Winners & Losers Of 2011 (Part Two)

Winner:  Michael Fassbender

Last year, he was wasting his time with Jonah Hex.  In 2011, he became the breakout star of the past twelve months.

This German-born actor’s remarkable year began in March with a supporting role in the latest big screen interpretation of Jane Eyre.  Critics loved it.  Despite only playing in a few hundred North American theatres, the film was an arthouse hit earning over ten million domestically.

Then, X-Men: First Class arrived in June.  Marginally entertaining, Fassbender’s portrayal of an angry young Magneto was clearly the best thing about it.  Intensely charismatic and even empathetic, up to a point, this ok sequel to an uneven franchise benefitted greatly from his frequent on-screen appearances.  Most reviewers agreed.  The film accumulated over 350 million worldwide.

Currently, Fassbender can be seen in two possible late-season Oscar contenders.  He plays Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, another well-reviewed drama, and is a possible Best Actor nominee for his performance as a miserable sexual compulsive in Shame.  Roger Ebert recently named it one of his favourite films of the year.  Generally, critics have been very supportive.

With yet another film on the way next month and a couple more in the near future, Fassbender isn’t going away any time soon.

Loser:  Donald Trump

He eats pizza with a fork.  He needed proof that President Obama was born in America even though the latter released his short-form Hawaiian birth certificate during his first Presidential campaign four years ago.  Nonetheless, he felt he had something to hide.  Then, when the President released his long-form certificate this spring, he called a press conference taking credit for it.  He eats pizza with a fork.

Then, he teased a possible Presidential campaign, his third attempt at national foreplay, but ultimately decided against it.  (Good move.  After an initial bump, his poll numbers plummetted.)  Numerous times afterward, he said he might actually jump in after all as an independent.  (Yeah, right.)  Faded Republican Presidential contender Michelle Bachmann threw his name out there as a possible running mate.  He eats pizza with a fork.

The fake political posturing was all a ruse to promote the latest season of his insane reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, which saw declining ratings despite all the hullabaloo.  At the White House Correspondents Dinner, not only did President Obama zing him, so did Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers whose hilariously brutal barbs were the highlight of the entire evening.  He was such a humourless sore loser about the whole thing that many months later he claimed that Meyers had marbles in his mouth and wasn’t funny.  (Or maybe you don’t have a sense of humour, assbag.  Or maybe a selective one.  You did get roasted on Comedy Central this year.  Never a good career move.  Ask Charlie Sheen.)

When he was hired to be the celebrity pace-car driver at the Indianapolis 500, it caused such widespread criticism that a month after the announcement was made he publicly backed out.  When the idea of him becoming a debate moderator for the Republican Presidential contenders was put out there late in the year, most of the candidates wanted nothing to do with him.  He had no choice to back out of that bad idea, as well.  He eats pizza with a fork.

CNN did a report on the possible influence a Trump endorsement for a Republican candidate would have on next year’s election.  It noted an ABC poll that revealed the following:   76% of Republican voters either didn’t care who he picked or would choose someone other than his preference.  He eats pizza with a fork.

Despite releasing three books, re-signing with NBC to do more seasons of The Apprentice (which almost didn’t happen because of his imaginary Presidential campaign) and being the 17th richest celebrity, whatever was left of The Donald’s long shaky credibility has thankfully dissipated for good.  Most Americans don’t want him as their President.

Richard Roeper was right.  He is a self-parody.  And he eats pizza with a fork.

Winner:  Adele

At the 2011 Brit Awards, there was a performance that stood out so much it’s been played endlessly on MuchMoreMusic ever since.  With just a soulful piano accompanying her, a 23-year-old redhead bears her soul about an important relationship she can’t quite let go of.  She is marvellously restrained during the verses but belts out every chorus like her life depends on it.

This particular rendition of Someone Like You was easily one of the most moving songs of the year and initially, was just an album cut on her second CD, 21.  Upon its late January release in her native UK, 21 was an immediate blockbuster debuting at number one.  It has since sold 13 million copies globally, 5 million in North America alone.  (My Dad owns one, himself.)  Following her memorable Brit Awards performance, the studio version of Someone Like You topped the charts there.  It went to number one in America after she sang it on the MTV Video Music Awards.

Rolling In The Deep, the actual first single, was another chart topper on both sides of the pond.  MTV.com recently selected it as the top song of the year.  The most recent single, Set Fire To The Rain, is already a Top 40 hit both here and abroad.  The editors of Billboard Magazine named 21 Album Of The Year.  (December 23 UPDATE:  It also topped Rolling Stone’s list.) (December 28 UPDATE:  And Entertainment Weekly’s list.)

