Extremely Loud and Incredibly Quiet
By Carl Kozlowski
The Academy Awards will always have several hit movies as Best Picture nominees, as well as a few films that haven’t yet caught on with the public.
This year’s two smallest Best Picture nominees are a pair of films that couldn’t be more different. One, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hollywood’s first major attempt to deal with the events of Sept. 11 in a fictional fashion, is based on a bestselling book by acclaimed hipster novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. The other, The Artist, is a throwback to the earliest days of classic Hollywood: a near-silent dramedy about a major silent-movie star who struggles with the transition from silent movies to “talkies” in the late 1920s.
Directed by French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin in the lead role, this relatively obscure foreign film possessed enough charm and intrigue to attract a sterling cast of top American and British supporting actors, including John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and Penelope Ann Miller.
Even though Loud touts Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock as its stars, in reality the film hinges on two remarkable performances by other actors. Newcomer Thomas Horn plays 10-year-old Oskar who is still coming to terms with the loss of his father Thomas (Hanks), who died in the World Trade Center when he picked the wrong morning for a business meeting.
Living alone with his grieving mother (Bullock), Oskar is an unusual child who appears to have the autistic disorder of Asperger’s Syndrome, although the film never spells that out directly. His dad used to help him socialize with strangers by developing elaborate scavenger hunts that would send Oskar all over Manhattan to find clues, all while supervising Oskar’s safety from a distance.
Afraid he’ll lose all memory of his dad if he doesn’t complete the elaborate hunt his father was planning before his untimely death, Oskar searches his dad’s old closet and finds a mysterious key that he feels certain must open a box somewhere in the city. As Oskar tries to find the mysterious box and its contents, he meets people all over the city who are also learning how to heal from the terror and loss of America’s worst day ever—in particular, a mysterious old man (Max von Sydow) who’s so overcome with grief that he only communicates via two words written on his hands: “Yes” and “No.”
Von Sydow works magic in that role, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, lending the film a sense of power and mystery that it sometimes fails to match in other moments. Horn, meanwhile, delivers a performance that has vastly divided critics and viewers as either being shrill and annoying or being spot-on perfect. As someone with a close relative living with Asperger’s, I can attest that being shrill and annoying at times—yet tender and sympathetic at others—is exactly what the role requires.
As Oskar meets and bonds with people across the Big Apple, the film grows in strength with a vibrant depiction of the defiant return to life by the city and its residents. The question may still remain for some prospective viewers as to whether it’s still “too soon” to deal with 9/11 dramatically and whether Hollywood should ever try. But for those willing to give it a chance, director Stephen Daldry and his top-notch cast have given it a more than respectable try.
On the other hand, The Artist provides unabashed entertainment and is a delight from start to finish with its approach to the silent-movie era. Dujardin, who is the heavy favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar after snagging the Screen Actors Guild Award Sunday, brings the charm of Old Hollywood to life as a Clark Gable-style leading man named George Valentin who refuses to accept that the era of “talkies” could end his career.
As Valentin’s career spirals downward, actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) shoots into Hollywood stardom after a brief dalliance with him. But when he truly hits bottom and needs help the most, the film becomes a moving tale of true love as well as a delightful comeback story.
Despite being out for several weeks already and receiving a whopping 10 Oscar nominations, The Artist has yet to crack the box office top 10. Box-office analysts surmise that many audiences simply don’t have the patience to watch silent movies anymore. But if you give it a chance, you might be surprised to find you’d prefer an enthralling silent movie after all, one that’s grabbed the Academy’s undivided attention.