Can You Be Too Late for Oscar?

Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Scott Rudin hopes not as "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" looks to spoil the status quo.

It's either playing a brilliant game of rope-a-dope, or it's already down for the count. That's the question now hovering over Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, director Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel about one family coming to terms with the emotional devastation of 9/11. The last major movie to enter the awards ring this year, it didn't make the scene until Dec. 4, when it was first shown at a Hollywood Foreign Press screening in New York.  

Loud's delayed entry has led the more conspiratorial-minded to speculate that producer Scott Rudin, whose The Social Network was an early favorite last year only to lose the final Oscar round to The King's Speech, decided to hang back this year: Let the competition play itself out, then make a last-minute bid for the gold, so the thinking goes.

Not so, insist those in the Loud camp. The movie wasn't shown earlier because it simply wasn't finished. Daldry, a notorious perfectionist, decided to change composers midstream, enlisting Alexandre Desplat to turn out a new score. And just a week before the first screening, Daldry squeezed in a final reshoot.

The Warner Bros. film doesn't open until Christmas Day and won't enter wide release until Jan. 20.  But in terms of awards positioning, it is cutting it perilously close.

Months ago, when the handicappers drew up their first speculative lists, they reserved a spot for Loud because Daldry has such an impeccable track record: He has picked up best director Oscar noms for each of his three previous films, beginning with 2000's Billy Elliot, and his The Hours and The Reader brought Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet best actress Oscars. With A-list stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock playing the parents of Loud's central character, a boy determined to find meaning in his father's death, his latest film appeared poised to follow suit.

But as the first wave of awards nominations broke over Hollywood, Loud was conspicuously absent. It failed to make the American Film Institute's list of movies of the year and was ignored by SAG and the Golden Globes. Presumably, not enough members of SAG's nominating committee saw it for it to leave an impression, and an insider says of the Globes voters, "it wasn't their cup of tea."

"We're not discouraged. We know the movie plays well," says one member of team Loud. In fact, when it screened to a houseful of Academy members Dec. 7 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the filmmakers received a standing ovation, with particularly sustained applause for Thomas Horn, a 14-year-old with no previous acting experience who more than carries the film. Afterward, producer Howard Rosenman said, "I've seen almost all the movies now, and I feel I've finally seen the best picture." Another Academy member says it received a similar reception at a screening in New York, where the film could have added resonance.

One other encouraging sign: The Broadcast Film Critics Association, whose taste often coincides with the Academy's, gave Loud four noms: picture, director, adapted screenplay and best young actor.

With nearly four weeks to go before Oscar nominating ballots are due, there is room to make up for lost time. Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line did it in 1998. Ignored by the Globes, it still attracted seven Oscar noms. But it's a nail-biting way to live.