We are living in a world where Martin Lawrence, in a fat suit and playing an old woman, made a better film than one that is nominated for Best Picture.
It's not hyperbole when I make the proclamation that Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son is a superior piece of art compared to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The film, starring two Academy Award-winning Hollywood megastars, is not only the worst reviewed Best Picture nominee of the last 10 years, it's easily the worst film of 2011. Keep in mind, The Smurfs came out last year, too.
I've seen every other Best Picture nominee and you can make case as to why those films could (maybe not should) be included on the list. But in a sane world, I can't see how anyone could rationally justify Extremely Loud forever being in the history books for its nod. It's something that has been boggling my mind for weeks now. If you do consider it a masterpiece, have you seen a majority of the films that came out last year? I'm assuming that you saw a movie based on a popular novel that starred Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. In order to recognize a truly great picture, you must condition yourself to sift through stench-ridden, raccoon-infested, dumpster garbage.
Extremely Loud falls in the latter.
Aside from an asinine and implausible narrative with no conclusive satisfaction whatsoever, the most startling problem with this film is the unapologetic exploitation of September 11th, 2001. Think about 9/11 right now. Your memories are probably first evocative of tragedy, sorrow and grief, right? If you wanted to tell a story about a child coping with, and trying to understand his father's death, why chose 9/11? It's so elementary. Why couldn't the father have died from an illness? Or gotten hit by a bus? Or spontaneous combustion? You would have virtually had the same story without using one of the worst days in American history as a device to fictitiously manipulate emotions. Other 9/11-related movies like United 93 and World Trade Center focused on courageousness and heroism second to tragedy. Extremely Loud just left me depressed and feeling cheap and used.
Even in the TV spots over the holiday season, a title card read: "This movie is not about 9/11," and in its favor, it's not really. 9/11 is the catalyst used to make people immediately feel some sort of emotional attachment, sympathy or empathy to the film. 9/11 is used as a gimmick. Filmmaker Stephen Daldry, who usually produces quality works like The Reader and The Hours, chooses to capitalize on this gimmick by manipulative images. He shows the towers on fire, the hysteric CNN coverage, and Hank's character freefalling to his death. He could have easily abstained from this -- we all know how it went down -- except he exploits these events as a precursor to the melodrama that will follow. I was shocked to not see a red, white and blue bald eagle with a tear falling from his eye.
The movie is carried unsuccessfully by Thomas Horn, a young actor making his debut on the big screen after a successful stint on Jeopardy. I'm not so sinister as to say this kid has no talent -- he certainly does have something -- but I'm not sure it involves acting, and his prowess is certainly not enough to carry an entire film by his lonesome. He's annoying and distracting and every scene he's in -- which is all of them -- I wanted to bury my head in my hands. That's not a knock on his character; it's a knock on his performance. He's a whiz kid in real life. He's not an actor. This is his first project and has no more upcoming. If you want to see skilled child actors carry a movie, see: Hugo, Super 8, and yes, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. I'm sorry to be so discouraging, but Horn needs to go back to being an intellectual and stay far, far away from Hollywood.
His character Oskar, dealing with the death of his father, grieves in an unusual way. He finds a key in an envelope marked "Black" in his old man's possessions. The laugh-out-loud ridiculous story follows Oskar searching for everyone with the surname Black in New York City trying to find what they key opens. Most of the time, he's completely alone -- making Bullock seem like an irresponsible absentee parent (but wait until the end, when everything is tidily contrived in a way that will prevent any action from Child Protective Services!).
There's a ridiculous ambiguity regarding whether or not he has Asperger's Syndrome. Families who have children with Asperger's have lauded the film for mirroring their own lives in the way Oskar behaves. I think it's inherently in bad taste to criticize a character with an autism spectrum disorder, but I feel Oskar's possible Asperger's is another gimmick used to exploit the audience's heartstrings. I'm not sure it worked, though, as the film has only grossed $30 million. People who can empathize with Oskar and understand what Asperger's is, can possibly find fufillment in its accuracy. But I'm sure there are uninformed people who walked into this movie finding him very unlikeable and weird. That's why there should have been definitive answer as to whether or not he does have Asperger's. I'm curious as to whether or not parents who have children with Asperger's would let their grief-stricken child embark on this individual journey in a crime-ridden city to seek closure, or would they send him/her to a professional, or deal with it themselves.
And then there's Max von Sydow, the legend who received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for not speaking a word the entire film. His character is a mute who communicates by writing things down on a pad of paper or using his hands to signal "Yes" or "No." Wow, what a groundbreaking performance! Sometimes he walks, sometimes he arches his eyebrows and man, oh man, he has penmanship to die for! This is a complete farce. Albert Brooks got snubbed for Drive, along with countless of others, for an acting gig that literally any human being can play. Gilbert Gottfried could have played this role. Videotape yourself not saying anything and put it on YouTube -- see if casting agents come a calling. If this is a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, why didn't we give one to the acting clinic that Optimus Prime put on in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon? Or the dolphin without a fin in Dolphin Tale? Or the virus in Contagion? I can't comprehend this.
Now you may be thinking: "How could this jerk belittle the silent performance of von Sydow without going to town on Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo for their respective performances in The Artist?" Because their performances were performances. They overacted, they underacted, they cried, they danced, they conveyed every emotion humanely possible besides the feeling of constipation. Their direction consisted of so much more than, "Okay, Max, now make a frowny face and squint your eyes..."
Obviously this movie won't win Best Picture. But it drives me crazy trying to make sense of how a horrible movie made obviously as Oscar-bait actually got a nomination. I demand that anyone in the Academy who voted for Extremely Loud have the courage to come forward. There should be a town hall debate organized. They should stand at panels and field questions as to why they chose this movie as one of the nine best of the year. They should be shown clips of the movie immediately followed by clips of Bridesmaids, Drive, 50/50, Take Shelter, Shark Night 3-D, Bucky Larson, Breaking Dawn, I Don't Know How She Does It, Zookeeper and the dozens and dozens and dozens of films better than it.
They should then be asked the question: "Are you out of your mind?"