The Oscar nominations–on their weird new system of nomination to boot–are up, and everyone is talking about what did and didn’t get nominated. In due time, I’ll get to the snubs, but right now let’s take a look at the last movie to snag a nomination: the unlikely Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
There have been a lot of September 11 movies in the last ten years. If there has ever been one from the point of view of a child, I haven’t seen it. In concept, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a very good idea, and the fact that it is based off of an already acclaimed novel doesn’t hurt. Throw in seasoned veterans Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks and you have a movie that is seemingly the exact sort of movie you would expect to do well at the Academy Awards. So why did it just hang on by the skin of its teeth?
If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, this movie is currently rotten at 48%. A “rotten” Oscar nominee? There seems to be something off about that. And there is, because somewhere inside Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, something is missing.
It is the story of a nine-year-old boy named Oskar (Thomas Horn) who may or may not be autistic, but almost definitely is. His father (Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, and he is left to grapple with this nonsensical loss along with his grieving mother (Bullock). He finds a key in his father’s closet and determines that there is a message his father left him to find and that message is with a person named Black, which is written on the envelop in which he found the key.
That’s a pretty shaky premise. Couldn’t “Black” mean anything? But no, Oskar sets out every Saturday into New York City to visit as many as he can of the hundreds of Blacks in New York City. Here begins the list of many problems with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Firstly, the movie is neat–much too neat. Some of its biggest critics say it veers too close to “cute,” but neat is a better word. This film makes it incredibly hard for a viewer to suspend his or her disbelief. Things work out a little too perfectly for the real world, and that is a problem for a movie trying to express just how vast and messy the real world is, especially in the eyes of an autistic child.
Oskar is also horribly unsympathetic, or at least as unsympathetic as you can be to a young, autistic boy who has lost his father. He is scared above all, but what director Stephen Daldry chooses to show the audience is his overconfidence and almost-cruel grip on the truth. Oskar’s character arc is remarkably small–he is exactly the same at the end, and while his mother might tell him that’s perfect, it isn’t quite so for the audience. For all the distance Oskar travels on his journey, he travels very little internally.
So yes, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is flawed–it is probably more flawed than any other nominee (but we’ll also get to that). Still, at its heart, this movie wants to do the right thing. It tells the stories–however brief–of many lives in New York City, and how they were all touched by this boy, even if he wasn’t touched by them. Bullock is absolutely marvelous as Oskar’s mother, I would say some of her very best work to date, and Max von Sydow is completely deserving of his nomination for Best Supporting Actor as “The Renter.”
This movie undoubtedly could have been done better. But there are parts of it that will genuinely move your heart, and perhaps that’s what at least five percent of the Academy felt when they voted for this movie as Best Picture.