04/04/2011 12:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

CinemaCon 2011: A Star-Studded Celebration of Movies

2011-04-04-cinemaconleft2.jpg 2011-04-04-cinemacon22.jpg CinemaCon, the annual meeting of theater owners from the U.S. and around the world, is about getting customers into their local movie theater. Billed as "A Celebration of the Moviegoing Experience," the four-day meeting at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas certainly lived up to its billing.

Toward that end, there were talks and panels on everything and anything that may impact the consumer's theater-going experience. Topics include the state of the industry, technology, how to get people into the theater and how to employ social networking to improve attendance at movies. A trade show features developments in every facet of the movie theater from food to seating to screens to projection. There are awards given to industry professionals in a range of areas. And, of course, there are movies and movie stars. Lots of movie stars.

The studios took turns showing previews of their upcoming fare. The emphasis was on the big films -- The Green Lantern, Conan the Barbarian, Real Steel, Fright Night, The Muppets, Bad Teacher, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover 2, Horrible Bosses -- among them.

While up to a half-hour and/or new trailers were shown of those movies, we also got to see two full-length films, Kevin James' rom-com with surprises, The Zookeeper, and the September drama Warrior, starring Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy.

Aside from an evening of independent films shown in a movie theater a few miles from the Caesars Palace convention site and, perhaps, Warrior, there were no "small" pictures shown or previewed; pictures, say, on the order of The King's Speech.

What we were shown were mostly those projected to be blockbusters, franchise movies, either one of a series or the first in a new series. These are what the business calls "tent pole" movies, those that will -- like the poles supporting, say, the old-fashioned circus tent -- support a studio.

Not, by the way, that there's anything wrong with these movies. Most were intriguing enough for the audience to look forward to seeing the films in their entirety.

This being an industry convention, of course, there was lots of time for awards. Several exhibitors were honored for a range of successes. Then, came the awards to the stars.

On Wednesday afternoon, Drew Barrymore presented Cameron Diaz with the award as Female Star of the Year. But it was the closing event, hosted by Billy Bush, where the bulk of the awards were given. They were:

CinemaCon Visionary Award, Tyler Perry; Male Star of the Year, Ryan Reynolds; Career Achievement Award, Helen Mirren; Action Star of the Year, Vin Diesel; Comedy Star of the Year, Russell Brand; CinemaCon Hall of Fame Award, The Harry Potter Franchise" to be accepted by producer David Heyman; Male Star of Tomorrow, Chris Hemsworth; Female Star of Tomorrow, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Breakthrough Performer of the Year, Blake Lively; Male Rising Star of 2011, Jason Momoa; and Female Rising Star of 2011, Julianne Hough.

Meeting the press before the ceremony, each winner who was there (Russell Brand and David Heyman didn't show) was most gracious, personable and funny.

Star of Tomorrow Chris Hemsworth told the dozen or so reporters that it was "surreal" to put on Thor's superhero costume. But, he said, he was "thrilled" to have the opportunity. Director Kenneth Branahg, who made his name as a classical actor, was "incredible" and the special effects ere "innovative." Hemsworth noted that "90 percent of TV and film" in his native Melbourne, Australia "are American. So, even though I had a dialect coach, it wasn't difficult to do an American accent for the film."

Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitley, CinemaCon's Female Star of Tomorrow, spoke of her first movie experience, working for director Michael Bay on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. "It was the only set I've ever been on," she said. "It was big, loud, powerful, intense, dirty, hot sweaty. I loved it."

Female Rising Star of 2011 Julianne Hough is in the new version of Flashdance. She called the movie a "tribute" to the original and said she had a ball making it. Asked if a career in musicals is in the cards, she said, "I want to do it all."

Jason Momoa, the Male Rising Star of 2011, is playing Conan (it rhymes with "phone-in") the Barbarian. He was struck by the physicality of the role. "I am not normally going around decapitating heads and raping women," he pointed out, but there is a lot of him in the part.

Of Polynesian descent, he has New Zealand Maori in his background and said he used War Haka chants in preparing for the role. "I normally don't drink and Conan likes to drink a lot of beer. I had to gain 20 pounds and worked out every day and ate boiled chicken." He also had sword training.

Finally, he noted, "I hate horses. They came up to me with one and said, 'Here's your horse.' I said, '***t.' I weigh 240 pounds. Why would the horse want to carry that?"

Male Star of the Year Ryan Reynolds had just flown in from Cape Town, South Africa, where he's filming Safe House with Denzel Washington. He was at CinemaCon to introduce the trailer for The Green Lantern, in which he plays the title character.

Referring to his last role as the imprisoned contracter buried alive in Iraq. "There it was four walls. Now it's green screens," he said, adding in response to a question, "I'm getting to like the color green again."

His Green Lantern costar Blake Lively, stunning in Marquesa, called her award as Female Breakthrough Star of the Year "an incredible thing....such an honor. I'm a little bit shy, so I feel my parents paid people to give me an award."

Tyler Perry was at CinemaCon to accept the Visionary Award. His movies have grossed over a half-billion dollars and theater owners at CinemaCon told stories of the lines that await the opening. He described himself as "a little kid from Louisiana who had a dream."

The character of Madea, he said, "is my mother on steroids," noting it was "movie theaters and that woman {his mother] that got me here today."

Helen Mirren, opening Friday in Arthur said the reported crush that Russell Brand has on her "is reciprocated. In some other weird universe at some other time we're madly in love with each other. But, unfortunately, we're caught in this world. We can't do anything about it."

Having just done the hand- and footprints in cement at Mann's Chinese Theater and in Las Vegas to receive a Career Achievement Award, said she'd "never imagined" these accolades and noted she is "receiving it all with great pleasure."

Action star award-winner Vin Diesel came out wearing shades. "Are you going to remove them?" he was asked. "Until someone says 'let me see your beautiful eyes,'" he replied. On the subject of his work, he said, "It doesn't matter if I'm doing a film like {the soon-to-be-released] Fast Five, or Find Me Guilty with Sidney Lumet, I still approach each character with the same integrity, just some films have the bells and whistles with critical CGI [computer-generated imagery], with stunts, but I approach my character the same way."

As CinemaCon came to a close the studio executives were upbeat about new product and the theater owners seems a bit concerned about the future. Video on-demand is seen as a threat, although one person pointed out, "Not everyone likes to go to a movie theater and VOD is for that person." And the cost of converting all those screens to digital is daunting to some. But, on the whole, everyone seemed to be looking forward to another year of global box office records, blockbuster movies and an ever-improving theater going experience. And, in the end, that's what everyone came to hear.

All photos used with permission.