WHEN the Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks ago, thanks to a rule change, no-one knew exactly how many nominees there would be for best film.
After the titles of eight films were read out, most of them anticipated, there was an expectant pause and everyone thought that was that.
But there then followed an audible gasp when a ninth nominee was announced: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Though it seemed to have long since slipped off the radar, ironically it had been on many people's early predictions lists given its pedigree – a pair of Oscar-winning stars (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock) and a director whose every film has flirted with Academy glory.
But that can sometimes be a drawback and project the view that such a worthy prestige picture is little more than an awards courter, particularly given the extremely sensitive subject matter.
That subject matter, the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, is largely kept to a background event here, yet it informs the entire movie.
At its outset, young Oskar (Thomas Horn) has just lost his father during the attack, and Hanks appears in flashbacks, setting up a warm and emotional core as a fun father, always engaging with Oskar on expeditions and puzzles.
Some time after his father's death, Oskar finds a key among his belongings, and embarks on a quest around New York to try to find the lock it fits.
It's his way of hanging on to the memory, the residue of his father, particularly as, at the same time, he's growing more distant from his mother (Bullock).
The envelope containing the key just says "Black", and Oskar sets out to find everyone in the city with that name in the hope they have some information.
Helping him in his search is his grandmother's lodger, a mute old man played by the also Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow, whose presence is welcomed yet turns out to be more or less irrelevant to the story.
It's one that suffers in the way many films adapted from novels do; too many characters, a wandering narrative and a lack of momentum.
But it doesn't overplay the sorrow in a surprisingly airy first half, with the weight increasing steadily as the film progresses.
There's nothing remarkable about the search, yet the need for an answer or a resolution grows for the audience as much as for Oskar.
Grief and loss figure heavily, but a firm handle is kept on sentimentality and it's never overwrought, eventually surprising in the place the real emotion is to be found.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close isn't going to come close to triumphing at the Oscars, but it would be churlish to deny it its nomination.
Director: Stephen Daldry
SEE IT IF YOU LIKED:
Hugo; Life Is Beautiful; Remember Me