian Patton Oswalt. (Now in theaters)
A documentary making you want to be a better person. Buck Brannaman's success as a horse whisperer after a neglected childhood offers lessons for humans, too. (Available on home video)
Don't laugh. This mixed martial arts drama got my adrenaline pumping as few movies have done since the original Rocky. But it contains as much heart as violence, with Nick Nolte terrific as an alcoholic father refereeing his combative sons. (Available on DVD)
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.