In 'Extremely Loud,' could Max Von Sydow finally win an Oscar…for a silent performance?

Posted by · 2:08 pm · September 28th, 2011

Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is set for a December release and has all the trappings of an “Oscar film,” to say nothing of the director’s impressive streak as of late. In just three features he has been nominated for Best Director every time out, and his last two efforts were Best Picture nominees in a five-nominee system.

That’s before we get to the subject matter of the film — emotional 9/11 stuff in spades. The script, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, comes from Oscar winner Eric Roth (who may have had another easy walk to the podium in 2008 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” if “Slumdog Millionaire” hadn’t come out of nowhere). The film stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock as parents to young actor Thomas Horn, who is said to be heartbreakingly good and a discovery along the lines of Jamie Bell in Daldry’s “Billy Elliot” 11 years ago.

But one actor is getting short shrift from most prognosticators. And the way I hear it, he could be good enough to ultimately trample the Best Supporting Actor competition and win his first Oscar in what would be a glorious moment. I’m talking about the great Max Von Sydow.

I have been a bit down on the Oscar chances of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” for a while now. No real reason. It has just smelled a little funny to me. But I’m coming around on it. After all, if we get another Clint Eastwood miss out of “J. Edgar” (okay, not everyone thinks his recent work has missed the mark, but I do), then Warner Bros. will have Daldry’s film alone for considerable Best Picture hopes. (I think it’s fair to say “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “Contagion” don’t have much ammunition.)

Plus, aggressive campaigner extraordinaire, producer Scott Rudin, will have this and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to usher to Oscar’s stage (as they are more his babies than “Moneyball” is). And Daldry’s film certainly looks to have more “Academy appeal,” if you will (a vulgar term), than David Fincher’s.

But I digress. There was a test screening of “Extremely Loud” Sunday night in New York. I don’t usually dabble in these reactions, since you never really know what’s put on and what’s not, but I was sparked by a reader’s take on Von Sydow’s work, as I had been hearing murmurs elsewhere that it was something special. Von Sydow plays a mysterious older man in the film whose story is revealed throughout the course of the narrative.

So I pressed him for more. PLEASE NOTE: These could certainly be regarded as SPOILERS, though some have told me they are quite obvious in some ways. In any case, tread lightly:

“[Von Sydow’s character] lost his ability to speak in Germany during WW2. Apparently, there’s a whole parallel story about his surviving the war in the novel that is only talked about in the movie). He has the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ tattooed on his palms and wears a notepad around his neck.  It’s a very expressive performance, lots of interesting shrugs and expressions. He accompanies the boy on his journeys around the city and plays an important role in his healing.

“I’m not spoiling anything here, but an important element in the film are the voice messages the father leaves on the family answering machine while trapped in the tower. The camera is on Von Sydow listening to [these] final messages. It’s a little master class in reacting.”

Also, apparently Rudin was “bouncing off the walls” after the screening, for what it’s worth, presumably excited by the reaction. But on Von Sydow, I don’t know. I’m getting that funny feeling. Could he be another actor (after Jean Dujardin) nominated for a silent performance this year? And if so, could he finally win the Oscar?

If you can believe it, Von Sydow has only been nominated once for an Oscar, for Best Actor in 1988’s “Pelle the Conqueror.” He had to have come dangerously close to another mention four years ago for his touching work in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” another heartfelt father role. Since right now you’re wondering, “Wait, he wasn’t recognized for ‘The Excorcist?'” He wasn’t. “‘The Seventh Seal?'” Nope. “‘Three Days of the Condor?’ ‘Hamsun?’ ‘Flash Gordon???'” Nada.

So, as you can see, plenty to build on here. If he’s as good in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as our reader seems to suggest (he also thinks it’s the only performance that has a real shot at a nomination), then look out. It could be a great opportunity to finally honor one of the great screen actors of our time.

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