“Extremely Loud” and Stephen Daldry’s Oscar chances — AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: The “Awards Season Screener” of choice from family members visiting over the holiday weekend was Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” (The second most popular was Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” followed by “The Artist.”)

All three went over very well – an extremely unscientific poll, which is influenced by overeating and alcohol – but “Loud” was a devastator. I now know at what moment I need to get up and get the tissue boxes ready, because the tears are about to flow.

It worked every time. And now that I’ve seen it a number of times, I’m even more confident throwing my support behind Daldry’s powerful and moving drama. Mainly, I’ve come to realize the precise structure of Eric Roth’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel. Mysteries about The Renter (Max von Sydow), the key, the swing and other obstacles I might have encountered on a first pass are buttoned up with repeat viewings.

And then there’s Thomas Horn’s calculated performance as Oskar, the heartbreakingly challenged escort through Daldry’s complicated, emotional expedition through post-9/11 Manhattan. It’s such a mature turn, marked by complicated flourishes in scenes that young kids shouldn’t understand. Watch his scenes with Sandra Bullock or Jeffrey Wright near the end of “Loud.” It’s hard to say whether Horn – a former “Jeopardy” contestant – has a career outside of this movie, but for this particular part, he connects with a courage that resonates.

Of course, “Loud” plays on our sympathies for those who lost someone in 9/11, but the film rarely becomes the maudlin, manipulative movie that you fear. Instead, it’s the life-affirming story of a fractured family trying to rediscover a personal balance in the wake of that national catastrophe. Oskar father, who dies in one of the attacked towers, could have had a heart attack on his way home from his suburban office. He could have lost his life in a car crash, and young Oskar still would have to work through his grief using his own unique methods.

And yet, at the onset, I hated Oskar. Hated him. He’s insufferably eccentric, who’s inquisitive mind – and his enabling parents (played by Tom Hanks and Bullock) – grated on my every nerve. Oskar’s eccentricities, his insufferable narration, blocked me from embracing this story on my first pass. I was just about ready to wave the white flag and dismiss “Extremely Loud” as pretentious art-house Oscar bait with its head so far up the Academy’s rear end it wouldn’t know an honest response if it had been placed “Incredibly Close” to its objective face.

Then Daldry played his card, which those who’ve read Foer’s book knew but was a devastating reveal to me: Oskar has Asperger’s Syndrome. And suddenly, with that knowledge came tremendous sympathy, and overwhelming respect for Horn’s portrayal. Suddenly, the mission of this special-needs child wasn’t phony. It was blunt. Honest. Emotional. And outstanding.

My wife’s a teacher, and I value her insight into special needs children. She pointed out how often Horn smells objects, or touches things to his face – both characteristics of children with Asperger’s. These are elements Daldry would coach in Horn. But there also are small glimpses of Oskar covering his ears when the outside world begins to overwhelm him (surrounded by loud children, lost in traffic), and I admire that attention to detail in Daldry’s editing and direction.

Horn, hands down, gives the year’s most mature performance this year. He belongs in any discussion alongside George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Maybe he’s not in the same class as Michael Fassbender, but that guy’s just operating in a different stratosphere this year. In Max Von Sydow, we’re discovering yet another awards-worthy performance from an actor who doesn’t say a word. And in Bullock, you’re advised to brace yourself for a gut-wrenching scene in the film’s third act that explains the passiveness of her early sequences, when she’s overshadowed by Horn and Hanks (for good reason).

Oscar trackers point to “Extremely Loud” being shut out of the Golden Globes, and Warner not screening the film in time for select critics groups. The Broadcast Film Critics Association responded to this film’s intense gravitational pull, though, and I’m hoping Oscar recognizes the film and its incredible journey. The pieces of Daldry’s puzzle are doled out in calculated fashion, and once you understand the motives, you will be moved by this ensemble’s astonishing performances.

Daldry’s an Oscar veteran. That’s an understatement. When it comes to the Best Picture and Director races, Daldry’s a perfect three-for-three. If the Academy’s paying a bit of attention, he’ll be four-for-four in those two (and several other) categories come January.

Awards Alley brings you the best Oscar coverage. Click below to read our exclusive interviews with:
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– The cast of “The Artist.”
Kenneth Branagh for “My Week With Marilyn.”
Sir Ben Kingsley and Chloe Grace Moretz for “Hugo.”
Tilda Swinton for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
David Fincher, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for “The Help.”
Tate Taylor for “The Help.”
Gavin O’Connor for “Warrior.”
Gary Oldman and Colin Firth for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”
Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody for “Young Adult.”
Steve McQueen for “Shame.”
Glenn Close for “Albert Nobbs.”
Seth Rogen and Will Reiser for “50/50.”

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