Extremely Unlikely & Incredibly Strange

I’m going to start rooting through this year’s Oscar nominations in the Best Picture category, because it’s the biggest award of the ceremony, and the surprising roster of contenders is a good place to start. And it lets us look at Oscar’s big crime of inclusion: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

At first glance, the inclusion of the critically lambasted box-office dud Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close among the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems pretty inexplicable. But if you think about it long enough, the nomination begins to make (a bit of) twisted Hollywood sense.

How could a film widely derided as treacly, exploitive, overly sentimental and manipulative (with a meek 48% critics rating and meek 67% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes) be a finalist for filmdom’s most prestigious honor?

The story of a son who sets out to find the meaning of a key inherited from his father, who was killed in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, EL&IC stars Tom Hanks as the doomed dad — and the academy simply loves two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. It also stars recent Oscar winner Sandra Bullock — and the academy adores Sandra Bullock. It features a plucky kid character who learns Life Lessons — which sounds noble. It’s based on an acclaimed novel (book = smart) by a respected author (Jonathan Safran Foer). And it’s set against the backdrop of 9/11, which is an Important Subject.

Put all that together — beloved stars, kids, reassuring plot with Life Lessons, Important Historical Event — and you’ve got an Oscar contender. The academy membership as a whole probably won’t be able to bring itself to actually vote for the picture to win, but in this case simply nominating it could be honor enough.

I don’t think we’re at the point, as a society, where any movie about 9/11 will automatically garner an Oscar; we need a little more historical distance before that date joins events from WWII as surefire Oscar bait. But using and Important Historical Event gives EL&IC the sort of heft and gravitas that wins awards.

Lastly, don’t completely count out a “f— the critics” movement; it could be a collective rebuke of movie reviewers who expect films to be… y’know, good. And that’s just the kind of sentiment that could give rise to a lot of “F— You” votes, and carry EL&IC to victory over a muddled field of contenders that split the vote.

The Oscars will be presented Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Billy Crystal will be hosting for the ninth time.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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