Looking Back at 2011: Latinos in in the Movies

Far from a perfect year, but one with every indication that Latinos are an active, permanent, essential part of Hollywood

By Se Fija!
Published on LatinoLA: January 9, 2012

Looking Back at 2011: Latinos in in the Movies

Everybody does lists. Everybody does scorecards. Why should Se Fija! be any different? But we did try to put a little meat on the bone, offer a little context with the pretext, in our list of pretty much every film released in 2011 that prominently featured a Latino in front of the camera or in the director or writer's chair. It's as comprehensive as we could make it, but we expect your corrections and additions. After all, the greatest sport of all is to look at somebody else's "definitive" list of just about anything and point out every ridiculously obvious omission or misstatement.

So have at it. Enjoy. The way WE see it‘«™

2011 was a pretty healthy year for Latinos in film. Not nearly as many directors or writers as one could hope for, and an extremely thin winter after a halfway decent summer. But all in all, there are some real gems and relatively few embarrassments from January to December. Let's take it month by month:

January: 2 out of 11
Edward James Olmos was one of the bad guys in Seth Rogan's already forgotten (and that's for the best) super-hero flop, "Green Hornet." Much more affectionately remembered are Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Wilmer Valderrama, Adriana Barraza, Kuno Becker and other Latino actors in "From Prada to Nada," which received its woefully limited theatrical release in January (though you can get it on DVD now, and watch it "instantly" if you're a Netflix subscriber.)

February: 2 out of 17
A very light month for film in general and Latinos in particular. "Even the Rain" was a quiet little independent with Luis Tosar, Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan Carlos Aduviri and others that premiered in February '11; the equally unseen eerie-horror-movie "Vanishing on 7th Street" starred, among others like Hayden Christiansen (hey, remember him?) and John Leguizamo.

March: 4 of 35
March roared in like a lion (well, maybe a lion cub) with a range of Latino-involved movies big and small. There was the popular animated feature "Rango" with Alfred Molina's voice, and the more notorious comedy "Electra Luxx" about a trying-to-retire porn star, directed by Sebastian Gutierrez and starring his wife Carla Gugino. It also features, among many other up-and-coming stars, a truly hilarious turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a very intense young Latino filmmaker (and no, he's not Latino, but watch him anyway. Classic.) Elsewhere in the month, Hollywood went big with Michael Pe??a, Michelle Rodriguez, and Ramon Rodriguez in the alien invasion remix "Battle: Los Angeles" and classy with Michael Pe??a in Matthew McConaughey's "The Lincoln Lawyer," neither of which made much of a splash.

April: 6 out of 48
Big and small, in front and behind, Latinos had an active April, from Paz Vega's widely overlooked actioner "Cat Run" to Jordana Brewster's re-appearance in "Fast Five," latest in the Fast/Furious franchise. "Five" also included, Michael Irby, Elsa Pataky, Tego Calderon, Don Omar and others, and rumors that other Latinos who've been in the franchise before will be re-appearing for the inevitable Number 6. There was music, with young and talented Nolan Sotillo in Disney's misfire "Prom," and the ubiquitous Luis Guzm?Ūn side-by-side with Helen Mirren and Russell Brand in the generally disliked remake of "Arthur." Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego directed his first English-language film, "Apollo 18," and Latino voices like George Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro were heard in the incredibly popular "Rio," while Cheech Marin was heard in the not-so-incredibly-popular "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil."

May: 3 out of 25 (but a big one)
Slim pickins' for Latinos in May, scattered thinly among the first round of blockbusters. Pen?ģlope Cruz carried that standard for A-List Latinos everywhere as a major part of the newest Pirates of the "Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" film, the fourth in the series and the first for her. And Carmen Marron's labor of love, "Go for It!," starring Aimee Garcia, Jossara Jinaro, Gina Rodriguez and many other young Latinos at their best, saw a woefully small theatrical release before it showed up in VOD and on DVD. Laz Alonso was part of the African-American family dramedy "Jumping the Broom" in may as well. But other than that, everything from Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" to Kenneth Branaugh's "Thor" was Latino-free.

June: 2 out of 37
"X-Men: First Class," "The Green Lantern" and, "Transformers 3" all showed up in June '11, and none of them had a Latino in any significant role. But this was also the month of "A Better Life," probably the best-remembered 'serious' movie about Latinos and modern Latino life, and in the running for some possible Oscar activity for star Demi?Ūn Bichir and/or director Chris Weitz. Also, let's remember a young actor named Jos?ģ Juli?Ūn who gave a wonderful performance, too. And Cheech Marin's voice appeared for the second time this season, as one of the eight zillion actors in Pixar's "Cars 2."

July: 7 out of 45
Latinos were there for the expected summer blockbusters, like "Cowboys and Aliens," with Raul Trujillo and Ana de la Reguera, cowritten by Robert Orci, and Sofia Vergara and George Lopez' voice were part of the road-trip ensemble of "The Smurfs," Rosario Dawson somehow found herself in Kevin James' "Zookeeper," and the largely unwatched "Larry Crowne," directed by and starring Tom Hanks, had a host of Latinos on board, including Wilmer Valderrama, Roxana Ortega, Maria Canals-Barerra and the members of Culture Clash (Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas). A couple of small films appear in July as well‘«ŰSelena Gomez in "Monte Carlo" and Yul Vasquez in "Salvation Boulevard"‘«Űbut the most interesting film to appear, brief as it was, came with "Without Men," that warm and odd story starring Eva Longoria, Yvette Yates, Kate del Castillo, Oscar Nu??ez, Judy Reyes, Monica Huarte and many many more Latino actors in a film that was sadly buried by a tiny theatrical release.

