Extremely Loud & Incredibly Dull

I know. The Academy Awards self-fellating fest in celebration of mediocre schlock announced 2011’s nominees and not a peep from me despite my morbid fascination with the whole unsightly process. I would have blogged sooner, but the token selection of films put me into a coma. Again.

The Academy itself was so uninspired by last year’s crop, they could only come up with nine nominees. And this after only a couple of goes at their new wishful-thinking ten-nominee policy. As if ten worthwhile mainstream movies come out in any given year. Or nine. Oh, there are plenty of great films to be had, don’t get me wrong. But you have to hunt for them and (gasp!) read subtitles. And we all know that no number of awards and accolades are going to help some subtitled foreign film with its crazy mumbo-jumbo foreign language rake in more cash at the American box office. So why bother?

The choices seem to break down into a few handy categories: schmaltzy tear-jerkers (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Warhorse), token nominations for legendary directors past their prime (Hugo, The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, Warhorse again), and genuinely good films that in a better year would never be more than a dark (war)horse contender-slash-also-ran (The Descendants, The Artist, Moneyball).

Which leaves The Help. This year’s Driving Miss Daisy, only much more insulting to everybody’s intelligence. What the hell is this doing on the list, even in such a lame year? All I’ve heard across the board is what an irritating piece of sanctimonious crap it is. And not just from my film-snob buddies, but from ordinary people who like junk cinema like this. The most glowing review I’ve heard of it so far was, to quote as directly and faithfully as I can, “meh.”

Yes, I’m condemning it without seeing it. I saw the trailer. It told me everything I need to know. Sitting through two and a half hours of paint-by-numbers Hollywood filmmaking is probably not the best use of my time and I’ve decided I’ve done far too much of it over the years. I’m trying to break myself of the compulsion to know first-hand what people are talking about when they chat about movies, but the fact is, in 99.999% of cases, I already know. If I’ve seen the trailer, or the TV ad, or the poster, or the late-night talk-show interview, I can extrapolate everything from that alone. You get that way when you watch thousands of movies. If, against my better judgment, I go see one of these things, the post-screening conversation usually plays out something like this:

Someone: “What did you think?”

Me: “I think it was exactly what I thought it was going to be.”

This isn’t because I’m clever. It’s because I’m stupid. Stupid enough to have spent a lifetime sitting through so much disposable cinema.

For the record, here’s a short list of just some of the recent releases I saw for the first time in 2011:

My Kid Could Paint That, Anything for Her, Antichrist, Enthiran, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Winter’s Bone, Inside Job, I Saw the Devil, Catfish, Dogtooth, Frozen River, Baghead, Trollhunter, A Town Called Panic, Merantau, Hanna, Red State, Attack the Block, The Last Circus, Rare Exports, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

They all have one thing in common. On some level, they each had surprises in store for me (especially Red State because I thought I would never like any Kevin Smith work that didn’t contain the word “Clerks” in the title). A few of them got token nominations or awards from Mr. Oscar, most didn’t. It’s not a list of the best film of 2011 (or whatever year they were officially released), but they were all genuinely worth my time and, in many cases, a repeat viewing.

If you’re one of the people who lets the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards pick which movies you should see, I only have one thing to say to you. Dig deeper.