Okay, now we can talk about the Oscars…

…Because the somewhat mysterious organization that mysteriously somehow sets the stage and begins the momentum for the awards season, the National Board of Review, has given its awards. Perhaps not so unexpectedly, the big winner appears to be “The Social Network” which earned awards for Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), and, most interestingly, earned a Best Actor nod for Jessie Eisenberg, making him suddenly something of a frontrunner for Best Actor, which is not to say that the award makes him some kind of a sure thing.

Jessie Eisenberg and I'm not sure who in

At 27, if Eisenberg does wins for his thoroughly on-target performance, he’ll be the youngest winner in that category yet, beating 29 year-old Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.” Still, he’ll likely be facing stiff competition from 50 year-old Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), 70 something Robert Duvall (“Get Low“), 30 something co-host James Franco (“127 Hours“) and, perhaps, 60 something Jeff Bridges (“True Grit,” a bit less stiff since he won last year and Oscar likes to spread the love around).

The Best Actress prize was equally interesting. Lesley Manville won for her extraordinary work in the upcoming “Another Year.” I’ve seen (and will be reviewing here), the latest from Mike Leigh. There’s no doubt that Manville did an absolutely remarkable job but her supremely needy, depressed, alcoholic character is often irritating to the point of distraction, on purpose. It hits closer to home because I think most of have known or have actually been (hopefully temporarily) people very much like her. Still, sometimes people tend to blame actors for playing characters they dislike or are made uncomfortable by. Regardless, she’s been noticed. At the press day, I half-jokingly suggested to Ms. Manville that she should work on her American accent.

Jacki Weaver's back in Another heretofore far from world-famed actress who might consider studying up on U.S. dialects is Australian veteran performer Jacki Weaver. She was nominated for her magnetically squirm-inducing crime grandma in the effective thriller, “Animal Kingdom.” It’s the first time she’s been in a film to make a splash stateside since Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” back before Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco were yet born.

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Trailer time: David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” is biographical, not autobiographical

Okay, so David Russell is probably most famous in more gossipy quarters for his fistfight with George Clooney and his verbal meltdown with Lily Tomlin. However, he’s actually a consistently intriguing, extremely talented writer-director. His latest film appears to be a major change of pace — an entirely non-ironic fact-based boxing tale about “Irish” Mickey Ward and his ne’er do well brother, who I admittedly had never heard of until just now — which will no doubt invite perhaps inaccurate comparisons as some kind of real-life “Rocky” or a Boston “Raging Bull.” Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and very different Christian Bale star. (I didn’t even recognize Bale, who I imagine got along famously with fellow video tantrum throwing Russell, until late in the trailer. Impressive.)

And, what is it with tough Bostonians in the movies lately? I mean, aren’t there any other cities full of tough guys with interesting accents? Next time, filmmakers, considering setting your tales of betrayal and redemption on the mean streets of, I don’t know, Tacoma or Milwaukee. Meanwhile, excuse while I paak the cah in Bastan yahd.

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Hunger

After his short but memorable role as undercover operative Lt. Archie Hicox in the WWII epic, “Inglourious Basterds,” Michael Fassbender shot to the top of my actors to watch list. Quentin Tarantino’s film may have put him on the map, but even before its release, Fassbender was earning strong reviews for his performance in artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen’s directorial debut, “Hunger.” As Bobby Sands, the real-life IRA member who went on a hunger strike in protest of the British government’s refusal to recognize him and his fellow Maze inmates as political prisoners, Fassbender completely immerses himself in the role with Christian Bale-like dedication. It’s a pity he doesn’t actually show up until the second act, because it only makes those first 30 minutes seem that much less significant. While a lot of that time is spent setting the mood within the prison (from the poor living environment to the brutality handed down by the guards), “Hunger” doesn’t really get going until Fassbender makes his grand entrance – and even then not a whole lot really happens. In fact, with the exception of a 16-minute, single-shot conversation between Sands and an Irish priest (Liam Cunningham), the movie is pretty forgettable due to an overall lack of character development. It’s still worth checking out for Fassbender’s committed performance, but it’s not quite the modern masterpiece that Criterion would have you believe.

Click to buy “Hunger”

  

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Extremely late Friday night news dump

Hey folks, day time tasks have slowed me down, but who was it who said “the night was made for movie blogging”? Okay, no one said that, but we all know it’s true! Anyhow, here are some items from throughout the week I haven’t had a chance to touch on…

* This interview with director Mary Harron has been linked to by several different bloggers throughout the week. If memory serves, it may not actually be new news that Christian Bale partially based his genius-level breakthrough performance in 2000’s “American Psycho” on Tom Cruise, but it’s perhaps more intriguing now that we think we more about both actors’ quirks.

Christian Bale in "American Psycho"

* It might be inside critic/film blogger baseball to you but it’s big — and somewhat distressing — news to me. The thought provoking and just plain cool Karina Longworth, who has helped me out via the miracle of linking many times at her Spout blog home, will be leaving the site at the end of the month, which will also no longer be providing new content including the work of Christopher Campbell (I frequently link to his “The Day in Film Bloggery” posts.).

Somewhat oddly, her soon to be ex-boss attributed her departure not to fiscal issues but to a difference over “vision” for the blog. So, his “vision” was not to have one at all? Anyhow, the consensus is that the hardworking Longworth will be going places regardless.

* I strongly disliked the pilot for “Fringe” (and said so right here) and, unlike David Medsker, I outright hated “Transformers.” (I didn’t even make it through the whole movie…oh, the pleasures of not reviewing.) Then screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman surprised the heck out of me by crafting a perfectly terrific script for “Star Trek,” marred only a little by director J.J. Abram’s hyperactive visual proclivities. (What’s wrong with using a tripod sometimes? Still, he got terrific performances and told a dandy tale, so I’m not complaining too much.) Anyhow, the  writers’ thoughts on the sequel are worth a look.

* Jackie Chan and Andy Lau are remaking Jet Li‘s 1981 breakthrough film, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard of before (at least not that I can remember), “Shaolin Temple.” I guess I should try to see it. Considering that Li was barely 19 back then and that Chan is now 55 (Lau’s in his forties), I trust he’s not playing the same character…or it’s been seriously rewritten.

* Disney is reportedly working on a “digital cloud,” in which content will be purchased and viewable in multiple formats. I generally get the consumer appeal of this, but I still fail to see why anyone would want to watch a movie on a cell phone. In fact, I think even the larger online version of this is way too small for this kind of beauty. (There’s a very brief Spanish language intro, by far the best version of this Disney classic I found on YouTube — the segment starts at 0:23.)

  

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Will “Transformers” make “Dinosaurs” of us all?

With the ongoing box office behemoth that is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” seemingly devouring everything in its path, the studios are nevertheless allowing two potentially vulnerable major productions to venture out of the nest a couple of days ahead of the big July 4th holiday weekend.

For the family trade, we have a 3-D CGI animated sequel, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which will be showing on a record number of 3-D screens. (Which I guess means that if you haven’t seen “Up” in 3-D by now, which I finally managed just last night, you may be SOL until at least such time as we start seeing 3-D retrospectives.) In a saner world, this would be the #1 movie this week because of family appeal, I think it’s safe to say. Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is calling it at between $45 and $50 million for Friday through Sunday (not counting weekdays), which he thinks will be somewhat below the “Transformers” take based on a very modest 50% drop-off.

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