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Monday, January 30, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Release Date: 12-25-2011)

        There's always at least one. People will point to the expanded Best Picture field as breeding a greater number of contestable nominees, but even before we were at 10 (or between 5-10, for that matter), Oscar showed a real relish for throwing exactly one wrench into the machine per year. This year's shocker was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a movie that's faced some less-than-positive reviews, and will now be held to even higher standards of quality and contempt. When the Best Picture field was announced in the morning hours of last Tuesday, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was the last film listed, baiting a big reaction across the room, as if the golden man himself had planned out the announcement to say, "There you go, media, there's your surprise." He thinks he's doing the movie a favor, but in truth, he's really just putting a target on its back. Everyone wants to be a Best Picture nominee, sure, but no one wants to be, 'The Best Picture Nominee that on one expected.' That comes with baggage all its own.

        Which is not to say that EL&IC didn't arrive on screen with its own baggage to begin with. How else could you describe a movie that stars a 14-year-old non-actor (Thomas Horn) going on one of the least realistic quests in recent movie memory, surrounded by a pair of America's sweethearts (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock) and rampant 9/11 imagery? The boy, named Oskar, loses his father (Hanks) in the World Trade Center attacks. About a year later, looking for anything that might keep the memory of his father nearer, Oskar finds a key among his late Pop's things, stored in an envelope with the name Black written on it. Thus begins city-wide search for the Black to whom the key belongs, one wherein a young, lost boy will touch the hearts of many unsuspecting adults, many healed through the guise of a montage. Oh, and little Oskar might be vaguely, you know, autistic... because this movie really needed some more charged material.

        There are a lot of reasons why someone might find Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close unsettling or dissatisfying, most of them listed above under the plot summary. If you've read this far, it should be clear to you that this particular scribe doesn't really think that the movie has any business in the race for the year's top prize, but I could say that about a few other nominated flicks as well. The truth is that EL&IC worked much better on me than I would have ever expected, given the fact that its story is emotional arm-twisting of the purest form. Director Stephen Daldry stitches the thing together with a steady, sure hand, the whole movie filmed quite beautifully, lofting along atop Alexandre Desplat's lovely, emotive score. It's Daldry's first movie in only four efforts to not garner him a Best Director nomination, which is kind of ironic, because its his strength behind the camera that lifts this questionable story to the surprising quality that it eventually accomplishes. Sure, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close might have a few eye-rolling moments, but it also managed to put a genuine lump in my throat on a few occasions, even though I knew I was being played. That kind of real knee-jerk reaction is more than The Descendants, War Horse, The Help or Moneyball could coax out of me, and even if it is in service of something shallow at its core, my love for the technical side of film can't help but admire that's so apt in its manipulation.

Grade: B-

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