Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Birthday Take: Scott Rudin in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (2011)

Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Scott Rudin
Born: July 14, 1958 (57 years old)
Nomination: Best Picture with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (nominated)

The Take

There is something to being a producer in Hollywood. For starters, it gets you automatic qualification for the Best Picture nomination. Not even the director gets that unless he provided some production credit. It is something that isn't often considered, leaving several Best Picture winners in the hands of people you likely never have heard of. While there have been a few premiere producers throughout history, you will more likely remember the directors, the writers, and the actors most specifically before you ever consider them. While most just do it for the sake of making a studio money, there are those who passionately find projects that speak to them and feature something more impressive. 

Among those is Scott Rudin, who has produced a lot of films you may recognize. He won for No Country for Old Men and was also nominated for True Grit, Captain Phillips and The Hours. He has a pretty impressive resume with all things considered. However, there's one controversial decision on the list that most people will have trouble agreeing on. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close received an Oscar nomination in 2012 for Best Picture at a time when nobody saw that as plausible. The film wasn't necessarily anything special. It was a 9/11 story told from the perspective of a young and anxious child travelling through New York with the assistance of a deaf man.

Of course, it does help that it was adapted from a best seller. Even then, many had easy accusations about the film. It was considered to sensationalize the sentimentality and featured a problematic performance in newcomer Thomas Horn. It was necessarily this great story of grieving or coming to terms with loss. It was this film about an unlikable child being obnoxious. At least, that is the major deterrent when considering its status. Many would go so far as to consider it among the worst Best Picture nominees in recent years. While I come away liking the film, I do think that it reflects more of the subject matter than the quality of the film, which I haven't seen since its theatrical release.

So what is the point of a producer? It is to find movies that will connect with audiences. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was one that did a pretty good job of doing so. While a decade has passed since 9/11/01, it seems like cinema is slow to embrace it as a subject. There's still taboos around it that American Sniper were quickly met with. It became a political thing. Yet, when a film decided to focus on the youth and their personal struggles, it became its own controversy. Was it too sentimentalized? Probably. Yet it feels like a good call to make films addressing recent American history because it is better than denying its existence. Could it have been done better? Sure. However, this is a film that feels nominated more for importance than quality.

This isn't an attack on Rudin or the film. In fact, it was supposed to be more of a study of the role of producer in film. Compared to other Best Picture nominees, this is likely among his less acclaimed. Still, there was something to the story that drew him to it. There was a sense of purpose to telling the story. As a result, the film exists and has its controversial place in history. It may end up being forgotten as time moves further on. But yet, the need to talk about recent history will never go away. Will the film appreciate in value? Good question. No matter what, it is a film that we likely will never forget just because of its Best Picture nomination, which you can thank to Rudin.

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