Oskar, played by newcomer Thomas Horn, is super-bright, probably autistic, and thus given to inappropriate remarks and bad timing. We see in flashback his joshing, playful relationship with his father (Tom Hanks), which is based upon the gathering of arcane facts and little projects mutually undertaken, such as a quest to find the long-lost sixth borough of New York. In the aftermath of 9/11, Oskar discovers a key in an envelope marked "Black" amid his father's personal effects and, convinced this means something important, determines to go on a city-wide search of all the "Blacks" he can find in the city phonebook. Looking on is his alienated, distant mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), a grandmother who lives across the street and her new, mysteriously mute tenant who may or may not be Oskar's grandfather (played silently and beautifully by Max von Sydow).
The outcome of this journey is unspectacular, although we do learn something endearing about Linda, which comes as a much-needed fillip after having spent so much time in the company of a frankly quite unlikeable child (albeit one played by Horn with astonishing self-assurance). At various points, we see how Oskar reacted to the increasingly desperate phone messages left by his father in his last hours, but again this goes nowhere, and serves no purpose other than to pull at the heart strings, which, as the film makes its way to its peaceful end, would have grown quite tough in most people (mine certainly had).
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is smooth, good-looking and immaculately performed. It is almost tasteful in its treatment, but tastefulness is not what one wants in these circumstances. Grief is messy, all over the place; it cannot be tied up in narrative bows as it is here. Such an approach has the opposite effect: it ends up being vulgar.
Daldry's movie is (inexplicably) among the nominations for this year's Best Film Oscar. I wouldn't have thought it would stand a chance, although by the time you read this all might have been revealed on that front. It's cheering for me to be able to say (after a good few hours spent in the dark) that this one notwithstanding, the nominations reflect the high standard of many movies over the past year.
The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball are all worth the price of a ticket. And just in case you haven't caught it yet, do see The Artist (whether or not it wins, it will be in cinemas for some time yet). Director Michel Hazanavicius's black-and-white silent homage, not just to early cinema but to classics like Singing in the Rain and A Star is Born, could be described as a perfectly rendered artefact. Presented in the square format of that era, and set to a boisterous orchestral score, it is astonishingly sure-footed in its depiction and celebration of cinema's first golden age. How reassuring it is that modern filmmakers know enough about their heritage to be able to carry off something like this with such skill and aplomb — and how encouraging that audiences have gone to see it in such numbers.