The final Academy Award nominee for Best Picture makes me frustrated. I don’t want to end on a sore note (not counting the wrap-up on Sunday when the award is actually given out), but this movie pissed me off. I understand not liking Tree of Life, it wasn’t my taste, but this movie fricking sucks and is actually one of the worst reviewed movies to be nominated for Best Picture. What about this movie was worthy of Best Picture, other than the fact it’s screaming “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, GIVE ME AN AWARD” there is nothing about this movie that makes it worthy of being labeled “the best” in anything. This is what beat out Drive or Shame for Best Picture…this! Ugh, let’s get to the goddamn review!
Nine-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn) is trying to cope with the death of his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) after 9/11. He discovers a key hidden in a vase and believes it will lead to a message his father has left for him. The only clue he has is the word “Black” written on the envelope. Oskar goes to interview every person in New York with the last name Black, and in turn discovers himself as well as strengthens relationships with his mother (Sandra Bullock) and the mysterious tenant across the way (Max von Sydow).
To preface, I have NOT read the book this is based on and honestly I don’t feel I need to in order to understand anything about this movie (although I’m sure someone would get on me about “If you read the book you’d understand.” Well I didn’t read The Help and I enjoyed that okay so screw you!). The problem I have is A) how manipulative director Stephan Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth portray the events of 9/11 and B) Thomas Horn as our “hero.” The movie opens with scenes of a man falling as our opening credits, you know falling like out of the WTC?! The way 9/11 is handled is so tactless that I was waiting for the camera to just play stock footage of that terrible event interspersed with Thomas Horn looking sad because that’s all this movie is. I mean this is the director Billy Elliott and the screenwriter for Forrest Gump and they can’t handle tough subjects? It’s just that every scene is meant to hearken back to 9/11 and it’s mentioned so many times you can get pretty hammered if you played a drinking game. We know, he died on 9/11 you don’t have to add it into every sentence! I swear a line of dialogue looks like this: “My dad died in 9/11. 9/11 was so horrible, I miss my dad. You know what the worst day ever was….9/11!!!!”
On top of that you have Thomas Horn who is probably the worst child actor in the history of child actors, and that’s a tall order. I know Horn isn’t a professional actor, I just looked on IMDB and apparently he won Kid’s Jeopardy….so obviously he’s a great choice to place the entire burden of your movie upon. The kid is cute, and he works well with that “wise beyond his years” cliché you see with most child stars (see Dakota Fanning), the problem is he delivers his lines like he’s reading off cue cards. I know his character might have Aspergers (the disability of the week), or at least we get the appearance of it because his character mentions the test was inconclusive. I’ve seen Aspergers portrayed in numerous television/movies and I can’t make any assumptions on how well Horn plays someone with the disability, the problem is his character is just downright unlikable and selfish. I never felt for his journey because I hated him! He treats people like garbage, seen perfectly in a moment with the doorman (John Goodman) who he tells to do something with his “ball sack” and that’s a direct quote. Horn’s inability as an actor doesn’t make him seem impaired, it just makes him look like a jerk. I never felt his actions resulted from a mental defect, I just thought he was an asshole. Also, there’s narration throughout the movie and Horn can’t even do this right! When he doesn’t sound like he’s reading a book on tape, he says everything like he’s recounting a ghost story, in a hushed whisper. I didn’t know whether to feel bad or bust out some s’mores and light a fire!
The “mystery” of the key is interesting but ultimately it hinges on a climax where a particular character says “I knew the whole time” which I guess whitewashes all the times Oskar’s been an ass. His poor mother, played by Sandra Bullock in a bad wig, actually gets told by her son that he wished she died and she decides to help him? In fact, Bullock and Hanks are the only reason to watch this garbage. Their scenes together are too few and the conversation they have when Thomas is in the WTC is beautiful and provides all the emotion you hoped the movie would have throughout its incredibly bloated 2 hour runtime. If the movie had been about Bullock coping and flashing back to her relationship with Hanks’ character it could have been amazing! Max von Sydow is also great as a tormented renter of Oskar’s grandmother.
Out of all the movies I’ve watched, this is the Best Picture nominee that makes me scratch my head. I honestly feel if it didn’t have every sentimental thing that old Academy voters love (character with a media darling of a disability, 9/11, father/son relationship) it wouldn’t have been nominated. I hate this more than Tree of Life because this tries to throw in everything that should make someone sob and does so in a manipulative way. This movie has no shot in Hell of winning but it doesn’t even deserve to have “Academy Award nominee” stamped beneath it.
Grade: F (my apologies to The Tree of Life)
**ANNOUNCEMENTS: There will be a wrap-up on Oscar Sunday, after a Best Picture is declared, where I’ll go over the movies and discuss the winner. After that, on March 1st we’ll be starting 2 weeks of Jean Harlow films in honor of her 103rd birthday on March 3rd! I’ve made a beautiful header for the site and I’ll be running through 15 of her best movies! As always if you have an actor, director, whatever you’d like me to devote a theme to let me know (right now I’m going off the numerous box sets I own and haven’t opened)! See you all after the Oscars! Note that because the Oscars are so late in the evening, the blog post won’t posted till Sunday evening…I’ll try to find a link or something to sate you fans until then!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.