Next year, Adele will be competing for six Grammys.  21 is a heavy favourite for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, Someone Like You is competing for Best Pop Solo Performance and Rolling In The Deep is contending in the Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Short Form Music Video categories.  The chances of her going for a clean sweep look very good, indeed.  (She’s also nominated for several People’s Choice Awards and NRJ Music Awards which will also be handed out in 2012.)

But even if she comes home empty-handed, she’s already won plenty of gongs this year.  She won three American Music Awards, eleven Billboard trophies, two AIM Independent Music Awards, a BT Digital Music Award, a Glamour Women Of The Year Award, an MP3 Music Award, a Mobo Award, one MTV Europe Music Award and three MTV Video Music Awards, two Q Magazine Awards, two UK Video Music Awards and an IFPI Platinum Europe Award.  (Check out her complete list of impressive accolades here.)

Somehow, she found time to release a new live CD/DVD called Live At The Royal Albert Hall.  (Yep, Dad has that one, too.)  It debuted at number one in America and is the best selling music DVD of 2011.

Adele’s only setback this year came in October when an annoying vocal cord hemorrhage prevented her from completing two tour commitments and required immediate “laser microsurgery”.  Taking a much-needed break for recovery, the singer announced that plans for album number three are on hold for the time being.

All the more reason for her to savour an incredible professional year that would never have happened if she hadn’t had her heart broken.

Loser:  Blockbuster Video Canada & Netflix

Two cautionary tales from the home video business this year.  One leading to an enormous backlash.  The other, bankruptcy.

Last year, Blockbuster Video Canada appeared to be in much better shape than Blockbuster Video.  The original American company spent much of 2010 closing stores in Europe and the States, received less than glowing reviews about its financial status from accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and would ultimately file for Chapter 11 protection in the fall.  (It was almost a billion in the hole thanks to greatly reduced revenue streams like the abolition of its late rental fees policy for customers who didn’t return their stuff on time.  The Dish Network ultimately bought it and is trying to keep several hundred stores in operation.  There used to be 4000, at its apex.)  Meanwhile, its Canadian counterpart appeared to be financially solvent with no store closings expected.  The reason?  It was independently owned.

But by the spring of 2011, Blockbuster Video Canada was also in bad shape.  On May 3rd, it went into receivership.  Almost two months later, over 130 outlets held going out of business sales with the hope that heavily discounted items would help ease its financial burdens and that it would simply continue with fewer franchises.

It didn’t work.  Just a few months later, all remaining Canadian stores (over 250) greatly reduced the prices of their own stock and closed up shop for good.  Despite the hunt for a new owner, no one was willing to take on this business.  Years of overpriced rentals and tough competition from on-demand and online retailers had finally taken their toll.  Nobody wanted to buy 900 million of debt.

Meanwhile, one of those online companies, Netflix, faced a crisis of their own and completely of their own making.

The first third of 2011 was actually fantastic.  Netflix had earned 200 million more in revenue compared to the same period in 2010.  By the summer, a single share was priced at just over 300 bucks.  Plans were underway to produce TV shows like the fourth season of Arrested Development, originally a Fox sitcom.  They had nearly 24 million subscribers.

Then, the colossal blunder.  In July, CEO Reed Hastings announced on the company blog that members would not only be charged for both renting DVDs and streaming movies through their website, which would now be separate services, but they would also be paying more.  A lot more.  60% above the original rates.  Before, you could get both at a single price.  No longer.  The doomed DVD program was renamed Qwikster.

The backlash was hard and swift.  When all was said and done, the stock plunged, going from roughly $305 a share to $130 to $66.  (As of this writing, it’s back up to $71 thanks to the possibility of a 2012 bidding war.)  Nearly a million cancelled their membership by the time third quarter numbers were issued with many more expected, Howard Stern among them (although he was more upset that he couldn’t find The Green Lantern).  The company was forced to do serious damage control but it was too late.  As the stock continued to nosedive, Netflix had lost more than 3/4 of its value.  An analyst for Wedbush Securities sounded the death knell for the company.  Standard & Poor has given it the credit rating equivalent of a junk bond.  With its ambitious plans to expand its rental services into Europe, not to mention the TV shows it wants to produce, the company has publicly noted more losses in the future if it wants to maintain the status quo.

Gordon Gekko once said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”.  In the case of Netflix and Blockbuster Video Canada, he was dead wrong.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 17, 2011
12:50 a.m.

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