Mute appeal

Hollywood's rewarding movies for their silence

WHEN THE Oscar nominations were released last week, the silence was deafening.

Three actors were nominated for saying virtually nothing - two for the silent movie "The Artist," and Max Von Sydow, who was anything but extremely loud in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

He plays a mute.

Von Sydow was mum on the subject of his nomination, but issued a photostat of a handwritten note:

"I don't know what to say."

Last year, everyone was talking about performers who didn't talk. A campaign was mounted to recognize Andy Serkis for his nonspeaking, simian work in "Planet of the Apes." There were lobbying efforts to nominate one or both of the dogs in "Beginners" and "The Artist." Without the equine star of "War Horse," there would be no best-picture nomination for that film. And few would argue that the best thing about "Hangover 2" was the chain-smoking Capuchin monkey.

"Hugo" won 11 nominations for its tribute to a silent-film director, and while none of its actors was nominated - they made the mistake of talking - there was a moving (if stoic) performance in the movie by an automaton.

And would George Clooney have been nominated for "The Descendants" if not for his heart-wrenching scene "opposite" Patricia Hastie as his uncomprehending wife? Her silent presence was crucial to the movie.

Even among the talking nominees, there were actors who hardly said anything. Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs," Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" . . . there's a reason the movie isn't called "The Girl With the Big Mouth."

Gary Oldman didn't say much in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and when he did, you can barely hear him.

Hollywood is giving us the silent treatment, and it's not without precedent. Samantha Morton was nominated for her role as a mute in 1999's "Sweet and Lowdown," and Joss Whedon was Emmy-nominated for a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episode called "Hush" in which the characters could not speak.

Bring it on. There are many contemporary movies that would benefit from an expanding cone of silence. (I'm addressing you, "Jack and Jill.")

Perhaps, when the Oscars are announced, we will see a silent majority - Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin for "The Artist," Von Sydow for "Extremely Loud," "The Artist" for best picture. Just don't count on it winning best sound.

Will the trend continue in 2012?

Apparently. In "The Grey," which opened Friday, the talking cast is stalked, killed, and eaten by the nontalking cast.

The blabby, bickering wolves of "Breaking Dawn, Part One" could learn something from the reticence of the "Grey" wolves.

So, for that matter, could Taylor Lautner. Anyway, the message to future Oscar contenders is clear. Shut up and act.

- Staff writer Molly Eichel contributed to this report.