August: 8 out of 30
Some of the best-remembered Latino-centric films of the year came to us in August. Michael Pe??a made his third theatrical appearance, this time in the uneven heist 'comedy,' "30 Minutes or Less." Jessica Alba, Alexa Vega, Danny Trejo, Antonio Banderas and a set of young co-stars joined Robert Rodriguez in trying to relaunch a franchise with "Spy Kids 4" with mixed results. Banderas was also in Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In," which was released this month, too. Sandra Vergara found herself in an entirely different and equally semi-successful remake, "Fright Night." Two higher-quality films, however, are destined to make more lasting impressions: Rashaad Ernesto Green's stunning "Gun Hill Road," starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes and the amazing Harmony Santana, and Zo?Ĺ Salda??a's first real chance to play a Latina‘«Űand a kick-ass one at that‘«Űin the violent, flawed, but fascinating "Colombiana." The film included performances by Jordi Moll?Ū, Jesse Borrego, and the wonderful Ofelia Medina. And as if that wasn't enough, there was "Glee Live!" (in 3-D, if you insisted) gave us a bigger-and-better-than-ever Naya Rivera, while Guillermo del Toro produced, co-wrote, and put his indelible mark on the sinister and powerful remake of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." A busy month in every genre!

September: 6 out of 42
September 2011 is something of an object lesson in just how wide and deep the Latino presence has become in Hollywood. These days, you'll find Latinos not just in small independents, not just in genre films or independents, not just in blockbusters, but in all of the above, across the board. In this month alone, Alyssa Diaz was part of the horror flick "Shark Night 3D;" Sarah Shahi represented Latinos in the romantic comedy division in a supporting role for Sarah Jessica Parker's "I Don't Know How She Does It," director Beto Gomez put together a broad satire with an almost entirely Latino cast for "Saving Private Perez" that played the festival circuit, while Monique Gabriela Curnen played a key role in this month's blockbuster, Soderberg's "Contagion," alongside most of the Anglo A-List. And more: Laz Alonso was high up the cast list on the much-anticipated and ultimately disappointing remake of the classic "Straw Dogs," and "Warrior," one of the best films of the month (if one of the most mis-marketed as well) featured Latino actors Maximiliano Hern?Ūndez and Vanessa Martinez.

October: 7 out of 26
October and November both have the highest percentage of releases with a Latino presence, including in both months a growing number of roles for voice acting. In October, Antonio Banderas continued to enjoy his most active season in years in his reprise of the voice in "Puss in Boots," this time as the star of his own film, and just a few weeks after reminding us of his formidable power as an actor in "The Skin I Live In," one of the few Latino films of 2011 with an actual shot at recognition by the Academy. Emilio Estevez rediscovered his roots and the joy (and tragedy) of family in his remarkable road-trip picture, "The Way," starring his father Martin Sheen among many others, and a hardy band of younger up-and-comers made their mark in a wide range of October films, including Natalie Amenula in "Dirty Girl," Ray Santiago in "In Time," Amaury Nolasco in Johnny Depp's "The Rum Diary," and Eduardo Noriega in the independent film that extends the legend of Butch and Sundance, Sam Shephard's "Blackthorn," directed by Mateo Gil and writer Miguel Barros.

November: 8 of 24
November takes the prize as the month with the highest number of films featuring Latinos in prominent positions‘«Űone way or the other. Unfortunately, the roles were often more splashy than significant, with some bordering on the celebrity walk-on. Starting with the lightest of the light, there's Piolin, Selena Gomez, and Rico Rodriguez in "The Muppets" and Danny Trejo, Esteban Andres Cruz, and Paula Garces in "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas." More animation comes our way with Carlos Alazraqui, Lombardo Boyar, Jeffrey Garcia, Johnny A. Sanchez and Sofia Vergara lending their voices to "Happy Feet Two" and Eva Longoria playing the voice of a no-nonsense cop in "Arthur Christmas." Meanwhile, Mia Maestro and Christian Camargo go all vampy around the face with supporting roles in the commercial blockbuster, The "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1." Brazilian director Jos?ģ Padilha brought us "Elite Squad 2" in November, and Michael Rivera turns in a quality performance in "Son of No One."

December: 2 out of 24
And we end the year not with a bang, but with a whimper and a hope for better months in the year to come: with director Rodrigo Garc?°a at the helm in the critically acclaimed (and perhaps Oscar-bound) "Albert Nobbs," and the participation of a couple of recognizable Latino faces‘«ŰSofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo‘«Űin Garry Marshall's newest multi-starred holiday confection, "New Year's Eve."

All in all, by our informal calculation--with math skills made fuzzy by eggnog‘«Űthere were more than 350 films released in theaters in 2011 (364, to be precise). And of that group right around 15%--56 films‘«Űincluded Latinos in prominent roles, in front or behind the camera And we're not even counting documentaries, shorts, or that vast worlds of TV and the intertubes. Far from a perfect year ‘«Ű in quantity or in quality‘«Űbut a year with every indication that Latinos are an active, permanent and even essential part of Hollywood in the 21st century, with even more and even better yet to come.

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